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Cornell Chicken Barbecue Recipe

This famous barbecue marinade and sauce was developed in the 1940s by Dr. Robert Baker, professor emeritus of Poultry Science and Food Science at Cornell University and creator of chicken nuggets. Dr. Baker sold chicken barbecue every summer at the NY State Fair, that’s why it is also referred to as “State Fair” chicken. Today Cornell Chicken Barbecue is found at fairs, festivals, and fund-raisers throughout the western half of the state. It’s no wonder that many upstate New Yorkers claim this is the best barbecue sauce. 

I’ve had this recipe for more than 20 years—it’s from Nora Daza’s weekend TV show “Cooking It Up with Nora”—and it has never failed to satisfy. (Before the advent of cable TV and Food Network, Nora Daza was the star of Manila’s cooking shows.) Dr. Baker’s original recipe used poultry seasoning, Mrs. Daza tweaked it by using ground spices. I’ve always been a bit suspicious of pre-mixed poultry seasoning as I’m not too sure about what goes into the mix and in what quantities—for one, I’ve always found them too heavy on the pepper which I prefer to be no more than just a hint—so I tweaked Mrs. Daza’s recipe further to suit my palate.

Cornell Chicken Barbecue is one of two all-American chicken barbecue marinades in my cache. The other is  Texas-style, from Lea and Perrins. Thus I call them my Yankee (Cornell) and Dixie (Texas) chicken barbecues. Unlike most Filipino barbecues which tend to be on the sweetish side, the Cornell marinade is tangy yet doesn’t take away from the taste of the chicken. The smell of this chicken on the grill is most impressive and your neighbors will be led over to your patio or deck once the smoke aroma reaches their noses. One taste of this chicken would make even the Colonel lick his lips! 

Cornell Chicken BBQ image

Cornell Chicken Barbecue

This famous barbecue marinade and sauce was developed in the 1940s by Dr. Robert Baker, professor emeritus of Poultry Science and Food Science at Cornell University and creator of chicken nuggets.
Servings 10 chicken leg quarters


  • 10 chicken leg quarters or whole legs


  • 1 egg
  • ½ c cooking oil
  • 1 c cider or cane vinegar
  • 1 t salt
  • ½ t dried marjoram
  • ¼ t ground nutmeg
  • ¼ t ground white pepper
  • ¼ t rosemary
  • ¼ t sage
  • ¼ t thyme


  • In a medium bowl, whisk egg until beaten. Slowly whisk in the oil until fully blended. Whisk in vinegar, salt, and spices. Set aside some of the marinade to use for basting while grilling.
  • In a shallow dish, place chicken and coat with the remaining marinade. Cover and marinate in the fridge for at least 4 hours, up to 24 hours if a more tangy taste is preferred.
  • Arrange chicken skin-side up on grill and grill over hot charcoal. Flip chicken frequently, basting with the reserved marinade—basting should be light at first, more heavily toward the end of the cooking period. Continue to grill until skin is well-browned.
  • Transfer chicken to a platter—do not cover—and let rest 5 minutes before serving.


* Cornell Chicken Barbecue is traditionally served with salt potatoes (small potatoes boiled, skins on, in heavily salted water, then put in a melted butter bath). Other suitable accompaniments include tossed green salad, cole slaw, potato salad, macaroni salad, boiled or grilled sweet corn, and rolls. Round up the meal with a White Zinfandel or a Chardonnay. For dessert, serve apple pie, with ice cream on the side.
* Hot sauce, like Tabasco or Red Devil, is the traditional condiment for Cornell Chicken Barbecue, but I like it just as it is, sans any condiment.
* Traditional Cornell Chicken Barbecue uses a half chicken, usually a broiler. I like to use leg quarters—a cut that includes a thigh, a drumstick, and a part of the back, generally containing a little less than a quarter of the meat on the chicken. Alternatively, turkey or pork may be used.
* Marinade ingredients may be combined, all together, in a blender; blend for a few seconds. Store leftover marinade in a glass jar in the fridge. Use within two weeks.
* Adjust amount of ingredients or eliminate salt to meet individual health needs and taste. Barbecued chicken basted frequently during cooking will be saltier than chicken that has been lightly basted.
* If marinade is prepared ahead of time, refrigerate it until ready for use.
* Keep the chicken on the grill for several minutes after the last basting to be sure the sauce is well cooked.
* Because the marinade doesn't contain sugar or sweetener of any kind, the skin of the chicken doesn't turn as turns black as its Texas, Bacolod (Inasal), or Aristocrat counterparts.

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