BUTLER COUNTY BEGINNINGS How to Brissil a Chicken
BY ANNIE CRENSHAW
How do you brissil a chicken? Even if Californians didn’t know how to do it, how has it been done in Butler County?
The basic recipe is simple. Halved chickens (and we mean “broilers,” not “baking hens”) are grilled very slowly on an open outdoor pit or barbecue grill. The chickens are basted with a sauce of vinegar, butter, salt and red pepper. Garlic and lemon juice could also be added.
Different families have variations of the recipe, adding this or that, though purists have kept to the basic ingredients.
The Butler County Historical and Genealogical Society featured Glenn Stanley’s original “Chicken Brissil” recipe, courtesy of his daughter, Nonnie Hardin, in the 2004 cookbook, “A Taste of Butler County: Treasured Family Recipes of the Butler County Historical Society.”
When I visited Nonnie to get a copy of this recipe and others, we talked about all the great cook-outs people used to have at Beeland Park, the American Legion “hut,” Eureka Masonic Lodge, and other places.
Moody’s Steak House and The Cabin Inn served chicken brissil regularly years ago, and it was featured at countless outdoor parties over the decades.
Nonnie had a great sense of humor, and told funny stories about the dinners, parties and people. I still miss her!
By the way, along with my passion for Southern food culture, I just LOVE cookbooks. Nonnie had good ones, including quite a few “golden oldies” from many decades ago.
Recipes for “Chicken Brissil” have been published in local cookbooks since at least the 1940s.
If you have a copy of the venerable little 1949 cookbook by The Hobby Club (the late Juanita Carter was a member), please let me know. I have a tattered photocopy without a cover, and would love to have a fresh copy of the complete book. I’ll gladly pay for photocopying/scanning.
A recipe for “Butler County Chicken Brissil” was featured in “Treasured Alabama Recipes” by Kathryn Tucker Windham (1964 and subsequent editions). This is a “must have” cookbook for Southern food enthusiasts.
Kathryn – noted journalist, folklorist, storyteller and author – wrote not only cookbooks, but the “Thirteen Alabama Ghosts” book series.
She knew a good recipe when she saw it, and tasted it. I’m sure her Butler County relatives and friends put her name on the guest list at many a chicken brissil cook-out.
“Camellia City Chicken Brissil” was included in the outstanding recipes in the state sesquicentennial cookbook, “150 Alabama First Lady’s Cookbook,” by Martha Farmer Brewer (1969).
Of course we all know that Greenville has been called “The Camellia City” since the 1930s.
Like earlier cookbooks, the First Lady’s Cookbook is a wonderful collection of now-vintage recipes, cooked without the convenience of Instant Pots, air fryers, and microwaves.
“Mama Jean’s Grilled Chicken Brissle” was published in the “My Fare Ladle” cookbook by Greenville native Rebecca Beeland Noojin (1982).
Jean Sherling Beeland added Worcestershire sauce and sugar to her version of the chicken recipe. Her daughter Rebecca helpfully pointed out that “Ribs and pork chops are equally good cooked this way.” We agree!
Members of St. Thomas Episcopal Church of Greenville included a “Chicken Bristle” recipe in their church’s cookbook, “Without a Doubt” (1977), and repeated it in the 2000 edition.
The 1977 recipe is one of the personalized versions of the original – adding tomato juice, mustard, Worcestershire sauce, sugar, onion, and bay leaves. The resulting tomato sauce actually makes barbecued chicken, rather than the classic brissiled bird. But, it still tastes great.
The St. Thomas recipe calls for the chicken to be baked in an oven, rather than cooking/grilling on an outdoor pit. Of course we all know that, for convenience and in the event of bad weather, substituting an indoor kitchen oven for charcoal and open fire is pretty handy. My mother prepared “baked” barbecued chicken on many occasions.
Want to try Glenn Stanley’s original “Chicken Brissil” recipe? It’s delicious! The “Taste of Butler County” cookbook is available for just $12 from Butler County Historical Society president, Barbara Middleton, phone (334) 368-1570, email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Learn more about Butler County history with membership in The Butler County Historical & Genealogical Society, P. O. Box 561, Greenville, AL 36037. Read more about Butler County’s beginnings here – http://sites.rootsweb.com/~albchgs/, and, look for us on Facebook.
Thank you for the article. I love seeing Grandmama’s name – I never knew you could miss someone so much.