Chasing down Cornell Chicken at Brooks Barbecue

Brooks Barbecue Chicken

Brooks’ award winning chicken. What’s with that pickled apple slice by the way?

Since my exploration of Cornell Chicken I have had the good fortune to eat at the original Brooks Barbecue in Oneonta, NY. This is truly a temple of cuisine—winner of a James Beard Award for excellence in a regional restaurant—and a great value because you can get a full meal for under $10 or a perfectly grilled, moist and tender chicken half to take away for less than six bucks. (Best practice is to bring a cooler, dine in, and pick up a few halves from the to-go window to take home and freeze.) If you are ever on I-88 do not fail to make a stop.

But let’s back up a bit. Cornell Chicken is an invention of the Ag extension in that eponymous hotbed of food experimentation, developed to promote the chicken industry in the early 1940’s. It marinates in an unusually vinegary sauce containing a raw egg (which the food scientists told me is perfectly safe, because of the vinegar) to help emulsify it. The chicken is then grilled. Brooks is one of two families (the other was the Giffeys, who recently closed their restaurant which had sadly gone downhill) to make Cornell Chicken their signature dish.

I had encountered Brooks Barbecue at a number of rural fundraising events but it’s far better if you eat at the source, where the chicken is cooked off on a massive grill the length of a football field. The meat is tender, the marination makes it tangy, and it’s cooked to the point where the meat has a nice crackle to it without being burnt.

If you can’t get to Oneonta (and you’re not likely to, unless you combine your visit with a tour of Spiedies establishments in Binghamton) my recipe is a pretty good stand-in. Be sure to make a generous amount, because it’s hard to stop eating.

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