This past weekend we were busy. We were low on cooked chickens in our freezer, so hubby decided that he would cook some more. By some more, he meant, twelve more. Seriously, twelve, as in the number one and two. Tee – double-u – ee – ell – vee – ee. Twelve. Yupe, twelve, 12. You read it correctly and, nothing is wrong with your eyes. You probably think that we are crazy…but, bear with me while I try to explain it below.
When we cook, we tend to go overboard. But, with a purpose. We like to cook a lot at one time, mainly because we don’t want to spend all of our time, for example, six hours cooking for one single thing. If the space and the heat permit, then we usually fill up the cooking vessel with food, so we can freeze and eat them later. Remember my post about the Smoked Pulled Pork? The smoker fits for 3 Boston Butts, so 3 Boston Butts went in there. So the same with last weekend, we were cooking using La Caja China roaster. This thing fits for twelve chickens, probably more if we got smaller chickens…
Wait, La Caja China? What is this thing? Well, let me send you to the link of the company that makes this thing by clicking here. Not that I will get a dime from them for directing traffic to them, or if you decided to buy one of this thing. Nada, I just want to send you there so you can see the product, and their full explanation of how this thing works from their perspective.
La Caja China (it is translated as “Chinese Box”) is actually a cooking method adopted from the Cubans. The Cubans would roast a pig by digging a hole in the earth, put the pig inside it, and then cover it up, and put burning charcoal on top. So, this box was created trying to mimic the cooking method introduced by the Chinese railroad workers back then, hence the name, La Caja China.
How did we come across with this roaster? Well, we love to tune in to Food Network. One day, hubby saw the Throwdown with Bobby Flay, and it was in this episode when hubby saw the La Caja China. He was intriqued by the roaster and did some more reading online. Then he decided to buy it, and now we own one.
So shall we begin?
First we gave the chickens a bath, a soapless bath. No bubbles here. We just basically rinsed them and took out any of the innards that got left in there. We wanted the cavity of the chickens to be empty. Then, we pat them dry.
For seasoning, we did a variety of things. We wanted to give two chickens to hubby’s cousin who’s watching her sodium intake, so we did two without salt. We used peppers (black and white), garlic powder, cumin, and paprika. Then we did four with only salt, white and black peppers, and the rest we used the BBQ Rub we used for the Smoked Pulled Pork.
So we lined them up on the butcher block.
Sprinkled the seasonings.
Look at this chicken’s mangled leg… Poor chicken… I guess he, oops, she broke a leg before she made it into our kitchen.
So when we were done with all twelve of them, they were ready to be put back in the refrigerator and let them sit overnight.
The next day, I cut up some veggies to flavor the chickens. It is pretty much whatever veggies you like to throw in there. We used onion, garlic, lemon, apple, cilantro, celery and bell pepper. You will see in the next several pictures how these veggies helped flavor the chickens.
Aren’t they pretty?
This is what the La Caja China looks like. It is basically a rectangle box with the inside lined with aluminum metal, and the outside covered with maybe half an inch of plywood. It has two wheels on the front bottom part of the box for mobility. On the other end, two metal handles are attached so you can hold the box at an angle, and then move it around. It also supports the charcoal tray when you take the lid off to turn the chickens half way through cooking.
The tray you see sitting on the two handles is where you put your charcoal. So, the cooking method is by putting fire on top of the food, while usually you see the fire is underneath the food. It is a little different concept than usual, but it works. You’ll see.
The front part (or what I called the front part) has a chart on how long you should cook each type of meat. Pretty neat huh?
So hubby put two piles of charcoal on the tray. He is so meticulously organized (unlike me) that he weighs his charcoal prior cooking. In this instance, for the 12 chickens, he used 15 lbs of charcoal at the begining and then adding nine lbs midway through the cooking. He will adjust the weight of the charcoal depending on how much he is cooking.
Now, this was an extra step that hubby was experimenting. He put the chickens on his smoker for a little while to get the smoke flavor. He had tried using several different types of smoke kickers for this roaster or Box, and none of them worked real well with the Box. So when he was talking to his co-worker, Jim S., Jim mentioned “Why don’t you try to smoke them first?” So that’s why he did what he did Saturday.
