Joel Steele is among those who've built on a classic dish — and helped the community as well

BLOOMFIELD — Charcoal barbecued chicken broilers make good picnic food for the family — or for several hundred people.

And broilers are always delicious and nutritious.

These are the holy words of Robert C. Baker, a Cornell University professor and author of a now-weathered old copy of “Barbecued Chicken: Cornell Extension Bulletin 862, New York State College of Agriculture.”

And they are words that Joel Steele lives by when it comes to the hundreds of chickens he prepares for special events, such as the Bloomfield Rotary Club’s fundraiser for its backpack program last Saturday.

Baker came up with a sauce in the 1950s known as the Cornell recipe, which some credit as the key ingredient in many successful church, fire department and community barbecues ever since. In the process, he also seems to have developed an early way of promoting chicken and community gatherings.

“Before that, I don’t think barbecues were a popular thing,” Steele said. “Now, barbecues are all over western New York.”

Baker’s sauce includes cooking oil, cider vinegar, salt, pepper, an egg and poultry seasoning. And, Baker noted, don’t forget to baste the chicken liberally.

“Barbecued broilers without sauce is like bread without butter,” Baker wrote in the guide, which also includes how-to tips for building a stone fireplace perfect for grilling.

Steele uses a modified version of the Cornell recipe, which he believes improves on an already tasty flavor. You can ask him, but Steele won’t reveal the mystery.

“It’s a secret recipe,” Steele said.

While his ingredients may be a mystery, people like it just the same — and they tend to come calling when the scent of Steele’s chickens wafts through the air, as it did last Saturday in Elton Park in the village. The Steele family — and 300 soon-to-be barbecued chicken halves — arrived at 7 a.m. that morning for the backpack fundraiser in anticipation of the 11 a.m. serving time.

Steele likes to get off to an early start because he wants to grill the chicken long and slow enough so it doesn’t dry out while cooking and have time for basting — and more basting.

“I’m always concerned about making it right,” Steele said.

Ordinarily, folks would leisurely stroll up and purchase a lunch or dinner, then sit on the picnic tables and enjoy.

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, however, this event was a drive-thru operation — and cars were lined up as an assembly line of volunteers packed up dinners in containers, which included chicken leg and breast, roll, a sweet coleslaw and macaroni salad that complemented the meat perfectly.

And no paltry poultry dishes will do — the portions are so large former pro wrestler Hulk Hogan might have to set aside some for a snack later on.

Cathy Wilson walked up, wearing a face covering, of course, and waited patiently in line between cars. The former owner of Hometown Pizza wanted to support the backpack program, which provides food for Bloomfield students on the weekends when they are not getting their daily free lunch.

The chicken dinner — which ended up raising over $4,000 for the program, Steele said — was a welcomed bonus for her support.

“Not too shabby at all,” Wilson said. “This time of year, I can’t wait.”

Steele, who owns the Stan Steele Insurance Agency in the village, got his start barbecuing chickens while helping his father cook. Nowadays, his boys help him — and the Steeles have nine children.

“I’ve always got somebody to help,” Steele said.

If you missed out, the Steele family will be doing this again later on in the summer and fall, as fundraisers are in the works for the East Bloomfield Historical Society and West Bloomfield Congregational Church.

Another new take on a chicken classic

Way, way, way back in the day (it pains me to write this, by the way), chicken wings capped a night out on the town.

The hotter, the better. And by hot, burn your lips hot. Uncontrollable tears, hot. Pass me a towel because I’m sweating, hot. Call 911 because I'm on fire, hot.

Like having the ability to stay awake past 9 o’clock at night, those days are long gone. But the chicken wing remains a guilty pleasure — and for this Green Front restaurant takeout pandemic lunch, not so much guilt but definitely pleasure.

The Green Front restaurant on Niagara Street is the companion eatery to owner Eric Zimmerman’s Eric’s Office Restaurant, also in Canandaigua.

Wings are king at the Green Front, and they’re huge — in size and popularity.

They come in standard hot, medium and mild and in flavors including sweet red chili, honey barbecue, garlic parmesan, and country sweet.

But the “dusted” wings bring customers back, again and again. Zimmerman said they are the top seller.

This style of wing has a nice spice — not too hot, but tasty. And an underrated factor when dining takeout for lunch, they’re not super messy, as say a Buffalo-style wing might be.

The wings are coated with the house dry rub spice — exactly what that entails is on a need-to-know basis.

“We just call them dusted,” Zimmerman said.

Many others just call for more.

Ideas on the menu 

Like The Green Front restaurant, restaurants and bars are surviving by takeout orders and curbside service these days. I’ll try to help by shining a light on what they do best, but I’ll need help.

No, no — don’t send money. Send ideas.

Do you have a signature dish from your favorite dining stop that you’d like to know more about? Send them my way, to mmurphy@messengerpostmedia.com, and I’ll see what we can do to share the stories of these dishes and maybe give you an idea for lunch or dinner to ease the stir craziness. Better yet, maybe you’ll find a new place to make friends and laugh again when this is all over.