What is Fireman Chicken? Chances are if you don’t live in upstate or western New York or have friends from that area, you may have never heard of it, but that is about to change. You might also know it as Cornell Chicken, perhaps?
What's In This Article
Fireman Chicken, also known as Cornell Chicken BBQ, is a classic BBQ chicken marinade that originated in upstate New York, but is making its way through the states!
Foodie friends, I hereby introduce you to the king of all BBQ chicken recipes: Fireman Chicken, also known as Cornell Chicken BBQ.
Make sure you PIN Fireman Chicken!
Most say Fireman Chicken originated in Ithaca, New York, and the home of Cornell University, where every year the fire department has a fundraiser and makes pounds of their famous BBQ chicken.
Others claim it actually came from a fire company on the Eastern shore of Maryland. Who knows, really.
What I know is that because hubby and a few of his friends are from these parts, Fireman Chicken has become a staple at each and every one of our BBQs.
People love it, they crave it, they get excited when they find out we are making it!
The marinade is a simple vinegar-based sauce that differs from person to person. Some add paprika, others garlic, apple cider vinegar, poultry seasoning and some use raw egg instead of mayonnaise… even though mayo is actually raw egg.
It sounds odd, but results in a super moist chicken and a marinade that really sticks. My Fireman Chicken recipe is a hybrid of them all.
You can use any chicken pieces you want; thighs, drums, breasts. I suggest marinating for a minimum of 24 hours, but I have friends that swear it needs to be at least three days. I generally don’t have the foresight to plan that far in advance.
The salt and refrigeration will keep your chicken and marinade from going bad. Just make sure to grill all pieces to an internal temperature of 165 degrees.
Serve your Fireman Chicken recipe with Baked Beans, Corn on the cob or a nice Kale Salad!
If you like our Fireman Chicken, here are even more BBQ classics:
- Best BBQ Ribs
- Grilled Lemon Chicken
- Bacon Wrapped BBQ Chicken Stuffed Peppers
- Grilled Zucchini Boats
- Grilled Watermelon
- Cowboy Burgers
- Basic Chicken Marinade
Tools for making Cornell Chicken:
Meat Thermometer– Every home kitchen should have a meat thermometer. Never take a guess as to if something is done again!
Mixing Bowls– make sure to check out my article on Using the Right Mixing Bowl, you’d be surprised how many people aren’t!
Whisks– I buy whisks in multiple sizes. You never know which one you will need.
Grilling Tools– you are grilling, so make sure you have the right tools!
Questions you might have about how to make Cornell Chicken:
Do I have to use chicken quarters? Nope- use whatever chicken pieces you’d like. If you want to use a variety and save some money, learn how to cut up your own whole chicken.
I do prefer to use pieces with chicken skin, opposed to boneless skinless chicken breasts. It helps to hold in the flavor.
Can I make these ahead of time? If you are cooking for a large crew, I would suggest making them ahead of time. Chicken on the grill can be quite time consuming.
Do like the restaurants do and cook the chicken ahead of time, allowing you to just reheat it on the grill when it is time to serve.
Can I freeze Cornell Chicken? You can. I recommend freezing the chicken in the marinade and then defrosting when you are ready to cook. You can also freeze cooked chicken, but it tends to come out a little dry.
Can I use a different type of oil? You can use canola or any vegetable blended oil. I suggest vegetable oil only because it is fairly cheap. Don’t go wasting money using an expensive olive oil.
Can I use the leftover marinade as a basting sauce? I never recommend using marinade that has raw meat in it for basting even if you boil it. Instead, make a little extra and set it aside for basting.
- 4 chicken quarters or chicken pieces of choice
- 1/2 cup mayonnaise
- 1 cup vegetable oil
- 2 cups apple cider vinegar
- 1 tablespoon coarse kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon poultry seasoning
- 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- Cooking Spray
- In a medium mixing bowl, combine mayonnaise, vegetable oil, cider vinegar, fine sea salt, poultry seasoning, ground black pepper, garlic powder and paprika. Whisk until smooth.
- Pierce chicken with a fork several times to allow marinade to really sink in.
- Place chicken quarters into a large airtight plastic bag or other tight fitting container. Cover with marinade, reserving a 1/2 cup for basting. Refrigerate for a minimum of 2 hours, maximum of 24 hours.
- Heat grill to medium-high heat. You can use either gas or charcoal, however make sure you have a long burning charcoal if you go that direction. Place chicken on the grill on indirect heat.
- Use reserved marinade, basting the chicken throughout the cooking process. Cook over indirect heat for 35 minutes, turning and basting.
- At 35 minutes, transfer to direct heat to get a crispy and good char marks. At this time, stop basting. If you are using different cuts of chicken, please adjust accordingly.
