That Sweet, Smoky Taste: BBQ Chicken


Can you smell it?

That distinctive scent:  a hot, comforting, charcoal-tinged haze of smoke in the air and on the breeze. It’s the scent of summer. And it’s finally here!

What’s the best thing you can do with a charcoal (or gas; we don’t discriminate) grill?

The answer is two words. Two crispy, delicious, succulent words:  BBQ chicken.

There are two ways to approach barbecued chicken. The first, is to go the authentic route and smoke-roast the chicken at a low temperature. The second is to actually grill the chicken and baste it in BBQ sauce. Both are amazing! (And if barbecue chicken, in general, just isn’t your go-to, we’ve got chicken grilling alternatives all lined up.)

So let’s get to it!


What will you need? First item: a charcoal grill. Second item: wood chips.

Using wood chips when grilling is leveling up your flavor game. Just like with the herbs from your garden or the spices in your kitchen cabinet, you can experiment with combining different types of wood to create layers of flavor for your food. You can purchase a variety of woods, including apple, peach, oak, and mesquite. Each one has different characteristics that will infuse your food with a slightly different flavor. Check out Weber’s Wood Flavor Chart for a guide to the characteristics of each wood and some recommended meat pairings.

Soak the wood chips for approximately two hours and then spread them directly on the hot coals just before you put your chicken on the grill.

Now, just because you have some deliciously flavored smoke billowing out of the grill, that doesn’t mean you don’t need to season your chicken. Grab your favorite pre-mixed grilling rub or get creative and mix up your own! Combine the rub with a little olive oil and massage it into the chicken, including beneath the skin. Place the chicken on the grill, angle your vents so the smoke wafts all over the chicken before being drawn out, and let your chicken roast over low heat until it’s done.

One of the biggest considerations when smoking a chicken is the length of time the chicken needs to cook. It takes time and patience! An average-sized chicken will take about four hours to cook. Remember, chicken needs to cook until it has reached an internal temperature of 160-165 degrees Fahrenheit. Take the chicken’s temperature by inserting your meat thermometer into the deepest part of the chicken breast. You should check your chicken occasionally to gauge how quickly it’s cooking, but note the emphasis on “occasionally”—if you open that grill lid too often, you’re letting all the heat and smoke out which means the chicken will need to cook longer and is more likely to end up dried out.

Don’t have access to a charcoal grill and feeling sad because this sounds so delicious? Try a smoker box! (You can also use these with charcoal grills, if you prefer.) Smoker boxes are metal containers for wood chips punched with holes to let the fragrant smoke escape and infuse your food. Click here to see just one of many smoker boxers you can choose from. (*cough* Smoker boxes make great Father’s Day gifts *cough*)

Grilled and Sauced

An early version of barbecue sauce, as we know it today, can be traced to 18th century German settlers in South Carolina, and their “South Carolina mustard sauce” was a precursor to today’s versatile, varied condiment that pairs so well with poultry. Barbecue sauce styles can vary by region. Kansas City barbecue sauce (the most common type) is thick and sweet, while vinegar-based sauces are common to the Carolinas region and Texas-style barbecue sauce goes light on the tomatoes and heavy on the seasonings. Flavor isn’t the only thing to consider when choosing a barbecue sauce for grilling or marinating, however. Barbecue sauces that are thinner or higher in vinegar will penetrate the meat more easily, while the thicker Kansas City-style sauce tends to sit on the surface.

If your favorite sauce is a thicker one, consider thinning it out a little before basting. This recipe uses a technique from Adam Perry Long where the barbecue sauce is thinned with water and then repeatedly painted onto the chicken. This keeps the sauce from burning and, instead, allows it to reduce and caramelize as it cooks. This grilling method takes patience and attention, but it’s so worth it in the end.

No grill? Check out this oven-baked version. Don’t let a lack of outdoor appliances keep you from diving in to summer with some barbecued chicken this year!

Is barbecued chicken just not your thing? Never fear! Check out these grilled chicken BBQ-alternatives:

Happy grilling!

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