- Cullman, Alabama

May 19, 2013

BBQ My Way: Classic BBQ chicken

By Dave Lobeck

Sellersburg, Ind. — When you think of the dishes served by outdoor chefs to their guests, many things come to mind.

Burgers, steaks, chops and hotdogs are the most common. One dish that is a classic but not served frequently is the topic of this week's column, BBQ chicken.

Why is that? It's delicious when prepared properly, but a potential series of culinary landmines await those who don't know the basics when attempting this dish. Different sized pieces create timing issues, and white meat is typically cooked to the proper temperature prior to the dark meat. Also, the skin is a source of serious flame ups as the chicken cooks, resulting in charred chicken that may not be done on the inside. Ever serve chicken that hasn't been cooked to the correct temperature? Let's just say it can put a real damper on the party.

So, let's start off by covering some basics. Then I will explain the technique I use when grilling BBQ chicken.

1. Do not use frozen chicken. Before placing chicken on the grill, make sure it is totally thawed out. This applies to all forms of chicken, even those frozen boneless pieces you get in a bag.

Otherwise, the outside of the chicken is dry and rubbery before the internal sections are cooked through. (Thaw the chicken out in the fridge. It may take a couple days, but that is much safer than thawing at room temperature.)

2. Wash your hands often and clean surfaces thoroughly with hot water and soap.

3. If you aren't real comfortable with your grilling skills, try using the same cut of meat. All thighs, all breasts, you get the picture. This way, theoretically, all your chicken will be done at roughly the same time.

4. If you don't like the skin, try grilling skinless pieces. But, please realize that while you eliminate the major source of flame ups, you are risking a drier piece of chicken at the end.

5. Buy a nice poultry rub or better yet, make your own. The rub adds a great flavor and texture.

6. Same advise as the pevious point pertains to sauce. Buy a BBQ sauce you like, or make your own. I would avoid the brands that promote the “smoky flavor.” That's liquid smoke. Yuck.

Set up your kettle grill with indirect heat. Sprinkle some hickory chips on the coals if you want a smoky flavor. If using a gas grill, preheat the grill on high then turn off an outside quadrant. Scrape down your grates with a wire brush and rub with a rag that has olive oil on it. Reduces sticking.

Rub the chicken pieces down with your rub, then place on the grill on the area that DOES NOT have direct heat. Brush with your sauce. Close the grill. What we are doing here is cooking the chicken almost all the way through without exposing the meat to the direct flame. Depending on the heat and the pieces you are cooking, this can take 30 minutes or so. Half way through, turn the chicken and brush the other side with the sauce.

The chicken is done when the internal temperature reaches 165 to 170 degrees Fahrenheit, so once you hit 160 degrees, it's time to move the chicken over the direct heat. (Insert an instant read thermometer and take the reading while it is not touching a bone.) Now be ready, as this next step is where you earn your grilling stripes.

What's going to happen? Yep. Fire, and potentially lots of it. If you are using a gas grill, turn the heat to low. This won't eliminate the flames but it should make it manageable. If you are using a kettle grill, place the lid on the grill to kill the flames. Remember, once you open it again, those flames will immediately reappear. Smear the chicken with sauce one last time, then discard the remaining sauce.

The point of the direct contact with the heat is to caramelize the sauce and to give the skin its crunchy (not burnt) texture. Stay with it. Move pieces to the area with no flames if you get overwhelmed.

Once the chicken is at the right temperature and you like its looks, it is time to eat!

Enjoy this classic dish.


Dave Lobeck is a barbecue chef from Sellersburg, Ind., who writes a column for CNHI News Service. Visit his website at