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BBQ Chicken on the Grill

Does it get any better than BBQ chicken cooked slowly on the grill and slathered with your favorite barbecue sauce ? Here's the best recipe for grilling perfect BBQ chicken for summer gatherings and cookouts.

Overhead view of grilled chicken legs.
Ciara Kehoe

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

The Trick to Good Grilled BBQ Chicken

But chicken takes longer to cook than either hot dogs or hamburgers and loves lower cooking temperatures, so it's easy to mess up by under-cooking, over-charring, or both. The trick to good BBQ Chicken?

Patience.

How Long to Grill 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.

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.

Overhead view of grilled chicken legs.
Ciara Kehoe

How to Grill 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 BBQ chicken recipe? Or tip you would like to share? Please let us know about it in the comments.

More Ways to Cook Chicken on the Grill

VIDEO! How to Make Barbecued Chicken on the Grill

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Barbecued Chicken on the Grill

Best Cuts for BBQ Chicken

The good news is that pretty much any cut of chicken is well-suited for barbecuing. Generally speaking, legs and thighs will hold up better to long, slow cooking than will breasts, but as long as you cook your chicken to the proper temperature (160°F for breasts and 170°F for thighs) all should work out deliciously.

If you're looking to barbecue a whole chicken, we recommend spatchcocking it, which involves removing the backbone from the chicken and then pressing it flat (a.k.a. butterflying, which is where the other name for this technique comes from). This process allows for even cooking and lots of crispy skin.

Super Sides for a BBQ Feast

From the Editors Of Simply Recipes

BBQ Chicken on the Grill

Prep Time 5 mins
Cook Time 105 mins
Total Time 110 mins
Servings 4 to 6 servings

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


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 still best to barbecue it with it on. The skin will protect the chicken pieces from drying out.

Ingredients

  • 4 pounds bone-in, skin-on chicken parts (legs, thighs, wings, breasts)

  • Salt

  • Extra virgin olive oil or vegetable oil

  • 1 cup barbecue sauce, store-bought or homemade

Method

  1. Oil and salt the chicken pieces:

    Coat the chicken pieces with olive oil and sprinkle salt over them on all sides.

    Side view of chicken on a baking sheet to make a bbq chicken recipe.
    Ciara Kehoe
  2. Prepare the 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 the chicken, then move to the cool side of the grill:

    Lay the chicken pieces skin side down on the hottest side of the grill in order to sear the skin side well. Grill uncovered 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, turn the chicken pieces over and move them 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.

    Grilling BBQ Chicken.
    Ciara Kehoe
  4. Turn over, baste, and cook until done:

    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.

    The 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're 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."

    The chicken is done when the internal temperature of the chicken pieces are 160°F for breasts and 170°F for thighs, when tested with a meat thermometer.

    Or if you insert the tip of a knife into the middle of the thickest piece and the juices run clear, the chicken is done.

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

    Grilled chicken thighs to show how long to grill chicken.
    Ciara Kehoe
    Brushing bbq sauce on grilled chicken thighs.
    Ciara Kehoe
    Checking the grilled chicken temperature.
    Ciara Kehoe
  5. Sear a final time, then remove from heat:

    If you want, you 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. Serve:

    Use a clean brush to paint the cooked chicken with more barbecue sauce and serve.

    Brushing bbq sauce on grilled bbq chicken on a platter.
    Ciara Kehoe