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Smoky and sticky-sweet, there’s nothing like tucking into a plate piled high with juicy grilled Barbecue Chicken. Here’s a recipe for barbecue chicken with hardwood chips for extra flavor, including a last minute mopping with your favorite BBQ sauce.
It’s Summer so things have to be easy. Barbecue chicken is perfect with Easy Apple Coleslaw, Easy Potato Salad, and a pitcher of Iced Tea Berry Sangria to sip while keeping a watchful eye on the grill.
Need a whole lotta Barbecue Chicken for a weekend bash? Click and slide the number next to “servings” on the recipe card below to adjust the ingredients to match how many you’re feeding—the recipe does the math for you, it’s that easy.
Chicken: to brine or not to brine?
Some cooks swear by brining chicken to make the chicken juicy and flavorful, while others think brining waters down the bird.
This recipe doesn’t call for it, because the dry herb rub does a fantastic job of seasoning the chicken. Plus the sauce you select will probably be pretty flavorful.
However, you absolutely can brine the chicken if you want. Just get the correct ratio of salt to water; too little salt and you get a watery bird lacking in flavor. Too much and it can dry things out.
To make BBQ chicken brine:
Mix together ⅓ cup kosher salt and ¼ cup sugar for 2 quarts of water. The chicken can be brined for several hours or even overnight in the refrigerator.
Gas grill or charcoal grill?
Again, it doesn’t matter at all! Two-zone cooking is possible on both types of grills. You can even add a little wood to both.
On a gas grill, make a foil packet filled with soaked wood chips and place it inside the grill.
On a charcoal grill, throw the soaked chips into the coals.
What about the sauce?
Have you got a family bbq sauce recipe that’s been passed down with sticky fingers through the generations? If so, use it. Otherwise, use your favorite store-bought sauce. Try to find one that contains less sugar, if you can. Sugar can caramelize and burn quickly.
With a little advance preparation and a small learning curve, grilling can be a great way to cook food. You don’t need a fancy rig, either! Just get comfortable with your grill and what it can do.
- Quality first. Use quality ingredients, but don’t go overboard on the super fancy stuff (Kobe, waygu, etc) until you’re a confident griller.
- Be prepared. Have all your tools (grill brush, tongs, spatula, hot mitt, trays, foil, and mop brush) and food in place and ready to go.
- Quality fuel. Use a high quality charcoal that you are comfortable with.
- Avoid starter fluids. Quick start chemicals and starter fluids taste horrible and can get things too hot, too fast.
- Use a chimney starter. If using a charcoal grill, invest in a chimney charcoal starter. It lights coals with two pieces of newspaper–simple and cheap!
- Control your heat. Are the coals white-hot, rocket-engine looking? Keep the chicken away from them until they cool down a bit. Burnt barbecue sauce and meat produces turpentine as a by-product that ruins the taste of your food.
- Learn about your grill. Grill and grill a lot. Find out how to use the vents and what your specific grill is good at, and take advantage of its strong points. Does it hold heat well? Bonus! Maybe you should use fewer coals. Does it give off consistent heat? You’re good to go.
- Pay attention. Don’t leave your grill, especially when cooking hot temperatures; fires can start for silly reasons. Have a fire extinguisher close in case things get out of hand. Most likely, you’ll be grilling like a champ!
How to make Barbecue Chicken:
Let’s cook! First, mix up the dry herb rub. Based on a traditional poultry seasoning, here’s what it contains: garlic powder, dried oregano, paprika, dried rosemary, brown sugar, and salt and pepper. (If you plan to brine, skip the salt.)
Rub the mix generously all over the chicken pieces and let them sit out at room temperature for up to an hour to get the flavors to mingle.
If using a gas grill, set the burners to medium-high heat by setting half the burners to high heat. Place foil packet with soaked wood chips on grate above lit burners. Clean and oil the grate.
