I love regional recipes, and came across a great one for grilled Cottonwood Grilled Chicken in June at a family reunion.
by Leon Pantenburg
The Pantenburg Family Reunion, held every two or three years, is located in different part of the United States. The last event of every gathering typically includes a discussion of where the next reunion will be held.
We don’t need any help cooking during the event. Of the siblings, three of us are competitive Dutch oven cooks, and somebody will pack cast iron to the reunion. Nephew Kevin Spring competes in barbeque contests. Everyone enjoys, and most family members are very skilled, in outdoor food preparation for large groups.
So Kyle Simpson, owner of Lost Island Lodge near Linwood, NE, had a hard sell when he told several of us his “Cottonwood Chicken” recipe was the best ever. During the fall hunting seasons, the lodge is a duck and deer hunting lodge.
During the off-seasons the lodge is rented to large groups for retreats, business conferences, and other gatherings where quiet and solitude are needed. The complex has a large grill setup on the patio, sufficient for cooking a whole hog, or enough food for 100 people, and several of us had been eyeing it and discussing potential meals.
“We have corporate groups come out here and they can have anything they want to eat,” Kyle said. ” They always want cottonwood chicken.”
None of the Pantenburg contingent had ever cooked over cottonwood coals. And there was some skepticism, since cottonwood is a deciduous, fast-growing tree along waterways, and we’re used to hickory, oak or some other hardwood for coals.
But Kyle was almost evangelical in his presentation, and we decided to try his recipe and technique. A quick, smaller test on Tuesday night brought rave reviews, so a larger, full-scale meal for 30 was done on Thursday night. It is delicious.
Here’s how to make:
Burn a stack of cottonwood logs down to embers. That took us about 45 minutes. Spread out the coals evenly.
Sprinkle chicken halves or quarters with Chef’s Secret All Purpose Seasoning or your favorite seasoning or rub. Place them bone-side down in the grilling racks and start cooking. The grills are long-handled, sandwich-style made of wire. The food can be locked into grill, allowing for easy turning.
Turn when one side gets brown. Generally, you can plan on cooking them about 20-30 minutes, depending on the heat.
Measuring heat: Barbecuing is not an exact science, so you’ll have to guess at the temperatures of the coals. My standard test is to hold my hand at the level the food will be cooked. If I can hold my hand there for five seconds, that should be about 350 degrees. Do your own calibration, since heat may vary depending on ambient temperatures, humidity and elevation.
For side dishes, we relied on potatoes, onions and peppers with a touch of butter, wrapped in aluminum foil. The wraps were cooked directly in the coals for about 20 minutes on each side. Watch for steam coming out of the seams and turn when you see that happen.
This recipe can be duplicated on a smaller scale. Make a small brick fire pit, and get a smaller sandwich-type wire grill at any outdoors store.
But the secret ingredient is cottonwood. Other woods will work OK (But don’t use pine – the pitch will spoil the taste) but cottonwood is the key.