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The Rise of Cornell Chicken

In the Kitchen
Cornell Chicken | Appetite for Life

A friend recommended this odd marinade for chicken - vinegar, oil, poultry seasoning, salt, and...wait for it...and egg!

I was supremely skeptical. She swore by it. Her family in Upstate New York also swears by it, and it is a tradition in summer barbeques, especially community events, to serve what they call Cornell Chicken.

As skeptical as I was, I did try the recipe, and it was fantastic. It was flavorful, moist, and in a word, YUMMY. I wanted to learn where this came from and why it was so popular in Upstate New York.

A Bit of History

In 1949, Dr. Robert Baker, a Cornell professor, and food scientist, published the recipe he'd been working on for a couple of years.

At that time, the chicken was an underutilized food, believe it or not. It was also shortly after the war, and the backyard barbeque was being born. Baker ran a series of trials to create the barbeque sauce and method as part of his research.

To spread the word once the recipe was developed, he held community barbeques around the state and even set up his own booth at the New York State Fair when he developed the recipe in 1949. The stand was the longest-running stand at the fair first run by Dr. Baker and his wife and then later by his children. The stand closed in 2019.

The Secrets

To grill the perfect Cornell Chicken, here are some things to consider:

  • Use whole chickens cut in half. The recipe was designed to make the most of the chicken in this fashion. I've experimented with all cuts, and although delicious, the half-bird is certainly the best.

  • The flavor is in the basting! Yes, you marinate the chicken, but the flavor really comes from the basting. The more you baste, the more intense the flavor.

  • Don't over-marinate. The recipe says 4-10 hours. I wouldn't push it much more. If you do, you may find the chicken meat a bit more broken down than you want due to the acid and a bit more salty. I like 8 hours, personally.

Give it a try this summer, and when you do remember you are eating a bit of history.


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About Me

Hi!  I'm Jen

Cooking is a passion passed down from both of my grandmothers to my mother and then to my sister and me.  

Throughout my career, I was always drawn back to food.  I've learned from experienced chefs, apprenticed with professional bakers, and tasted coffee with international experts.

Today I'm sharing those experiences with you.

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