The winds recently changed here in Texas, bringing in a comforting heat with a touch of humidity from the Gulf of Mexico, and when that happens we change as well. Trading in our boots for flip-flops, we all hear the call of summer – hot days wading in the river and star-blanketed nights with children laughing, music, cold drinks and, of course, something hot off the grill.
When it’s time to spend our days outdoors, there’s nothing more that I love than having a barbecue with family and friends. With kids spraying each other with the water hose, my husband on guitar, and friends arguing over the secrets of the smoker and who makes a better beer, summer barbecues can’t be beat.
In Texas, we’re heavily influenced by our history of cattle drives and roaming the range. Back then everything was cooked over a campfire, and that smoke and fire-kissed style of cooking is ingrained in our culture. We’re also influenced by our friends on and over the Mexican border and their use of chillies and fresh salsas. Combine the two and you get a flavor fusion that makes for some pretty fabulous eats!
One of our favourite summer recipes is Smoked chicken tacos with salsa verde. It’s a meal that everyone loves and is worth every second it takes to make. Trust me: just invite everyone over, make sure there’s plenty of beer to drink and tacos to eat, bust out some music and you’ll be everyone’s new best friend. That’s my secret, anyway — tacos, music, and beer.
Once the tender, chilli-rubbed chicken has been smoked to perfection, it’s cradled in a warm corn tortilla and topped with tangy tomatillo salsa verde for an unforgettable meal with a Texas flair. Cheers!
Smoked chicken tacos with salsa verde recipe
For this recipe, we’re using a charcoal-fired smoker. Feel free to use an electric smoker or even a covered barbecue using indirect heat and a smoke box. If you do, please follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
For the tacos
- 1 4lb/1.8kg free-range chicken
- 1½ tablespoons ancho chilli powder
- 1 tablespoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon kosher (flaked) salt
- ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
- Corn tortillas
- To serve: chopped diced onions and fresh cilantro (coriander)
For the salsa verde
- 1½lb/700g tomatillos, husks removed and sliced in half
- 1 yellow onion, peeled and quartered
- 8 cloves of garlic, peeled
- 2 jalapenos, halved and seeded
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1 cup cilantro (coriander) leaves
- 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
- Smoker or covered barbecue
- Lumpwood charcoal
- 3 handfuls of pecan, mesquite, oak, or hickory wood chips
In a bowl, combine chilli powder, cumin, salt and pepper. Rub over the entire chicken including underneath the skin and in the cavity. Place the chicken in a dish, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and allow to marinate in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours, but preferably overnight. Before smoking, allow to rest at room temperature for 30 minutes.
Soak wood chips in water an hour before lighting the smoker. Light enough charcoal to fill the base of the fire box in your smoker. Once the charcoal is red hot and the temperature in the smoker reaches 235°F (113°C), add the drained wet wood chips to the fire. Close the firebox, making sure to leave your firebox vent cracked open to allow airflow to the fire.
Place chicken onto the grill close to the firebox and close the cover – try not to open it until the chicken is close to finishing. Maintain the temperature of the smoker between 200°F – 235°F (93°C – 113°C) by adding additional charcoal every 30 minutes, or when needed. Smoke the chicken for 4 hours, or until a thermometer inserted into the thigh reaches 165°F (73°C). Allow to rest for 10 minutes before carving.
While the chicken is smoking (or even the day ahead) make the salsa verde. In a large pot, combine tomatillos, onion, garlic, jalapenos, salt, and pepper with 3 cups/600ml of water, then bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a medium-low and simmer for 15 minutes, or until the tomatillos change from bright green to a muted green. Let it cool slightly, then place contents into a blender with cilantro and lime juice. Whiz until smooth and season if needed. Store in a refrigerated airtight container for up to one week.
Once the chicken has rested, shred the meat off the bone using forks and your fingers. Warm the corn tortillas in a skillet over medium-high heat with a light drizzle of olive oil.
Serve the shredded smoked chicken on corn tortillas with salsa verde, diced onions, and chopped cilantro.