Fireman Chicken – Cornell Chicken

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? 

overhead shot of plate of fireman chicken with text overlay for facebook


 

Foodie friends, I hereby introduce you to the king of all BBQ chicken recipes: Fireman Chicken, also known as Cornell Chicken BBQ.

Where did Fireman Chicken Originate?

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.

What is Fireman Chicken?

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.

angled shot of fireman chicken on a plate

Why You’ll Love This Fireman Chicken Recipe

There’s just something about chicken on the grill that everyone loves! Here are a few reasons why we think this recipe is awesome.

  • Simple ingredients – While I can almost guarantee you already have most of these ingredients on hand, they can easily be found at the grocery store if not.
  • Family friendly – No veggies or “weird” ingredients when it comes to this chicken recipe. So you can be rest assured it will satisfy even the pickiest of eaters.
  • Great for a cookout – Because it’s made on the grill, this chicken recipe is great for whipping up at a cookout with friends.

Ingredients

I love when recipes have short and simple ingredient lists, and this Fireman Chicken recipe is one of them.

  • Chicken – The cut of chicken used for the original recipe are chicken quarters or chicken pieces of choice, but breasts and boneless chicken thighs are acceptable too. I’ve even used this marinade on pork. You really can’t go wrong with chicken!
  • Mayonnaise – When added to the marinade, the mayo helps lock in moisture and promote browning when the meat is cooking on the grill.
  • Vegetable oil – The oil in the marinade helps to provide a fat. The fat helps transfer flavors to the meat while also providing moisture.
  • Apple cider vinegar – This adds a delicious tang to the chicken. Vinegar is added to a marinade to help break down the fibers to allow the marinade to really soak into the meat.
  • Salt – When cooking, I often times use coarse kosher salt. If using a different salt, double check the measurements. Different salt measure differently.
  • Seasoning blend – I use a blend of poultry seasoning, freshly ground black pepper, garlic powder and paprika. It’s the perfect savory, smoky blend to make this chicken really tasty.
overhead shot of fireman chicken ingredients

How to Make Fireman Chicken

Making this fireman chicken couldn’t be easier. Follow the steps below to find out just how easy.

  1. Make marinade. 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.
  2. Prepare chicken. Pierce chicken with a fork several times to allow marinade to really sink in.
  3. Marinate chicken. Place chicken quarters into a large airtight plastic bag or other tight fitting container. Cover with marinade, reserving some for basting. Refrigerate for a few hours to overnight.
  4. Prepare grill. 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.
  5. Cook and baste. Use reserved marinade, basting the chicken throughout the cooking process. Cook over indirect heat, turning and basting. Make sure you reach the correct chicken temperature before going on to the next step!
  6. Crispy skin. 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.
  7. Allow to rest. Remove from the grill and allow to rest before serving. Discard any unused marinade.

Sauces for Grilled Chicken

Grilled chicken can be serve with such a wide array of basting and dipping sauces. This grilled chicken recipe boats oodles of flavor on it’s own, but you know I like it saucy.

close up of piece of chicken on a plate with a fork

What to Serve with Fireman Chicken

Anything you normally serve with chicken dinners, you can serve your Fireman Chicken recipe with. For sides we like to serve with potato saladBaked BeansCorn on the cob, macaroni salad, squash casserole or a nice Kale Salad! If you want everything to be on the grill, do grilled potatoes or my spicy honey grilled vegetables.

To really take your barbecue dreams to the next level, serve with other cookout favorites like hamburgers and hot dogs. The options are endless and the choice is yours.

Storage, Make Ahead and Freezing

Storage: You can store any leftover barbecue chicken in an airtight container. It will stay in the refrigerator for up to three days.

Make ahead: 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. 

Freezing: You can also freeze if you’d like to. 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. 

close up of chicken leg on plate with fork and zucchini

Frequently Asked Questions

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 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 chicken or raw meat in it for basting even if you boil it. Instead, make a little extra and set it aside for basting. 

collage of fireman chicken for pinterest

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fireman chicken on plate with zucchini with text overlay for pinterest
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Fireman Chicken

4.74 from 101 votes
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!
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 40 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour 14 minutes
Servings: 4

Ingredients

Instructions

  • 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! 

Video

Nutrition

Calories: 590 kcal, Carbohydrates: 4 g, Protein: 24 g, Fat: 50 g, Saturated Fat: 14 g, Cholesterol: 153 mg, Sodium: 2041 mg, Potassium: 418 mg, Sugar: 1 g, Vitamin A: 405 IU, Calcium: 30 mg, Iron: 1.8 mg
Author: Jessica Formicola
Calories: 590
Course: Main Course, Main Dish
Cuisine: American
Keyword: chicken marinades, chicken on the grill, fireman chicken
Did you make this recipe?I’d love to see your recipes – snap a picture and mention @savoryexperiments or tag #savoryexperiments!
Jessica Formicola in her ktichen

About the Author

Jessica Formicola

Jessica the mom, wife and food lover behind Savory Experiments. She is obsessed with butter, salt and bacon and spends all her time in the kitchen and behind a camera. Jessica is a contributor to PopKitchen by Parade, Better Homes & Gardens, The Daily Meal Food + Travel and more!

Read More About Jessica

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Recipe Rating




Questions and Reviews

  1. 5 stars
    You are right, I have never heard of this but it sounds absolutely marvelous! This is going on my “must make” list right now!

  2. 5 stars
    A winner for us! The marinade gave the chicken a fantastic smoky and slightly spicy flavor. It was juicy and perfectly grilled, making it a delightful dish for our summer cookout.

  3. 5 stars
    This chicken was so great! Ioved the mayo-based marinade, it brought so much flavor and moisture!

  4. 5 stars
    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!

  5. 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.

    1. 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. 🙂

  6. 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.

  7. 5 stars
    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.

  8. 4 stars
    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?

    1. Hu Barry- I can try to find that, but I’m sure it’s gonna be pretty hard! This is a very popular recipe.

  9. 5 stars
    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!

    1. 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.

  10. 5 stars
    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!

  11. 5 stars
    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.

  12. 5 stars
    OMG!!!!!.,
    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.

    1. Fabulous! That is what we like to hear and thanks for coming back to let us know. One of our favorites too.

  13. 5 stars
    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.

    1. 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.

  14. 5 stars
    I had never tried or even heard of this before and I am sad I didn’t know of it sooner! It is delicious!

  15. 5 stars
    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!