Barbecued Chicken on the Grill

Photography Credit: Elise Bauer

Along with hot dogs and hamburgers, barbecued chicken is about as classic as it gets when it comes time for grilling.

But chicken takes longer to cook than either hot dogs or hamburgers, and loves lower cooking temperatures, so it’s easy to mess up, either under-cooking, over-charring, or both.

The trick to good barbecued chicken?


Done right, it will take at least an hour, and even up to 2 hours. Remember that barbecue is slow and low, grilling is hot and fast. You can grill a chicken breast, but chicken thighs, legs or wings are far better barbecued.

Barbecued Chicken on the Grill

The key here is to moderate your heat, however you can. Either set the coals of the grill all on one side so you have a cool spot, put the chicken on the top rack of the grill, farther away from the heat, or, if you have a gas grill, just turn the heat to low. Slow and steady makes the best BBQ chicken.

The following is more of a “how-to” than a recipe. We recommend using your favorite barbecue sauce; we have several homemade barbecue sauce recipes which would work beautifully with chicken.

Do you have a favorite barbecued chicken recipe? Or tip you would like to share? Please let us know about it in the comments.

Barbecued Chicken on the Grill Recipe

  • Prep time: 5 minutes
  • Cook time: 1 hour, 45 minutes
  • Yield: Serves 4-6

Chicken thighs and legs will hold up better to long, slow heat than will breasts which can more easily dry out. If you barbecue breasts, keep them on the coolest part of the grill.

This recipe assumes fairly large chicken pieces (like the main pieces from a 4 to 5 pound whole chicken). If you are working with smaller chicken pieces, they may require a shorter cooking time. If you are cooking wings, they too may be done before the other larger pieces.

A note about the skin. Even if you do not plan on eating the chicken skin, it's best to barbecue it with it on. The skin will protect the chicken pieces from drying out.


  • 4 pounds of your favorite chicken parts (legs, thighs, wings, breasts), skin-on
  • Salt
  • Vegetable oil
  • 1 cup barbecue sauce, store-bought or homemade


1 Salt and oil chicken pieces: Coat the chicken pieces with vegetable oil and sprinkle salt over them on all sides.

2 Prepare grill: Prepare one side of your grill for high, direct heat. If you are using charcoal or wood, make sure there is a cool side to the grill where there are few to no coals.

3 Sear chicken on hot side of grill, move to cool side: Lay the chicken pieces skin side down on the hottest side of the grill in order to sear the skin side well. Grill for 5-10 minutes, depending on how hot the grill is (you do not want the chicken to burn).

Once you have a good sear on one side, move the chicken pieces to the cooler side of the grill.

If you are using a gas grill, maintain the flame on only one side of the grill, and move the chicken pieces to the cooler side, not directly over the flame. Reduce the temp to low or medium low (between 250°F and 275°F, no more than 300°F).

Cover the grill and cook undisturbed for 20-30 minutes.

4 Turn over and baste with barbecue sauce: Turn the chicken pieces over and baste them with with your favorite barbecue sauce. Cover the grill again and allow to cook for another 15-20 minutes.

Repeat, turning the chicken pieces over, basting them with sauce, covering, and cooking for another 10-30 minutes.

NOTE that timing will depend on your grill set-up, the size of your chicken pieces, and how cold your chicken pieces are to start with! If you are grilling smaller pieces of chicken on a charcoal grill, they may be done much earlier. The goal is to maintain a low enough grill temp so that the chicken cooks "low and slow".

5 Finish with a sear or remove from heat when done: The chicken is done when the internal temperature of the chicken pieces are 160°F for breasts and 170°F for thighs, which you test by using a meat thermometer. Or if you insert the tip of a knife into the middle of the thickest piece and the juices should run clear, the chicken is done.

If the chicken isn't done, turn the pieces over and continue to cook at a low temperature.

If you want can finish with a sear on the hot side of the grill. To do this, put the pieces, skin side down, on the hot side of the grill. Allow them to sear and blacken slightly for a minute or two.

6 Paint with more barbecue sauce to serve.

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How to Grill Boneless Skinless Chicken Breasts - here on Simply Recipes

Peach-Whiskey Barbecued Chicken - from The Pioneer Woman

Oven-Baked BBQ Chicken - from The Hungry Mouse

Barbecued Chicken on the Grill

Showing 4 of 37 Comments

  • Bernadette

    This is more of a recipe than cooking style. I soak my chicken in beer for about 1/2 hour. Drain. Then cover with lemon pepper and granulated garlic. Then i cover with bbq sauce. Brush with bbq sauce once while cooking and viola! It is perfect for a quick lakeside or beachside bbq!

  • LF

    I know you have a bunch of comments, but I have been grilling for 45 years and I can tell you that this recipe is by far the Best I have ever encountered. OUTSTANDING, THANKS.

  • Alfred Sneade

    Just a tip – I’ve found the best barbecue sauce is Ah-So Chinese (red) barbecue sauce, great for ribs but even better for chicken. You can find it in the International/Oriental section, or order it online if you can’t find it. For best results, marinade for 1-2 days. It is out of this world!! You will never go back. It can be served with duck sauce, if you like.

  • Peter B

    I’ve never been good at grilling chicken on a gas grill, until I used your directions. In the past I always tried to rush the process and kept all the flames on, now I know better. Thanks so much!

  • Melissa Hoffman

    To start I will say this is the first time we ever, well my hubby not me, grilled chicken. This was the best grilled chicken ever, color and all…

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