Cary Grant’s Oven-Barbecued Chicken

Cary Grant's Oven-Barbecued Chicken Recipe on The History Kitchen

Those of you who follow The History Kitchen regularly know I’m a “nerd” when it comes to food history. I’m also a big fan of the Silver Screen; I’m particularly fond of early Hollywood, silent pictures and cinematic classics. That’s why I was thrilled to stumble upon a rare vintage cookbook called What Actors Eat When They Eat! (Lymanhouse, 1939) This quirky book is a compilation of recipes and “favorite dishes” from some of the greatest stars of old Hollywood. The recipes were compiled and edited by Rex Lease and Kenneth Harlan, two actors who achieved most of their success in silent films. The forward is written by screenwriter Anita Loos, author of the famed comedic novel Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, on which the Marilyn Monroe film is based. Fittingly, the first line of the forward reads:

Gentlemen prefer girls who know how to cook, whether they be blonde, brunette, or titian.

The cookbook is organized alphabetically by actor name. Each entry contains a headshot of the actor, a brief biography and a recipe—either a family recipe, or a favorite dish the actor enjoyed. There are some terrific actors featured in this book. While several of the recipes are outdated and over-processed, it is a fun glimpse at the time period and taste preferences of some cinematic greats.

I hope to cover other stars and recipes in future posts. Today, I’m sharing a recipe from one of Hollywood’s legends—a romantic and charismatic leading man who was born with a very unsexy name, indeed.

On January 8, 1904, Archibald “Archie” Alexander Leach was born to a working class family in Bristol, England. His parents, Elias James Leach and Elsie Maria Kingdon Leach, had very little money. They spent a great deal of time arguing and struggling to raise their son, an only child. In order to escape the difficulties at home, young Archie spent Saturdays at the “picture palaces” watching matinees and discovering a love for film and acting.

When Archie turned 14, he decided to take a chance on acting. He joined the Bob Pender Troupe, a traveling performance group also known as the “Knockabout Comedians.” He acted in pantomime and performed tricks as a stilt walker and an acrobat. After a successful tour of small English towns, the troupe went to New York, where they were well received. After two years, Archie decided to make America his new home. He did a fair number of odd jobs before earning his first stage role in the musical Golden Dawn. It was the beginning of a theatrical career, which eventually led to an audition with Paramount Studios.

When Paramount offered Archie a five-year film contract in 1931, the studio advised him to change his name. He chose Cary Grant, the name he would carry as he built one of the most successful careers in Hollywood history. Over the next four decades, Grant appeared in an impressive 72 films and received two Academy Award nominations. He became known as Hollywood’s most debonair leading man, sought after by the movie studios for his blockbuster-making charm and appeal. He starred in several noteworthy movies, including Bringing Up Baby, To Catch a Thief, and An Affair to Remember. His most famous film is Alfred Hitchcock’s North By Northwest, after which Hitchcock claimed Grant to be the “only actor I have ever loved in my whole life.”

Grant’s greatest talent was comedy, which he treated with a light, natural ability. His success was undoubtedly helped by his charisma and dashing good looks. He appeared elegant and sophisticated, so different from the working class English lifestyle of his childhood.

Cary Grant Barbecued Chicken Recipe, Biography and Headshot from What Actors Eat When They Eat!

In What Actors Eat When They Eat, Cary Grant’s entry is for Barbecued Chicken. It’s a simple oven-barbecued chicken recipe, nothing fancy. I can’t help but wonder if the recipe is a nod to his more humble beginnings. About the recipe, Grant says:

“Now go to it, friends, and don’t blame me if it is not to your liking. For after all, the recipe is not mine. It is the national prize winner of the year and I happen to like it.”

I made the recipe, and it is pretty good. I used one 4.5 pound chicken, rather than the recipe’s suggested 3 chickens, 1.5 pounds each. I increased the oven heat and baked it for a long time to ensure the chicken was well-cooked and tender. I also thickened the sauce a bit as suggested by the recipe’s liner notes. The recipe produces a LOT of sauce, but it isn’t really a problem, since it helps keep the chicken moist and tender as it cooks. Next time I might cut down on the vinegar a bit; that is a personal preference, though. It’s a simple and homey recipe, just right for a cold autumn evening.

