The barbecued chicken at Dinosaur Bar-B-Que

dinosaur bar-b-que chicken overhead

By Daniel B.

Why do most people go to the Dinosaur Bar-B-Que in Troy? Well if you ask general manager Joe Soldo, he'll tell you it's for the pulled pork. That's the big seller -- followed by ribs and then brisket, with chicken lagging way behind in the rear.

Chicken gets little respect at a barbecue joint.

When I think about barbecue, it conjures up images of long, slow cooking that breaks down the collagen in tougher pieces of meat, renders their fat, and turns them into unctuous smokey masterpieces. But when I hear the words "barbecue chicken" it's hard to picture anything but a dry, flavorless chicken breast slathered in sauce.

Barbecue chicken has a marketing problem. But I'm far from alone in thinking that Dinosaur's chicken is among its best offering. I recently got to sit down with the regional chain's CIA-trained executive chef Jeffrey "Cooter" Coon to find out why it's so good.

Little did I know that this is the chicken that changed his life.

dinosaur bar-b-que smoker fire and wood

When I commented on how much I enjoyed the restaurant's chicken Cooter perked up and said:

"The chicken's slammin'. That's why I took this job. I started going to the Dino, and I was ordering the half chicken. And that was before we even started brining it, back in '97. I was like, 'This is the juiciest, best chicken I've ever had.' To this day, it is still. Between the smoke, the meat, the moistness, and the char. You got to have the char, and it hits it. Yeah."

When Cooter first ate at the Dino in Syracuse, it was owner John Stage doing the cooking. The two bikers happened to meet on the side of the road. Cooter tells the story: "I just got done being pulled over and I had a broken throttle cable. And John and Mike, one of the old partners, came riding by. And they stopped and they said, 'We have a little barbecue place around the corner with a motorcycle shop above it if you need a cable.'"

Since then, John and Cooter have worked closely together, fine tuning and continually improving the food at Dinosaur. Of course they are both passionate barbecue lovers -- and don't always agree. The move to "all natural" chickens was John's idea. Cooter, on the other hand, is a proponent of high-quality conventionally raised meats to serve as the canvas for his smoke.

But the brine was Cooter's idea. He describes it as, "Pretty basic. Some good amount of bay leaf, black pepper, salt, sugar, some vinegar, and those [birds] get brined for a good 12 hours. And it makes a difference."

What you have to remember about this chicken is that it's truly barbecued. It's cooked in a wood pit smoker for three hours at a temperature that hovers between 225 and 250 degrees.

Low and slow may be great for cooking a tender and juicy chicken, but it has a tendency to turn the skin into leather. So before being served, these smoked birds are brushed with sauce and finished on the grill.

dinosaur bar-b-que chicken closeup

The result is fantastic: juicy, smoky, spicy, sweet, tender and crisp. Don't be fooled into thinking that chicken is the healthful option and a cop-out in a temple of pork and beef fat. You are conflating chicken with boneless, skinless chicken breasts. With the skin on a leg/thigh it is totally a decadent treat, and an entire half chicken is a feast.

In fact, you'll want to make sure you have some kind of side on your plate to help cleanse the heaviness of the chicken fat and clear your palate for subsequent bites. I'm a fan of their chopped collard greens for this task.

There's another reason to get the half-chicken, too: because you get to experience every part of the product pulled from the smoker. The only other way to achieve this on the menu is to get the full rack of ribs (which isn't a bad way to go either). Cooter agrees that getting an entire slab of ribs is the only real way to understand how Dinosaur actually cook ribs, and further explains, "A quarter rack is just a small cross section of what's going on."

Surely one could order an entire brisket or pork butt to get the full experience of these cuts. But you would need a lot of hungry friends to help you eat it. A half-chicken can be a one-person job.

dinosaur bar-b-que exterior front 2013-March

Anyhow, it's an absolute crime that the best thing on the menu at this fabled institution has so few admirers. It also happens to be one of the least expensive things at $12.95 for a half-chicken with two sides and corn bread. I wouldn't hold it against you either if you opted for the "house special" combo that, for an extra buck, pairs a quarter dark meat chicken with a quarter rack of ribs.

Honestly, it's more food than even a hungry adult needs for dinner, and could easily be split two ways. Especially if you wanted to take a scenic walk along the river to Dante's for dessert afterwards. I hear they've got new spoons.

Daniel B. is the proprietor of the FUSSYlittleBLOG.

Find It

Dinosaur Bar-B-Que
377 River St
Troy, NY 12180


Thanks a lot! Now I'm starving! I love the chicken at Dinosaur. Nice review

So given the discussion about leftovers on Table Hopping, where does the half chicken fall? It seems to me that it's probably too big for one person to eat (especially with 2 sides and cornbread), but as you say, ordering the half chicken gets you every part of the product. BUT, the plate probably wouldn't re-heat very well if you took it home. Is this a case of good leftovers or a case of a gigantic portion being actually the better option?

That chicken is really good. I'll often order a larger plate and bring the chicken home. It makes a really good soup too. bok choy, that chicken, and some rice noodles in a bit of miso broth is delicious!

I love the chicken at Dinosaur. You're not alone. I almost always get the wings. They aren't Buffalo wings, they aren't fried or covered in Buffalo sauce, they are grilled, juicy, charry, amazing wings. I love them.

Now I know what I'll be ordering next time I go to Dinosaur. Although the chicken at the Pig Pit is amazing, too. But did 'Cooter' explain why he would choose a conventionally raised (albeit high quality) chicken over an all-natural chicken? I'd love to understand his thought process on that.

I'll have to remember this the next time I'm there. I've only had their pulled pork and brisket, which are ok... but not near Capital Q quality. Now I really want to try their chicken!

@ Chris -

From the look of the size of the chicken on the plate in the photo, that'll be half of one of those 2 1/2 lb. birds that PC, Hannaford, Boston Chicken, Brooks BBQ, et al. use for their rotisserie or barbecue chicken. Once you allow for the weight of the bones, you aren't getting that big a portion.

However, just try to buy those smaller sized birds for your own barbecue or rotisserie -- you can't find them anywhere -- nothing smaller than 4 lbs. available to John or Jane Q. Public.

Brooks BBQ is far better, and worth the hour drive.

Our first time at Dinosaur we got the combination plate and everyone at our table thought the Chicken was the best of all the meats, and that is what we have ordered every time since (usually still as part of a combo though).

Sure. The ONLY barbecue you could find in Capital and for the last 200 years was chicken. Now we finally have some real "Q" options available and we want to celebrate the chicken. Gahhhhhh! Even PJs has finally gotten the message and moved on.

Sound great; I've avoided their chicken because it seemed like an afterthought next to all that red meat.

"nothing smaller than 4 lbs. available to John or Jane Q. Public."

Huh=wha? That-- that's just no. No. Maybe in Troylandia?

@ B

"Huh=wha? That-- that's just no. No. Maybe in Troylandia?"

Nope, that would be in southern Saratoga County, including 4 stand-alone butcher shops (and not including the over-marinated Meat House).

Dino has my favorite wings anywhere. So juicy. Like no other.

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