Barbecued Chicken on the Grill

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.

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


  • 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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  • Bob

    DO NOT put on high on a gas grill for the first 5-10 minutes. If you have oiled the chicken, you will have a fire on your hands. Recommend only oiling the grill gently and with sauce on the chicken just put the grill on MEDIUM for the first 5-10 minutes. Live and learn.

  • Lynn

    Great recipe!! I make my own BBQ sauce-with habanero peppers. There are abundant in my garden now so I use them any way I can.

  • Bebe

    This is an excellent “recipe” and particularly its addressing the techniques – grilling and barbecuing – which are too often used interchangeably. It also addresses the current situation where most of the chickens sold – either whole or in pieces – are quite large.

    Years ago a dear friend, whom I miss, showed me her way to do chicken breasts in the broiler part of her oven. It required more than the shallow broiler that slides in under a large main oven as it called for the pan with the chicken to be 9 inches or so below the broiler flame or electric element. It has served me well for decades, with both gas and electric broilers. Slooooow cooking. Multiple turnings. And a must: An instant read thermometer.

    • Bebe

      I left out something important about my friend’s oven barbecued chicken breasts. These were the ones sold on the bone with skin. Not boneless, skinless breasts.

  • Autumn

    I’ve only been cooking about 4 years now… I’m a single female… and I tried your recipe…. I’ve been told I make the BEST BBQ CHICKEN anyone’s ever had at least 4 times!!!! Thank you soooo much!

  • 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.

    • PS

      Ah-So Chinese BBQ sauce is mostly high fructose corn syrup. No thanks.

    • Bebe

      I’ve seen that – noticed the clever name. Will indeed try it! Thank you…

  • 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…

  • Jonas

    My 3-burner Weber has a great thermometer in the lid and will only maintain a low 300-325ºC if I turn off TWO of the burners once it’s heated up. That’s only about 12-13,000 BTU ! (Webers are very efficient with gas, YMMV.) The recipe says medium-low, 300-325 range is medium-low and any higher it will cook too fast & not allow caramelizing of the sauce.

    So the recipe is not technically wrong although many people not watching the grill temp may tend to dry out and burn their chicken.

  • Karen haight

    We tried this ia for a BBQ and the chicken was extremely burnt! How embarrassing for us

    • Jonas

      Hello Karen – did the same thing as you first time! The trick is Low to Medium heat ie. no more than 300º to 325º (thermometer means more than the gas dial settings.)

  • Jonas

    FOLLOW UP – using my Weber Genesis 2000 gas grill
    – after initial searing, can turn OFF all but the FRONT burner, which is left on HIGH. All the chicken is on the back two-thords of the grill, indirect heat.
    – this one burner maintained a perfect 325º C ‘Medium Low’ indirect grilling temp for the remainder of the slow cook / baste and turn cycles.
    – > SUCCESS – perfectly done in the recommended time, could even go a bit longer with thighs. Would even try skin-on breasts for those who prefer.

    A few other thoughts:
    – could use larger (full-grown) pieces of chicken for better yield since you will want to keep the front of the grill empty (which reduces overall grill space.)
    – problem of sticking / tearing skin – go easy, don’t touch the skin directly! Try to ‘roll’ the pieces over more than grasp too firmly, the tongs tear them easily.

    This was fun to learn, thanks!

    • Elise

      Hi Jonas,
      I’m so glad you tried again and shared with us your success!

    • Aaron

      In all your comments your saying your using over 300 degrees celsius which is waaaay above what the article says. I’m not sure if you meant fahrenheit or if your getting good results with such an extremely high temperature. 300 degrees Celsius is over 570 degrees Fahrenheit.

  • Kate

    I just want to say that I tried this recipe pretty much exactly as instructed and it turned out perfect. My personal best…. and I have screwed up more than a few attempts at barbequing chicken. I just did thighs. Took left overs to work and co-workers loved them too.

    • Jonas

      Personal fail. Cooking time gas grill says 90 mins, mine were way overdone at one hour on LOW. The power of a Weber Genesis? Disappointed to have charcoal made out of expensive best quality ingredients, will need to adjust method radically or seek a better recipe for my gas equipment. Carbonized making skin and sauce inedible. But I’ll try again.

  • Tom

    Instead of moving chicken to the cool side of the grill or turning the burner to low, I move the chicken to a grilling plank (properly soaked) and place the plank over med/hi heat for 15-20 minutes or until done –>indirect and smokes! After a couple of bastings with BBQ sauce, I remove the plank and place chicken briefly (just a minute or so) to allow the sauce slightly caramelize leaving great grill marks.