If using a charcoal grill, light a coal chimney. When all the charcoal is lit and covered with gray ash, pour out and spread the coals evenly over half of coal grate. Place hardwood chips or chucks directly on coal. Set cooking grate in place, cover grill and allow to preheat for 5 minutes. Clean and oil the grate.
How to cook grilled chicken without burning:
Chicken skin has fat which can drip and burn, setting the chicken on fire and ruining your meal. In order to keep grilled chicken from burning, you should always keep a close eye on the grill and cook the chicken using a two-zone grilling method, with one hot zone and one cooler zone.
- When it’s time to grill, place chicken skin side up over medium high heat, towards the hot side, and brown both sides well. Get those grill marks and crisp skin!
- Move the chicken to the cooler side of the grates and close the grill. Cook another 5 to 10 minutes, then brush top of chicken with barbecue sauce. Do this while the chicken is on the cool side of the grill, close to the flames but not directly over them, or the sugar in the bbq sauce will burn and taste horrible.
- Check the chicken after 5 minutes and mop on more of that delicious sauce. At this point, start checking the internal temperature of the chicken. A good quality digital thermometer works wonders, especially when it comes to chicken. No one wants to start eating only to have to throw their chicken leg back on the grill for another few minutes; it’s the worst!
- Continue to cook, covered, until brown, crisp, charred in spots, and thickest part of breast registers 160 degrees on an instant read thermometer. If the chicken threatens to burn before temperature is achieved, carefully slide to cooler side of grill, cover, and cook until done.
- As the chicken pieces are removed from the grill, (chicken breasts cook quicker than chicken legs) put them on a platter tented with foil–they’ll come up to 165 degrees as they rest from carryover cooking.
- Serve the yardbird with plenty of extra sauce and lots of sides, so you have some leftover Barbecue Chicken all to yourself the next day.
For the rub:
- To make the herb rub, in a small bowl combine garlic powder, oregano, paprika, rosemary, and salt and pepper to taste (I like 1 ½ teaspoons salt and 1 teaspoon pepper). Rub generously all over the chicken pieces, and let sit at room temperature for up to 1 hour.
- Preheat a charcoal or gas grill over medium-high heat (see note 3). Sprinkle the wood chips on the coals, or add in a perforated foil packet to a gas grill.
- Coat grill with 2 tablespoons oil. Grill the chicken directly over medium-high heat, turning once, until well browned, 3-5 minutes on each side.
- Transfer the pieces to the unheated portion of the grill, close the grill cover, and cook for 5 minutes. Brush both sides of the chicken pieces liberally with barbecue sauce and cook for 5 minutes longer.
- Continue cooking until the internal temperature reaches 165°F on a thermometer and bits of caramelized sauce have begun to cling to the outside of the chicken. As pieces finish cooking (the breasts will be done first), transfer them to a platter and cover loosely with aluminum foil until ready to serve.
- Chicken: Start with a 2 1/2- to 3-pound chicken cut into quarters. Either ask your butcher or the staff behind the meat counter to assist with the task, or to quarter a chicken, check out my Recipe FAQ below.
- Barbecue sauce: Save time with your favorite store-bought condiment, or try my Sweet Baby Ray's copycat Barbecue Sauce recipe. It takes just 20 minutes to DIY a 4-cup batch!
- Grill: No smoker? No sweat. You can turn a gas or charcoal grill into a make shift smoker in seconds.
- On a gas grill, make a foil packet filled with soaked wood chips and place it inside the grill.
- On a charcoal grill, throw the soaked chips into the coals.
- Yield: This recipe makes 4 servings of Barbecue Chicken: 2 servings are chicken breasts, and 2 servings are leg quarters. Depending on the size of your chicken, the servings should be about 1 cup cooked chicken per person.
- Storage: Store leftovers covered in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.
Meggan Hill is a classically-trained chef and professional writer. Her meticulously-tested recipes and detailed tutorials bring confidence and success to home cooks everywhere. Meggan has been featured on NPR, HuffPost, FoxNews, LA Times, and more.