Memorial Day approaches. We are on the cusp of the unofficial start of summer (even though it doesn’t feel like it).
With summer comes the rising smoke of the beloved chicken barbecue.
Some folks might be interested to know that our version of a chicken barbecue is a regional phenomenon, based on a recipe created by Cornell poultry and science food professor Robert Baker during the 1940s as a way to promote the chicken industry. (Baker also invented the chicken nugget.) His recipe made its way to local poultry farmers through farm bureaus. Sometimes called “state fair chicken” or “fireman’s chicken,” travel east of Syracuse or outside of Western New York and you’d be hard-pressed to find our version of the chicken barbecue.
Baker died in 2006 at the age of 84. His family still runs Baker’s Chicken Coop at the New York State Fair in Syracuse. This summer will be its 68th year.
Signs for barbecue fundraisers have been popping up all over the area since around Easter. From now through fall you can find a chicken barbecue just about every weekend, if not weekday. Or you could go straight to the source when the craving hits.
All summer local chicken barbecue families serve chicken that you can eat on site or take out. Call ahead to reserve, especially if you are picking up more than four dinners, because once the chicken is gone, it’s gone.
Sauce: Kathleen Chiavetta calls the family’s sauce an “Italianized” version of the Cornell recipe “minus the egg, with added garlic and spices.” Bottled sauce sold at local retailers and on site.
Though the chicken headquarters is located in Brant at the site of the original poultry farm (and where chicken cooking began in 1954), Chiavetta’s has a walk-up stand in Lockport.
Opened in 2009, the location was a way to extend the drop-off, pick-up business.
“We weren’t open long before people started asking us if we could sell them dinners. Then we noticed people eating in their cars. We added an addition to seat 40 people,” said Chiavetta, adding they are looking to open another location closer to Buffalo.
Kathleen Chiavetta's grandfather started poultry farming after returning from World War II. If you visit, be sure to check out the fun pictures of Chiavetta’s throughout the years, which was originally called Churchside Farm because of the church up the hill.
Krolick’s Roadside Stand
12132 NY-16, Chaffee; krolicks.net
Dinners are served at the roadside stand from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. Also ribs, pulled pork, roast beef, burgers and sides. No indoor seating, but picnic tables set up on site.
Sauce: Jake Krolick notes Krolick’s sauce is a distant cousin to the Cornell version. No bottled sauce for sale.
Of the local chicken barbecue families, Krolick’s is relatively new (nor has the family ever delved into poultry farming). Jake Krolick helps runs the business for his father, Stan, who started out helping local churches in Springville and Arcade with fundraisers. The family notes 2003 as the official start of the chicken barbecue business.
“Dad has no background in cooking. It took a few years to perfect his sauce. He’d have people on our street try it. They’d get free dinners,” laughed Krolick. “I am good with numbers. Dad is the one who enjoys talking with customers.”
In addition to catering events, Krolick’s runs a roadside stand in Chaffee that has become an increasingly popular stop over the summer. “People want chicken barbecue. As long as they keep coming, we’ll keep cooking,” said Krolick.
Wendel’s Poultry Farm
12466 Vaughn St., East Concord; wendelspoultryfarm.com
Dinners served at the store from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. Chicken only. Limited picnic tables with outdoor seating. Take chairs or picnic blanket if you plan on eating at the site.
Sauce: Close to the Cornell version (including the use of eggs), but Marty Wendel will tell you that the chicken is only as good as the man cooking it. Sauce sold at the farm store only.
Wendel’s still is a poultry farm. Folks can purchase fresh chickens, turkeys and pot pies along with a chicken barbecue at the stand.
Marty and Dave Wendel inherited the business from their grandfather who had sold his West Seneca grocery store to start a poultry farm in 1945. They reluctantly got dragged into the chicken barbecue business.
“We’d deliver chicken to fire departments for events. We’d get there and they’d ask, ‘can you help us cook it?’ ” laughed Marty Wendel. “I figured if we are going to sell chicken, we’re going to have to cook it. I always say the fire department is better at putting out a fire than starting and keeping it going.”
Wendel noted that back in the day, pits were set up on cold wet ground. “A hill is even worse,” he said.
To that end, the family built two portable chicken cookers — big (240 halves at a time) and really big (400 halves at a time).
Wendel deadpans, “We go through a lot of charcoal.”
What's the secret to Wendel’s chicken? “We don’t rush it. We cook it twice as long on the ‘bone’ side versus what we like to call ‘the money side,’ " he said.
While they don’t have a location to visit, we would be remiss not to mention the Weidner family, also a former poultry farm family. Weidner's has been cooking chicken since the 1950s and was the first barbecue chicken stand at the Erie County Fair (1956), that is still going strong. Find out where they’ll be cooking chicken at wnybbq.com.
Make your own sauce
As wonderful (and easy) purchasing barbecue sauce is, here are two recipes to try:
Dr. Baker’s Cornell Chicken Barbecue Sauce
(Enough for 10 halves)
1 cup cooking oil
1 pint cider vinegar
3 tablespoons salt
1 tablespoon poultry seasoning
1/2 teaspoon pepper
Beat the egg, then add the oil and beat again. Add other ingredients and stir. The recipe can be varied to suit individual tastes.
Golden Ember Sauce
This recipe was printed in The Buffalo News. Writer Emeri Krawczyk found it in her grandmother’s recipe box.
1/4 c. melted butter
1/4 c. fresh lemon juice
2 T. brown sugar
1 T. prepared mustard (Dijon or Weber’s works great)
1 T. salt
1 tsp. paprika
1/2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1/4 tsp. pepper
1/4 tsp. Tabasco sauce
2 cloves garlic, cut in half
2 tsp. grated onion
1/4 c. ketchup
The original recipe calls for putting in a jar and shaking. But it’s just as easy to mix all ingredients thoroughly in blender. Let stand several hours before using to thicken. Marinate on chicken pieces overnight, stored in refrigerator. Recipe is easily doubled and keeps for weeks in the refrigerator.