  • Bobbi

    I made it, and it was delicious! Thank you for the easy and tasty recipe.


  • John V

    How do you keep the grill from flare-ups from the veg. oil you put on the chicken thighs?

  • dam spahn

    Watch out! Oiling the skin and tossing onto high head can cause flareups. Maybe just a few minutes on high to sear the skin, and then cut the heat way down.

  • KariVery

    Boy does that look yummy! My dad would always brine the chicken pieces in a bowl in the fridge over night before grilling, and his grilling method was just like the technique you have above. The brine would keep the chicken nice and moist. And, if the chicken has been frozen, the brine adds flavor back to the meat. I know what we’re having for dinner on Labor Day!

    Great idea to brine the chicken first. It will help to retain moisture during the long cooking. The ratio I usually follow is 1/4 cup of Kosher salt to 1 quart of water. ~Elise

  • tommy2rs

    If you want to skip the mess of brining yet have the same results just use non-iodized salt. I use kosher salt. Rub the chicken with your favorite flavors, say lemon and garlic, though it could be any combo or single ingredient. Then pack it in salt. I do mean pack, literally cover it until it looks like a snowdrift. Let it sit in the fridge (in a bag, tub or whatever) until you see the fluids being drawn out. Then wash off the salt, pat dry and you’re good to go. The salt pulls the flavors in along with it.

    The method also works just as well with beef, pork and game meats that you don’t want to put in water.

    Last but not least, try grilling a split down the middle turkey. It’s my go to for the 4th of July these days.

  • Nancy Long

    Brings back memories of my parents bbq chicken. My mother made her own sauce (I have a list of the ingredients somewhere) and would cook the chicken in the sauce in a roasting pan in a very slow oven. When it was done, my father would put it on the grill to sear. It will get black marks because of the tomatoes in the sauce. It was fall off the bone yummy.

  • Maria Grazia

    I used to BBQ for hours ( long time ago) then I tried the microwave, and I never turned back.:-) I precook ribs, chickens etc etc (with some of the marinade I will be using) as to make sure that the inside is cooked and then I put the meat on the grill… they taste good and you will have time to enjoy your Family or friends.
    BTW I enjoy your page and recipes,keep up the good job, ciao, buona giornata.

  • merd

    Love the skin char in your pics there, Elise. That’s the way I like them too!! I used a “Platte River Rub” from Savory Spice Shop just lightly shaken over both sides of a whole chicken I quartered up last week. My next door neighbor told me a couple days later that he was drooling from the mix of the rub and oak wood smoke.

    To S. Peterson: the title is “Barbecued” as opposed to BBQ. I know, I know… my friends and I have had these lengthy discussions over several whiskeys (which we soak our hickory, maple, and oak wood chips in when we are smoking butts and briskets – technically also barbequing). So what’s the difference? Does it matter? To some – it absolutely does. To me, BBQ = gettogether which translates directly into reason to drink a beer while you’re cooking.

    There are so many variations of the word and it’s meaning. Everyone seems to have a different perspective (check out Wikipedia for examples). Grilling does not equal barbeque and barbeque sauce does not make it technically barbeque either. Heck, when I was a kid, barbecue to me was shredded beef with a sloppy joe kind of bbq sauce in it. However – in this case, grilling chicken and adding BBQ sauce is “Barbecued Chicken on the Grill”. With this type of bbq, this is the right way to do it. If you add sauce to the raw meat, you end up making my dad’s specialty from my childhood when he and his buddy got together. It’s called “Filet of Raven”. Quite tasty once you get past the 1/4″ of blackened carbon coating. ;) I’m pretty sure that dad and his friend only tasted beer though… which again, makes it BBQ.

    Hi Merd, well said. Had to laugh about the sloppy-joe sandwich. This is my grandmother’s BBQ beef sandwich, in which the beef is braised, of all things. It never comes close to a grill. ~Elise

  • Mike

    Brining. A very good cook I know says: add water to a container, then add a raw egg, and add salt till the egg floats.

  • GaryCA

    I always microwave my chicken before I BBQ it. Depending on the thickness of the pieces, I microwave the chicken in a glass baking dish for about 5 minutes, turn them over and do another 5 minutes. Microwave cooks from inside out, so this way you avoid having your guests bite into a piece of chicken and finding the inside red and not cooked. Then I BBQ as normal except of course it takes way less time. Also the microwave leaves the chicken nice and moist!

    • Aaron

      >> Microwave cooks from inside out

      Hadn’t seen that one for awhile. I used to use that as an example of how people can hold onto a myth despite their own contradictory experiences. Microwaves don’t heat from the inside out, and that is why your food is still cold in the middle if you don’t microwave it long enough. I guess I can go back to using this as an example.