For this, he only cranked the smoker to about 150 – 175 degrees only. He did not want to cook the chicken, he just wanted to get the smoke flavor into the chickens.
Then, he put in the drip tray inside the box. He wrapped this drip tray in aluminum foil so he can clean it up easier. Cleaning up this box is really a chore. Hubby requested that I would blog about just the clean-up process. So I’ll be sure to get my camera ready when he cleans it again next time.
Then, he threw on the drip tray the vegetables that I cut up earlier.
Spread them all around the tray.
Then he put the grill rack on top of the drip tray.
And he started putting the chickens on the rack. Butt side up to start, then turn with breast side up midway through the cooking. (Because that is the way the Box manufacturer said to do it).
The six chickens on the left hand side were seasoned with the BBQ Rub. The two in the middle was the no salt ones, and the last four on the right were the salt and peppers ones.
Then he started squirting the lighter fluid on his charcoal pile. On this cooking method, we used the lighter fluid, and not the lighter cube we used on the smoker. Since the charcoal will be burned on top of the food outside of the cooking chamber, the lighter fluid taste would not seep down into the food.
Then he lighted the charcoal…
And Boom!! Ha ha… just kidding… Naah… if it did boom on us, I would not be here writing about these chickens, would I? The fire was really happy to consume the oxygen around it… Oh, and for some of you who are detailed oriented, you might be wondering. Why in the heck the charcoal tray was crooked? Look at the next picture.
When the fire heated the charcoal tray, the crooked part of the tray just came down and it was lined up with the charcoal tray holder! The fire softened up the metal and it just plopped itself down and be a good boy.
After 20 minutes, most of the charcoal is burned to a white ash. Hubby raked the charcoal and spread it around so all of the Box’s cooking chamber will receive even heat.
This is how the chickens looked like after an hour… They looked good, didn’t they?
Where did we put the tray full of burning charcoal? We put them up on metal handle. It was designed so that it would hold the tray when the food needs to be checked or when the cooking is finished.
So hubby flipped the birds… oh, excuse me, ehm.. turned the birds over I meant… Noticed that he put the chickens in a certain way. During our previous cookings using the Box, he finally decided which arrangement would help him in handling the chickens. In this case, the chicken necks were facing in the middle, and by arranging them like this, it was easier to turn the chickens over.
So they were all turned over…
And we put the charcoal tray back on top. Hubby also added nine more pounds of fresh charcoal briquets.
After about 40 more minutes, the chickens were done! Woohooo!!!! Nice looking birds eh?
This is the drip tray. By now it contained the liquid excess from the chickens. It was a combination of melted fat and juices came out of the chickens, fruits and vegetables. When the juice of the chicken dripped down into the tray, the juice would hit the fruit and veggies. It would steam back up toward the chicken, along with the fruit and veggies’ flavor. So that’s how the veggies and the fruits helped flavor the roasted chickens.
These were the BBQ ones…
These were the salt and peppers ones…. Gorgeous, aren’t they?
Nice, tender, juicy, flavorful chickens. And the smoke flavor was there! It was a light hint of smoke flavor, not too overpowering at all. Thank you Jim for the idea!! The crispy roasted skin was bursting with flavor, and you had to be there to taste it.
So after dinner, I cut up most of the chickens into halves. We put them back into the refrigerator after awhile.
The next morning, I pulled up my FoodSaver and started working on the chickens. I put each half of the chicken into a FoodSaver bag. Then I vacuum sealed them with this gadget.
I put the opening of the plastic into the suction tray.
I closed the lid and locked it.
Then I pushed that Vacuum and Seal button.
And BBrrrrbbbbbrrrrrRRRR… the machine was sucking the air out of the bag, and sealed the bag when it was done.
These were the chickens I vacuumed sealed that day… a Little Mountain of Chickens…
So now, when we want some roasted chicken, we just grab one of these bags, and heat them up, and voila! Your chicken is ready!