Rogue Recommends: The Chicken at Holy Smokes

Go beyond brisket.

by Philbert Dy

Photo by Holy Smokes

So American Barbecue is one of the new things people are lining up for in Metro Manila. A bunch of barbecue joints opened up just last year, introducing the Filipino to the joys of low and slow cooked proteins infused with a healthy (note: probably not healthy) dose of wood smoke. There’s Sigs Smokehouse in Maginhawa, Pitmasters in Kapitolyo, The Smokeyard and Holy Smokes in Poblacion, and Mighty Quinn’s inside the Mega Fashion Hall. There is no shortage for choices for anyone looking for a gout flareup.

All of these places have beef brisket at the top of their menus, and it likely should be the first choice for anyone looking to be introduced to the joys of smoked meats. And if it’s just brisket we’re talking about, Rogue would recommend making the trek out to Quezon City for the version over at Sigs, which is just about as lovely and as flavorful a piece of beef you’ll ever get. There is an odd, bulalo-ish dimension to it that makes it feel like something specific to the Philippines, rather than just an attempt at replicating the flavors of Texas.

But brisket is a given. What if you’ve had all the red meat, and are curious what else barbecue can do? We here at Rogue recommend an overlooked part of the barbecue menu: smoked chicken. And among the barbecue purveyors currently in Metro Manila, Holy Smokes delivers the supreme version.

Here is the thing: brisket is great, but it’s forgiving. Too forgiving. And the same goes with all the showy pieces of red meat you’ll find at any barbecue place. There is certainly skill involved in flavoring these meats and knowing when to pull them from the fire, but in the end, it’s time that’s doing most of the work. You keep the meat at a certain temperature, and you keep in there for a long enough amount of time, and more often than not, it’s going to turn out great.

But chicken is tricky. It isn’t nearly as forgiving. A few degrees off, a few minutes either way, and it can become an inedible piece of rubber. And this is what makes the chicken at Holy Smokes so remarkable. There is some alchemy going on there, some unidentifiable piece of culinary magic that turns that chicken into one of best dishes you can have anywhere.

It’s served with a cilantro cream, but it doesn’t need any extra flavoring. Every steaming bite is perfectly pitched, the smoky notes intensifying the chicken flavor. It’s a flavor that penetrates down the cartilege-y bits, making chewing on these bones a genuine pleasure. And it has somehow managed to do all that while keeping the whole bird consistently juicy from one end to the other.

The brisket and the ribs are always going to be the main attraction at any barbecue joint. But the real smoking enthusiast might want to leave room for some of the chicken at Holy Smokes. Because it is a dish that really shows you the care taken at the pit.

HOLY SMOKES, 5834 Matilde St, Poblacion, Makati City