By contributing writer Mary Cressler
Grilled chicken is a summertime staple for many here in the U.S., and you’re bound to see it at most backyard cookouts in various forms throughout the warm months (grilled chicken breasts, smoked whole chicken, beer can chicken, you name it). The great thing about chicken that I’m constantly telling people is that it’s a blank canvass, taking on whatever flavors you’re craving – salt and pepper, BBQ, fried, international seasonings and sauces – you name it.
One thing I’ve noticed about those who choose BBQ sauce flavored chicken specifically is that people will often put the BBQ sauce on too early, thus burning the sauce before the meat is fully cooked. This happens because most store-bought BBQ sauces contain a high amount of sugar that will start to caramelize or burn after just a few minutes on high heat. We want to give chicken the proper amount of time to cook, so it’s important to wait before drenching that chicken in any sauce high in sugar.
One way to minimize this is to brush your BBQ sauce on during the final moments of cooking. This will allow the sauce to warm up and slightly caramelize onto the chicken without burning.
And when cooking for a crowd, I’ve also discovered that I like to buy the same size and cut of chicken. Whole chicken cut up into individual pieces is great for smaller groups or a family, but it’s important to know the pieces will all cook at different times, requiring you to stay close to the grill to constantly monitor the pieces so that they don’t overcook. When I’m cooking for a large group or gathering, like 4th of July parties, I want to spend time with my guests and not hover over the grill making sure my food doesn’t overcook. That’s where chicken thighs come in handy.
The thighs contain excellent full-flavored meat and are generally uniform in size, so they are cooking roughly the same amount of time (vs. say a bone-in chicken breast and a chicken leg which finish cooking at very different times). The grilled chicken thighs are a great happy medium between those two cuts, plus there’s plenty of meat to go around.
I start by rinsing clean, patting dry, and then trimming any excess skin off the thighs. This creates a more uniform look to all of the pieces and helps to avoid any excess or rubbery skin. Then I season them simply with our dry rub. This simple rub is a combination of brown sugar, chili powder, salt, and pepper. Want heat? Add cayenne.
Once the grill at cooking temperature, I place the meat on the hot, or direct, side of the grill to get a nice quick sear on both sides (about 2 minutes per side), to get some nice grill marks and then move it to a lower, more indirect heat, to cook. Then I cover the grill and let it cook around 20 minutes or until the internal temperature of the meat is at 165 degrees. I always use an instant read digital thermometer for this. It’s important when cooking meat like chicken to always cook to the proper temperature rather than cooking to a specific time. This is how you get perfectly cooked meat rather than overcooked.
When the meat reaches close to 165 degrees, brush it liberally with your favorite BBQ sauce, cover the grill to let it cook indirectly for 1 – 2 more minutes and soak into the meat. Then remove from heat once the meat is sitting at 165 or just higher, and serve after it rests for about 10 minutes.
This recipe serves 4 – 6, but simply multiply it for the number of people attending your summer gathering.
- 6 chicken thighs
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 4 - 6 tablespoons dry rub (roughly 1 tablespoon per thigh), your favorite homemade or store-bought chicken rub
- 2 cups BBQ sauce
- Prepare chicken by trimming excess fat and bone fragments. Rinse in cold water and pat dry.
- Coat each piece in olive oil and then apply dry rub to both sides of the chicken liberally.
- Prepare/heat up gas or charcoal grill and set it for indirect cooking. Get it hot!
- Place chicken on direct heat for approximately 2 minutes or until desired look of skin and then flip for another 2 minutes. Watch for flare ups!
- Move chicken to indirect heat and cover for up to 20 minutes (but check often to be sure you don’t overcook, as each cut of meat will vary in time).
- When meat reaches close to final temperature (155 – 160 degrees), brush first coat of BBQ sauce over all sides of chicken. Continue cooking.
- Remove chicken when temperature is at 165 degrees, and then add a second coat of BBQ sauce.
- Let the chicken rest 10 minutes to let juices redistribute and BBQ sauce thicken.
This time of year I can’t get enough rosé. I drink it year-round, but it’s now when it’s the most abundant on the shelves. Gaining in popularity more and more each year, rosé isn’t going anywhere for the time being. And it’s so versatile and refreshing for outdoor cookouts and awesome with this grilled chicken. Whether you have a spicy or savory BBQ sauce. the sweet fruit from the wine will stand up to your BBQ sauce of choice. This style of wine is also quite affordable, so it’s great for the crowds you will be feeding for your backyard cookout. Use the Wine4.Me app to find great fruity options like Bodega Muga Rosé, Las Rocas Rosé, or Dominio del Plata Crios de Susana Balbo Malbec Rosé.
If the BBQ sauce you choose is a mustard or vinegar based sauce, then a semi-sweet Riesling will stand up to the strength of those flavors. You can find some good options from NY State and Washington like those from Fox Run, Dr. Konstantin Frank, Chateau Ste. Michelle ‘Eroica’, or Charles Smith ‘Kung Fu Girl’ Riesling.
If you opt for red, you have a few options. You can go with a traditional BBQ sauce pairing and go Zinfandel or try a Spanish Garnacha or Argentinian Malbec for their rich fruity characteristics. Several great bottles can also be found in the app.
Mary Cressler is a Certified Sommelier, a Wine Location Specialist, and the proprietor of Vindulge: Wine Education & Consulting. She conducts wine classes and events and offers consulting for individuals, restaurants, and event planners. She writes about wine, food, and travel on her blog Vindulge. Mary resides in Portland, Oregon with her husband, twin boys, and two Chihuahuas.