Up here in the hills near Yosemite National Park, we are entering early fall and hopefully soon, the beginning of a sorely-needed rainy season. After four years of drought many of us have dry or barely-functioning wells. Everyone here hopes that the predictions of a truly epic rainy season prove accurate, yet, we are all aware of the good and the bad such epic rains may bring. Whatever the outcome, there will be green grass and wildflowers again and it will be wonderful to see them once more.
The Mariposa Co. Fair has come and gone; concomitantly the end of the 4-H year is close to the end as well. 4-H is a fantastic program that fosters skills and tremendous social growth in kids. 4-H kids in general, have far more self-confidence in their abilities, and are far more adept at conversation with adults than are most other, non-4-H kids their age.
4-H revolves heavily around a wide variety of projects. Besides traditional animal projects, there are also a broad range of non-animal projects in which kids can enroll. Traditionally, animal projects involve raising a meat breed animal, bringing it to the fair, showing that animal, and then auctioning that animal at the livestock auction from whence it gets processed and returned to the buyer in packages. There are animal projects, however, for showing and exhibition only.
My kids are very involved in the poultry project and show fancy birds in showmanship along with Cornish Cross meat chickens in the market class. In this rural county, the pair of meat chickens my son raised fetched over $700 at the fair livestock auction! Way beyond making obscene amounts of money at the local auction, raising animals teaches kids the economics of business. They learn to recognize that spilling and wasting feed, or neglecting their animals, costs them in the end when they complete their project books and tally up the costs of raising Vs their auction results. More importantly, and unlike many other kids, they know the food on their plate was not produced by a local grocery store.
Cornish cross chickens are perfectly suited to commercial broiler production. They grow from cute yellow chick to a market weight of 5-6 lbs in only about 6 weeks. They will not scratch and forage like other chickens will do, even if free-ranged. They will instead sit in front of the food dish and can quite literally eat themselves to death if given the opportunity. Meat chickens are the most efficient of all meat-breed animals at converting feed into body mass; it takes 3 lbs. of feed to make 1 lb. of chicken, and that’s why chicken remains inexpensive.
I write this, because as part of the poultry project, we along with most other 4H families have excess meat chickens and broad-breasted turkeys that need to be processed. We do this as a group, everyone pitching in on everyone’s excess birds. The rooster above is close to 9 lbs at only 2 months of age. If not butchered, he will grow until he literally cannot walk. The size of his body will overtax his immature skeletal and cardiovascular systems and he will suffer a hip dislocation, a broken leg, or a heart attack. These chickens are quite literally prisoners of their own genetics. It saddens me for them and I look forward to the day when my son graduates out of 4-H and I no longer have to raise these creatures.
Growing up in suburban S. California, I never dreamed I’d butcher chickens and turkeys. I don’t like doing it, I actually hate it, but here in this rural environment, it’s a useful skill. Far more importantly, however, the act of butchering emphasizes the importance of not wasting food. Many folks don’t give a thought about the origins of what’s on their plate and how it got there. Many inner city folks actually think the food they eat somehow grows inside that foam and stretch wrap container sitting on the grocery shelf. Nope! That piece of steak, pork, chicken or even lettuce or carrot in your salad, came from a living organism that quite literally gave to us absolutely everything it had. We as consumers have an obligation to prepare the food to the best of our ability to give maximum value to the gift that animal or plant gave to us. To do anything less is an affront to the life of that animal or plant.
Which brings me to the subject of marinated chicken thighs!
After a long miserable day that I guarantee was far more unpleasant for the stars of the show, it’s nice to come home and cook up a little bit of wonderful heaven. This is one of my all-time favorite ways to grill chicken and the combination of the sweet Kansas City BBQ rub along with the ranch dressing magically combines to make a kind of BBQ sauce over the chicken as it cooks. Trust me, it’s way better than it sounds from the ingredients. We do this recipe at shows and events and it never fails to get the customary eye-roll and OMG! along with “What did you put on the chicken”.
One of the time-honored techniques for real southern fried chicken is a buttermilk soak of the raw chicken. I’m told it makes the flavor more mellow, whatever that means. At any rate, if it’s been done for something like a hundred years in a place where they really know how to cook chicken, then I’m OK with that.
Rather than using buttermilk in this marinade, we’ll use buttermilk ranch dressing. Blend a cup of ranch dressing to ½ cup of Miners Mix Kit’s K.C. BBQ Seasoning and Rub. Toss in the chicken pieces and allow to marinate for at least a few hours, though overnight or even longer is best. This recipe seems to work best with thighs or chicken pieces with the skin removed. Whole chickens or legs don’t come out as good, I think the skin may inhibit the marinade penetrating into the meat.
For this grill, I’m using packaged thighs. Truthfully, I can’t taste much if any difference between the chickens we grow and those we buy. When you consider the cost of the feed and the hassle of processing chickens, there’s no way in the world we can grow chickens as cheaply as Foster Farms. Plus, if it’s organic chicken you want, you can pretty much double the feed cost over what Purina supplies.
Once marinated to your satisfaction, place the thighs on the grill at about medium temp. You can’t use real hot temperatures because the Kit’s K.C. BBQ Seasoning has quite a bit of brown sugar in it and the ranch, being a salad dressing, contains quite a bit of oil, so it can burn as well.
Grill the thighs or skinless chicken until done. As they cook, the color of the marinade will change from the pumpkin-custard color to the beautiful color in the picture above. Get ready to enjoy one of the best grilled chicken meals you’ll ever eat.