My kids have been on a summer swim team since they were each in first grade. It’s on the other end of town so the friends we’ve made over the years have not been from our schools or sharing any other social connection. It’s always so fun when the season starts to see the same families and watch the kids grow from year to year.
In the off season a few of the summer families take lessons from the same instructor or do small swim training groups. My very favorite one includes a few dad-friends who are into grilling and smoking (on the grill) like I am. I’ve logged hundreds of bench hours at various sports activities over the year but this one I love, getting the chance to talk grilling.
Last week after the kids got in the water, we began talking about a Pit Barrel Cooker I’d convinced one of the dads to buy after I used it at Steven Raichlen’s Barbecue University last summer. I was thrilled to get one for Christmas myself and broke it in by tea-smoking a full duck to make Duck Tacos with Plum Sauce for New Year’s Eve. As I was scrolling through my iPhone Camera Roll to show one of the dads a spatchcocked chicken I’d smoked over the summer, he whipped out a photo on his phone that should have been accompanied with the sound of angels’ singing on high.
I’m not even sure what they were but looked like small pieces of chicken wrapped in bacon and I’m sure grilled. It was a recipe online but something my friend was thinking of grilling. The first thing that popped to mind were bacon wrapped water chestnuts that my parents served at cocktail parties when I was a child. I loved the crunch and flavor contrast despite finding the water chestnuts to have an odd flavor.
Swimming ended, I came home and have not been able to forget those bacon chicken bites. Having only seen a photo, no recipe or recipe title, I knew I needed to make something like them or I’d go mad. With football season careening toward the Super Bowl the timing seemed perfect.
I love jalapeno poppers, have about 6 packages of bacon in my freezer at all times and wanted to create a layered appetizer to serve for football parties. Or eat an entire plate of solo for dinner (of course I did not do that; wink!). Chicken breast strips marinated in barbecue sauce, filled with cream cheese and a slice of jalapeno rolled in bacon. Sound ok to you? They really are bigger than a bite, more like two bites, and a filling appetizer size. Unlike Jalapeno Poppers they are not blistering hot, but rather have a hint of jalapeno and crunch from them too (you could always add more piece to make these poppers spicier). I’m sure they could be grilled indirectly similarly to these Smoked Blue Cheese Stuffed Bacon-Wrapped Chile Peppers I made last summer though I have not tested that out yet. Oh darn, guess I’ll have to make another batch!
A quintessential game day appetizer Bacon Wrapped Chicken Poppers combine the flavors of barbecue sauce, cream cheese, jalapeno, chicken and bacon baked then broiled for a mouthwatering two-bite snack.
- 1 pound skinless, boneless Chicken Breasts (usually 2 breasts)
- 1 cup Barbecue Sauce (purchased or homemade)
- 1 large Jalapeno Pepper
- 1 8-ounce package Cream Cheese, softened
- 13-15 slices Bacon, cut in half horizontally
- Wooden Toothpicks
- On a firm surface, place the chicken breasts between two pieces of plastic wrap and pound to ½ inch thickness. Place in a zipper plastic bag with the barbecue sauce, squeeze out air before sealing the bag, massage the barbecue sauce into the chicken (from the outside of the bag) and marinate at least 2 hours up to overnight in the refrigerator.
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a large baking sheet with sides with foil, shiny side down (facing the baking sheet). Fit with a baking/cooling rack.
- Slice the jalapeno pepper open vertically and remove the stem and inside seeds. Note: wash hands thoroughly after doing this. Slice the pepper vertically into 1/8-inch wide strips. Cut each strip into 1-inch long segments. Set aside.
- Remove the chicken from the marinade allowing any excess marinade to drain back into the bag (discard the marinade). Slice the chicken into 1-inch wide strips, and then again into 3 inch lengths.
- Place a chicken piece on a work surface and pat the top of the chicken piece with a paper towel to remove any excess moisture from the marinade. Spread 1 teaspoon of cream cheese to cover the top of the chicken piece. Place one jalapeno pepper ‘stick’ in the middle of the cream cheese spanning the width of the chicken (refer to photos). Fold the chicken piece in half with the cream cheese inside.
- Set one ½ slice of bacon on the work surface. Place a stuffed chicken piece with the ends facing down on the bacon and the open sides facing the bacon NOT outward (this allows the open ends to be covered by the bacon when rolled so the stuffing does not easily leak out when cooked) about 1 inch from an end of the bacon.
- Gently pull the short end of the bacon over the chicken piece, then roll the chicken and bacon toward the opposite end of the bacon, pulling gently to stretch the bacon slightly as you roll.
- Secure with two toothpicks at the exposed end of the bacon through the chicken piece to the opposite side.
- Place poppers on the prepared baking sheet and bake for 30-35 minutes. Place the baking sheet under the broil, one rack position down (not the top rack position to be better control broiling and not burn the bacon or toothpicks). Closely monitor the poppers and allow the bacon to begin to crisp and darken about 1 ½- 2 minutes; flip the Bites over and do the same on the opposite side.
- Remove from oven and allow to sit for 5 minutes before serving.