      But, with all that said, the point is still valid. Microwaving is a great way to save some time at the grill; similar to parboiling.

  • Chad

    I’m always in a hurry when I grill. Chicken gets precooked in the oven prior to frying and grilling. Brine, buttermilk, or marinade before cooking. John (previous post) I Like your suggestion about carmelizing the onions. I added them to last months tomato pie recipe and have been addicted to them since then. Chad

  • Dave

    My favorite barbecued chicken is thighs done low ‘n’ slow to give them that rich, smoky flavor and bite-through skin.

    At least 2 hours before cooking, I dust the thighs with barbecue rub, lay them out in a single layer on a sheet pan, and let them sit uncovered in the fridge. This step seasons the thighs and also helps to dry out the skin a bit to keep it crispy.

    I set the grill up for a raised indirect cook at 250° using apple wood for smoke and cook the thighs for 90 to 120 minutes, flipping every 30 minutes or so.

    When the thighs are done I give them a coat or two of barbecue sauce and let them cook for another 10 minutes or so the let the sauce set.

    Beautiful. Thank you Dave! ~Elise

  • VG

    Drumsticks are my favorite part. Risk is that the meat closer to the bone may not get enough heat and remain uncooked with the rubbery feel. I usually put several gashes with knife, especially parallel to the bone. That way they cook better and the BBQ sauce gets in.

  • Allen Wright

    Back in the days when I was a father of teenaged sons and I needed large quantities of food fast, I found that a quick trip to the microwave oven on a bacon cooker would get the chicken hot and cook out some of the water so I could finish on the charcoal grill in about 30 minutes. I don’t remember the time and with all of the different powers of microwave out now it’s hard to set rules.

  • Paula

    Elise, is poaching and par-boiling the same? I know that sounds like a dumb question but I really don’t know the difference. Also, I don’t think that your chicken looks burnt. I think it looks delicious! (Bobby Flay “throw down” delicious!) You always have the best food photos on the web:D

    Hi Paula – poaching and parboiling are almost the same, with poaching you just simmer until cooked all the way through. With parboiling, you only partially cook the meat. ~Elise

  • Susan

    We grill seasoned chicken pieces on a gas grill, turning them a couple of times, on greased foil for most of the cooking. It takes about 35-40 minutes on and off of med heat. The last 10 minutes the sauce is applied and it’s cooked until the sauce becomes thick, like a glaze. The chicken is done, with or without the sauce, when you can see the bone on the base of the drumstick. We also cut the breast halves into 2 pieces, crosswise, so that all the chicken is about the same size and density. We put it on the rack over direct heat only to get a little of the grill marks..maybe 2 minutes.

    We like our sauce a little sweet and lemony on chicken and pork ribs. It’s a quick and simple combo of ketchup or chili sauce, brown sugar, lemon juice, onion powder, hot sauce and a quick glug of chicken stock. We sometimes heat it on the stove to meld the flavors more. We baste on the chicken right before it’s done. And sometimes we don’t use sauce at all!

  • Judith

    Unfortunately, I am not able to grill outside. However, I have a cast-iron grill surface which fits over two burners on my stove. Can I use this low slow method to grill chicken indoors without making too much smoke?
    Thanks, Judith

    No, not really. You won’t be able to get even enough low heat on the stovetop. You could just put them in the oven at about 250°F, after searing them on the stovetop. ~Elise

  • John

    I like to caramelize onions, then cook in some red wine vinegar, then add my basic store bought sauce and simmer for a hybrid sauce. Bake at 300 then broil to finish. No grill required and a ton of wonderful flavor. I always use a bone in chicken for extra flavor.

  • Dorothy

    Another option to assure complete cooking is to poach the chicken pieces until nearly done, then finish them on the grill. We often marinate and poach in Aloha sauce, which gives the meat a lovely flavor.

    That’s a great way to grill chicken. ~Elise

  • Paula

    I know that this will probably be the most unpopular comment of the year, but when I’m pressed for time, I par-boil the chicken.
    Low and slow is best, but I have par-boiled and finished on the grill with good results. I also throw an oniou and some seasoning into the par-boil water so that the flavor gets into the chicken and I have stock to use for whatever when I take the chicken out.

    • Tiffany

      Actually that sounds like an interesting alternative… how long do you par-boil, or do you go by a temperature reading instead.

    • bbqmaster

      @ Paula, when Im having a big turn out @ home, I useally par boil with an onion/ garlic/ cilantro and let it sit over night. Makes for a great chicken stock too.