Sweet and Tangy Grilled Barbecue Chicken recipe

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Barbecued chicken falls victim to numerous pitfalls: The chicken cooks unevenly, frequent flare-ups cause the skin to blacken, and the sauce is usually too thick and cloyingly sweet. We set out to foolproof this American classic. For chicken that was well seasoned all the way to the bone, we applied a rub: Salt, onion and garlic powders, paprika, a touch of cayenne, and some brown sugar maintained a bold presence even after grilling. Placing a disposable aluminum pan opposite the coals in our grill setup and filling the pan partially with water lowered the temperature inside the grill, which ensured that all the chicken pieces cooked at a slow, steady rate. We smartened the typical ketchup-based barbecue sauce with molasses, while cider vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, and Dijon mustard kept the sweetness in check. We waited to apply the sauce until after searing the chicken, which prevented the sauce from burning and gave the chicken skin a chance to develop color first. Applying the sauce in stages, rather than all at once, ensured that its bright tanginess wasn’t lost. When browning the chicken over the hotter side of the grill, move it away from any flare-ups.

  • Yield: 6 to 8 Servings
  • Total Time: 2 Hours -1


  • 2 tablespoons packed dark brown sugar
  • 1½ tablespoons kosher salt
  • 1½ teaspoons garlic powder
  • 1½ teaspoons onion powder
  • 1½ teaspoons paprika
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 6 pounds bone-in chicken pieces (split breasts and/or leg quarters), trimmed
  • 1 cup ketchup
  • 5 tablespoons molasses
  • 3 tablespoons cider vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • ¼ teaspoon pepper
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • ⅓ cup grated onion
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 large disposable aluminum roasting pan (if using charcoal) or 2 disposable aluminum pie plates (if using gas)
How to Make It
    For the Chicken
  1. Combine sugar, salt, garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, and cayenne in bowl. Arrange chicken on rimmed baking sheet and sprinkle both sides evenly with spice rub. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 6 hours.
  2. For the Sauce
  3. Whisk ketchup, molasses, vinegar, Worcestershire, mustard, and pepper together in bowl. Heat oil in medium saucepan over medium heat until shimmering. Add onion and garlic and cook until softened, 2 to 4 minutes. Add chili powder and cayenne and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Whisk in ketchup mixture and bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer gently for 5 minutes. Set aside ⅔ cup sauce to baste chicken and reserve remaining sauce for serving.
  4. For a Charcoal Grill
  5. Open bottom vent halfway and place disposable pan filled with 3 cups water on 1 side of grill. Light large chimney starter filled with charcoal briquettes (6 quarts). When top coals are partially covered with ash, pour evenly over other half of grill (opposite disposable pan). Set cooking grate in place, cover, and open lid vent halfway. Heat grill until hot, about 5 minutes.
  6. Place 2 disposable pie plates, each filled with 1½ cups water, directly on 1 burner of gas grill (opposite primary burner). Turn all burners to high, cover, and heat grill until hot, about 15 minutes. Turn primary burner to medium-high and turn off other burner(s). (Adjust primary burner as needed to maintain grill temperature of 325 to 350 degrees.) 4. Clean and oil cooking grate. Place chicken, skin side down, on hotter side of grill and cook until browned and blistered in spots, 2 to 5 minutes. Flip chicken and cook until second side is browned, 4 to 6 minutes. Move chicken to cooler side and brush both sides with ⅓ cup sauce. Arrange chicken, skin side up, with leg quarters closest to fire and breasts farthest away. Cover (positioning lid vent over chicken if using charcoal) and cook for 25 minutes.
  7. Brush both sides of chicken with remaining ⅓ cup sauce and continue to cook, covered, until breasts register 160 degrees and leg quarters register 175 degrees, 25 to 35 minutes longer.
  8. Transfer chicken to serving platter, tent with aluminum foil, and let rest for 10 minutes. Serve, passing reserved sauce separately.

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