Thanksgiving often is a time to welcome new additions to the family table. Page Skelton of Chapel Hill-based Cackalacky is giving the tradition a sweet-and-spicy twist with the introduction today of its new Sweet Cheerwine Sauce.
The product has been in the works for a few months and features the Salisbury-made soft drink’s characteristic deep burgundy color, which adds a lustrous lacquer to grilled and smoked meats. Skelton offers his recipe for Cheer-Can Chicken to INDY readers below.
“I’m pretty giddy about the sauce,” says Skelton, who will offer samples to fans attending The Avett Brothers’ Legendary Giveback Concert on Thursday in North Charleston, S.C. “The original idea was to do it as a one-off specialty, but the Cheerwine folks are really behind it. They wanted another product that had legs and believe this is it.”
Skelton, who developed the taste, managed to hit the mark after just two tries. “They asked me to make the Cheerwine flavor a bit more prominent, and I agree it’s better,” he says. “They call the mix of the soft drink and Southern foods ‘a legendary Southern handshake.’”
Cooking with Cheerwine is not a new concept; chefs and home cooks have been using it to glaze hams and substitute for cola in cakes for decades. Garden & Gun features a recipe for Cheerwine Vinegar Pie in its current issue. But this is the first time that a commercially produced sauce has the express approval of Cheerwine itself.
Skelton views the flavor as a perfect compromise for those who love barbecue but not really spicy food. “This falls right smack in the middle of the bell curve,” he says. “It’s got enough spice to wake up your food but not go over the top. It’s a nice bookend to the original sauce.”
The new sauce joins Cackalacky’s original sweet potato-based Spice Sauce and Spiced Nuts, as well as a pale ale produced in partnership with Fullsteam Brewery. Sold in 16-ounce jars for $5.99, Sweet Cheerwine Sauce was quietly added to Cackalacky’s online store about a week ago and is available locally at Cliff’s Meat Market, Carrboro Beverage, Southern Season and Parker and Otis. Other locations will be added soon, including all Greensboro-area Harris Teeter stores.
Skelton does not envision adding other items to product line anytime soon. “No, and Mrs. Cackalacky says this is enough,” he says with a laugh. “My wife runs my common sense department. With the new beer being introduced at the start of the year and the sauce at the end, it’s pretty monumental to manage all we’ve got.”
A Saturday event at Fullsteam will offer Cackalacky Pale Ale shandies made with Cheerwine instead of lemonade. Samples of chicken wings and barbecue spiked with Sweet Cheerwine Sauce—and possibly a pre-Thanksgiving turkey—also will be served.
“I think it would be incredible on turkey, kind of sweet and caramelized,” Skelton says. “We’re going to try it this year at our house.”
Jill Warren Lucas is a freelance writer in Raleigh who blogs at Eating My Words. Follow her at @jwlucasnc.
Courtesy of Page Skelton
If using a charcoal grill, arrange coals to allow an area for indirect cooking. If using a gas grill, leave one burner off and set to medium-high heat. Rinse chicken inside and out, and pat dry with paper towels. Set aside.
Drink half of the can of Cheerwine and place with can (with remaining contents) on a solid surface. Grabbing the chicken by both legs, push the large bird cavity over the can. Then, transfer the chicken to your grill and place in the cooler portion of the grate, balancing the bird on the can and using the two legs as stabilizers.
Cook the chicken over medium-high, indirect heat, with the grill cover on, for approximately 1¼ hours or until the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees F in the breast, or, until the thigh juices run “clear.”
In last 15-20 minutes of cooking, baste generously with Cackalacky Sweet Cheerwine Sauce until well coated and caramelized. Remove from grill and let rest for 10 minutes before carving.