- Remove from the grill and allow to rest for 5-10 minutes before serving. Discard any unused marinade.
- If you’ve tried this recipe, come back and let us know how it was!
I grew up in Alden, NY, a rural suburb of Buffalo. A favorite childhood memory of mine is the Alden Art Show and Chicken BBQ (BBQ chicken made by the firemen)… it was always amazing! Welp, I made this recipe today, and it truly turned out perfect! My chicken was really large, so it took a bit longer (that’s what meat thermometers are for!), it was so delicious and juicy… no dry chicken here! I made it exactly to the recipe. Excellent! Thank you so much!
Glad you loved it!
I was just re-reading the recipe and realized that I forgot to add the vegetable oil to the marinade ingredients. Will it be OK? I have had it marinating for 8hrs.
I’m a little late (sorry, I was out with my kiddos doing holiday things all day) but I think you figured it out and YES, it should be just fine. 🙂
I make this recipe only I use an egg sometimes 2. am going to try this with your mayo. version to see the difference. thank you for sharing. I was looking for the egg substitute.
Great! Let us know how it goes!
I live in Virginia, but am from western New York. I make this all the time, but instead of mayo,I was taught to use eggs. I’ll try it with mayo next time. The folks down here go crazy for it.
Cider Vinegar….is that Apple Cider Vinegar?
Jessica, was very good. I had a recipe that i used for many years but used a lot of salt. There is a fire station in Greenwood, Delaware that cooks during the summer; this one is slap the table good. Maybe hubby could get that recipe from them?
Hu Barry- I can try to find that, but I’m sure it’s gonna be pretty hard! This is a very popular recipe.
We recently tried out this recipe. I had an eye on it for some time and didn’t know what to expect. The marinade was easy and I had all the ingredients in my kitchen. After marinating four or so hours the chicken was placed on the grill. Oh my goodness! It was so moist (no doubt from the marinade) and the skin was delightfully crisp when finished. And the chicken was really tasty, I might add! We will definitely use this recipe again and again. I can’t wait!
Thank you so much for the feedback and glad you enjoyed it!
I need to bake this can I get a temperature and for how long?
Hi Jill, I haven’t baked them so I am going to give you what I would start with for chicken halves. Bake at 350°F for about 45 minutes, check the temperature and when it hit about 155°F, change heat to broiler until skin is browned and crispy. Allow to rest for 5-10 minutes before serving.
It’s reached Chicago! We have many fire fighters and paramedics in the family, so the name definitely intrigued us. It did NOT disappoint! Making it for a BbQ this weekend, again. If it passes the test, I’m sure a family member will carry it over to a Chicago fire house. Thank you!
Awesome!!! I’m SO glad to hear this- enjoy!!!
When I was a kid in Upstate NY, we used to look forward to the Firemen’s fund raiser BBQ. It was a big deal out in the country.
I looked all over for what looked like the ingredients for the marinade I remembered. The as the last chance, I just put “Firemen’s Chicken” as a search. There it was!
Thanks a lot. I think that there is none better. So good I keep small bowl of it for dipping as I ate.
Thank you, Jerry! Glad we were able to help you out!
Made this for dinner tonight and my husband wanted another piece. I let mine marinade for 24hrs, I was a little worried about being to much on the apple cider, I was wrong. It was just enough to give it that tangy flavor. I want to try and make this marinade with like some kind of pork. Thank you so much for sharing this.
Fabulous! That is what we like to hear and thanks for coming back to let us know. One of our favorites too.
grilled fireman chicken
My grandfather was a fireman in upstate New York , my uncle learn to make the Cornell chicken . He catered many events through the years with it . As well as our family Reunion . I always love this chicken . My uncle had me work the grills with him has he taught me the art. I crave it now and again and make it for the family . The egg is always an issue, to the point where I have deleted it all together from the recipe . After that chicken has spent 24 hours in that marinade the egg makes little difference . PS the Firemans beer of choice to go with this chicken is Genesee cream ale , and it is often poured onto the chicken and everything else as it grills.
Thank you, Michael! We are very familiar with Genesee Cream Ale, not my favorite, but hubby loves it. Have you been to the brewery? We like to visit when we are up there.
2 cups cider vinegar ???
that sounds a lot.
are you sure?
I am sure!
We loved this recipe even though i forgot the veg oil in the marinade super juicy and delicious!
Awesome! Thanks for coming back to let us know!
I had never tried or even heard of this before and I am sad I didn’t know of it sooner! It is delicious!
I haven’t seen it in St. Louis yet. But, now that it is in my kitchen, I may be the trendsetter here. What a great recipe!