One of my family’s absolute favorite, finger-lickin’ dinners consists of BBQ chicken, baked beans, braised collard greens and cornbread. This meal is the ultimate plate of soul food and leaves us feeling incredibly satisfied.
Each part of this meal plays an important role, but the BBQ chicken is the real the star of the show, so that’s what I’m going to teach you how to make.
Grilling, barbecuing and smoking can mean different things to different people throughout the United States, but here’s my interpretation. All three refer to cooking food outside over fire, but grilling is the art of cooking food over direct heat for short periods of time and barbecuing is when larger pieces of meat are cooked low and slow over indirect heat for several hours until the meat is pull-apart tender. This includes cuts of meat such as ribs, pork shoulder, brisket and bone-in chicken. These proteins have a significant amount of connective tissue that needs to be broken down, and the best way to do that is to cook them slowly for a long period time.
What I did to make our BBQ chicken was actually a combination of grilling and barbecuing. Chicken legs and thighs are not very big cuts of meat, and they don’t need to cook for hours on end, which means you can have dinner on the table faster!
Here are some tips to help you make this recipe:
- The first step in making BBQ chicken is to season the poultry. You can make your own concoction or use your favorite store-bought rub. You ideally want to season the chicken a day before you plan on cooking it. I’m not a very good planner, so my chicken sat for only 30 minutes or so after applying the rub, but it was still scrumptious.
- Next step is to get your fire started. We have a charcoal grill, and in order to get the coals lit, I used our charcoal chimney starter to get the job done. Place crumpled up newspaper in the bottom, and pour the coals in the top section. Light the paper on fire, and the coals will catch. It can take about 30 minutes for all of the coals to catch, so grab a beer and be patient. Do this in a safe place, such as right in your grill, and please do not use lighter fluid.
- This is optional, but adding some smoky flavor to the chicken is quite delicious. While you’re waiting for the coals to ignite, soak your wood chips in water so they hit the hot coals they smolder and smoke instead of burning right up.
- Once the coals are ready, carefully dump them onto one side of your grill. You can use a long-handled spatula to move them into place. Sprinkle the soaked wood chips on the hot coals, return the grill grates to your grill, and you’re ready to get started. If you’re using a gas grill, see the recipe for specific instructions.
- Do your best to maintain a temperature of 250º while smoking the chicken, and a temperature of 325º to 350º when you start cooking over direct heat. It’s easy to accomplish this on a gas grill… just turn the heat up or down. If you’re using a charcoal grill, keep in mind that oxygen fuels the fire. So, if your grill is too hot, close the lid and adjust the vents. If it’s not hot enough, open the lid and open the vents. It’s a delicate balance, and is something that takes patience and practice.
Scroll down for a printable version of this recipe
Yield: 4 servings
Active time: 45 minutes
Start to finish: 1 hour, 45 minutes
2 cups wood chips soaked in water for 30 minutes
1/4 cup kosher salt
2 tablespoons black pepper
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
1/4 cup ancho chili powder
2 teaspoons paprika
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground cumin seeds
2 teaspoons onion flakes
2 teaspoons garlic flakes
4 chicken legs
4 chicken thighs
Your favorite barbecue sauce
1. In a medium-size bowl, mix together all of the ingredients for the rub. Note: You’ll have extra rub, so save it for the next time you make this recipe.
2. Place the chicken on a sheet tray or in a baking dish, and generously season both sides of the chicken with the rub. Refrigerated for 2 hours but up to 12.
3. Prepare a gas or charcoal grill with a two-zone fire meaning hot on one side (all of the coals pushed to one side) and cool on the other.
4. Sprinkle the soaked wood chips right on top of the hot coals. If using a gas grill, place the soaked wood chips on a sheet of foil. Wrap the wood chips up, but leave the top of the foil open. Set the package of chips on the hotter side of the grill, and once they start smoking, you’re ready to go.
5. Place the chicken, skin side up, on the cooler side of the grill. Close the lid to capture the smoke, and do your best to maintain a temperature of 250º in your grill. Adjust the heat/vents as necessary.
6. Smoke the chicken for 30 minutes.
7. Once the chicken has smoked, move the chicken to the hot side of the grill, skin side down.
8. Brush the flesh side with bbq sauce and cook, with the lid closed, until the skin is crispy, about 10 minutes. Do your best to maintain a grill temperature of 325º to 350º. Adjust the heat/vents as necessary.
9. Flip the chicken over, and brush the skin side with more bbq sauce. Continue to cook for an additional 10 minutes, and then flip again. Tip: make sure the bbq sauce doesn’t burn, so flip the chicken as needed.
10. Repeat steps #8 and #9.
11. Continue cooking the chicken until the legs and thighs read 165º on a meat thermometer.
12. Allow the chicken to rest for 10 minutes before serving with
Allow the chicken to rest for 10 minutes before serving with extra BBQ sauce (extra points for making your own!) on the side.
Now that you have the recipe and the tips, you’re well on your way to making mouth-watering BBQ chicken. It’s early in the season, which means you have a lot of time to practice and perfect this recipe. Another excellent way to get more grilling and smoking tips is to join us for one of The Chopping Block's Virtual Grilling Classes. Learn from our chefs as you sit in the comfort of your own home or backyard!