Food Photography and Styling by Louise Mellor

Cary Grant's Oven-Barbecued Chicken Recipe on The History Kitchen

Cary Grant’s Oven-Barbecued Chicken

Adapted from: "What Actors Eat When They Eat!" by Kenneth Harlan and Rex Lease

Ingredients

  • 3 chickens, 1 ½ lbs each (or 1 chicken, 4.5 lbs), cut into pieces
  • Olive or vegetable oil for frying
  • 1 cup ketchup
  • 1/2 cup Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 cup A-1 sauce
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup cider vinegar
  • 1 onion, peeled and diced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2 tbsp cornstarch (or more if needed)

You will also need

  • 9x13 baking dish, saucepan, aluminum foil
Prep Time: 15 Minutes
Cook Time: 75 Minutes
Total Time: 90 Minutes
Servings: 6
  • Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Heat olive or vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium till hot. Fry the chicken pieces in the hot oil in batches till browned. Season with salt and pepper as you cook.
  • Place browned chicken pieces in a 9x13 baking dish.
  • In a saucepan, combine ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, water, A-1 sauce, sugar, cider vinegar, onion and garlic. Whisk together over medium heat till warm. In a small bowl, whisk together 2 tbsp cornstarch with 2 tbsp cold water till smooth. Slowly add the cornstarch mixture to the barbecue sauce, whisking till incorporated. Continue to whisk over medium heat till the sauce is hot, bubbly, and thickened.
  • Remove from heat. Pour the sauce evenly across the top of the chicken pieces. Cover the roasting dish with foil.
  • Bake the chicken for 60-75 minutes, or until the meat is tender and well cooked. Remove from the oven. If you’d like to serve extra sauce with the chicken, skim the fat drippings from the top of the sauce. To thicken the leftover sauce, pour it into a saucepan and heat over medium. Mix together equal amounts of cornstarch and water, a half tablespoon at a time, and slowly whisk into the sauce. Heat and add the cornstarch mixture, stirring constantly, till desired consistency is reached. Serve chicken warm with the thickened barbecue sauce on the side.
  • Cary Grant's Oven-Barbecued Chicken Recipe on The History Kitchen

 Research Sources

Lease, Rex and Harlan, Kenneth (1939). What Actors Eat — When They Eat! Lymanhouse Publishers, Los Angeles, CA.

McCann, Graham (1996). Cary Grant: A Class Apart. Columbia University Press, New York, NY.

Nelson, Nancy (1992). Evenings With Cary Grant: Recollections In His Own Words and By Those Who Loved Him Best. Thorndike Press, Thorndike, Maine.

Comments (20)Post a Comment

    1. Hi Barbara! First of all, never apologize for leaving feedback… I love hearing from my readers, it makes all the hard work worth it! Second, I’m sorry about the garlic… I added it to the ingredient list. It’s just one clove chopped. Glad you didn’t miss it! And I’m very happy you enjoyed the chicken. :)

    1. Lisa, you can just omit the Worcestershire, there will still be plenty of sauce for the chicken without it and the flavor will be fine. If you want, you can add an extra 1/4 cup of steak sauce to the mix.

      Rebecca, it’s true that fish is pareve, however some Orthodox or strictly kosher Jews will not mix fish and meat– they require the mouth to be rinsed between consuming fish and meat. That said, the majority of Jews who keep kosher have no trouble mixing meat and fish, as you’ve noted. For those that do follow this restriction, the recipe can easily be modified as stated above.

    1. Sydelle, this is true for some Jews who keep kosher, but not all– viewpoints vary on this particular restriction. That said, The History Kitchen is not a kosher website like TheShiksa.com. I will offer modifications whenever possible here for those who keep kosher, but keep in mind that if you’re looking for strictly kosher recipes, stick with The History Kitchen’s sister website, TheShiksa.com. :)

  1. This sauce was very similar to another recipe I have used forever but I decided to use this version of the sauce on ‘wings’ and it was finger lickin’ good.

  2. What a treasure! I collect cookbooks, and share your early Hollywood films passion. This cookbook find is enviable. Thanks for sharing the recipe. I now have another reason to revisit my favorite antique shops and hunt for another copy, or similar volume :)

  3. I would LOVE to have that book, but it’s $100 on Amazon. Maybe if I look around,…Definitely loved Cary Grant and his movies, and I look forward to trying his recipe. Also looking forward to you sharing other actors’ recipes with us.

  4. Name of this recipe is such an original. If Mr.Grant was cooking this, it must be fantastic. Thank you to sharing it:)
    Cheers!!!

  5. I came across your page thanks to Nigella’s tweets.
    I am Italian, so could you please help me understand what A-1 sauce is?
    Should it be a product only available outside my country, would you mind suggesting me something similar?

    Thanks in advance,

    Mony.

    1. Hi Monica, A-1 is a steak sauce that is quite popular here in the U.S. A-1 is difficult to find in Europe, however you could substitute HP sauce, which is widely available in the U.K. (and also throughout Europe, I think).

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