Delicious Grilled BBQ Chicken Thighs

Grilled BBQ chicken thighs served over peas on a white platter
The Spruce
Prep: 20 mins
Cook: 50 mins
Marinate and Rest Time: 4 hrs 10 mins
Total: 5 hrs 20 mins
Servings: 4 to 6 servings
Nutritional Guidelines (per serving)
434 Calories
31g Fat
23g Carbs
19g Protein
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: 4 to 6
Amount per serving
Calories 434
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 31g 40%
Saturated Fat 6g 30%
Cholesterol 97mg 32%
Sodium 1771mg 77%
Total Carbohydrate 23g 8%
Dietary Fiber 2g 5%
Total Sugars 18g
Protein 19g
Vitamin C 2mg 10%
Calcium 33mg 3%
Iron 2mg 10%
Potassium 406mg 9%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)

Chicken thighs are the juiciest, most flavorful part of the chicken—and they're less expensive than chicken breasts. However, chicken thighs are often overlooked, but their dark meat has much more flavor and they are easier to cook because they don't dry out as easily. Take it a step further, and when the bone is left in, they taste even better. But you have to treat them right when you cook them, and this easy grilled BBQ chicken recipe does just that.

The chicken is first marinated in a mix of olive oil, vinegar, and spices and then grilled. During the final stages of cooking, you continue to brush it with a sweet-and-spicy barbecue sauce, which you make from scratch. As the sauce cooks, it reduces to a pleasantly sticky consistency—just like a good barbecue sauce should. Serve it with your favorite sides, such a grilled or boiled corn on the cob, baked beans, or coleslaw.

If you don't like to cook on the grill or you don't have access to one, check out the variation for baked barbecued chicken thighs following the recipe. 

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Ingredients

  • 4 pounds bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs

For the Marinade

  • 1/2 cup olive oil

  • 3 tablespoons white vinegar

  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt

  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar

  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

For the Barbecue Sauce

  • 1 cup ketchup

  • 1/4 cup white vinegar

  • 1/4 cup packed brown sugar

  • 2 tablespoons sweet paprika

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

  • 1 tablespoon chili powder

  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder

  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper, optional

  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

Steps to Make It

Note: While there are multiple steps to this recipe, it's broken down into workable categories to help you better plan for cooking.

Make the Marinade

  1. Gather the ingredients.

  2. Pat the chicken thighs dry with a paper towel.

  3. In a large bowl, whisk together olive oil, white vinegar, salt, granulated sugar, and red pepper flakes.

  4. Place chicken thighs in a resealable plastic bag.

  5. Pour marinade over top, seal bag, and turn to coat. Refrigerate for four to six hours, or up to overnight.

Make the Barbecue Sauce

  1. Gather the ingredients.

  2. Prepare the sauce by combining ketchup, white vinegar, brown sugar, sweet paprika, olive oil, chili powder, garlic powder, cayenne pepper, if using, and salt in a small saucepan.

  3. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Continue to simmer over low heat for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

  4. Remove sauce from heat and allow to cool for 10 minutes to thicken; then cover and set aside. If making the sauce a day in advance, cool completely and store in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Bring the sauce to room temperature before finishing the recipe, but do not boil or overheat it.

Grill the Chicken

  1. Heat a grill on medium-low heat to about 300 F.

  2. Remove chicken from marinade, discard remaining marinade, and place chicken thighs skin-side down on heated grill.

  3. Cook for about 30 minutes with the lid down, turning occasionally.

  4. During the last 20 minutes or so of cooking, brush sauce over the chicken until the meat reaches an internal temperature of 165 F and the sauce has cooked down to a sticky consistency. Make sure to test more than one piece for consistency.

  5. Once cooked through, remove the chicken from the heat and place onto a large platter. Tent with aluminum foil and let rest for 10 minutes.  

  6. Serve with your favorite sides.  

Baked BBQ Chicken Variation

Not everyone owns a grill or likes to grill. Or you may want to make this in the winter but don't want to be outside in the cold. That's where this baked version of BBQ chicken steps in.

  1. Heat the oven to 400 F. Lightly coat a 13 x 9-inch pan with cooking spray.

  2. Remove thighs from marinade, discarding remaining marinade, and place thighs skin-side down in the pan.

  3. Bake for 20 minutes. Reduce heat to 375 F.

  4. Carefully pour off any accumulated fat and drippings and brush barbecue sauce over thighs. Using tongs, flip thighs over and brush the tops with barbecue sauce.

  5. Continue to cook for another 15 minutes, basting with barbecue sauce every five minutes. When an instant-read thermometer registers 165 F, the thighs are done. 

  6. Serve with your favorite sides.  

Recipe Variations

The sauce can be changed up with any of these variations:

  • Simple BBQ Chicken Sauce: Easy to make and packed with flavor.
  • Alabama White BBQ Sauce: Instead of a tomato base, mayonnaise forms a white base for a creamy, tangy, peppery sauce, with a rich flavor.
  • North Carolina BBQ Sauce: This barbecue sauce includes cider vinegar, ketchup, brown sugar, Worcestershire sauce, butter, salt, and hot pepper sauce.
  • Cornell BBQ Sauce: Cornell sauce differs from others because an egg is emulsified with the vinegar and oil, developing a thick consistency, similar to mayonnaise, that sticks to the chicken and tenderizes it.
  • Bourbon BBQ Chicken Sauce: A deeply bold and rich sauce, bursting with sweet bourbon and tomato flavor.
  • Apricot Chili Glaze: Rich with sweet apricot flavor and the boldness of chili sauce, soy sauce, and rice wine vinegar.
  • Smoky Chicken Sauce: With Liquid Smoke as one of the ingredients, the sauce gets that delicious smoke flavor without actually a hint of smoke.
  • Caribbean Chicken Sauce: A hint of jerk chicken components in this sauce adds a powerful kick. If Serrano peppers are too spicy, use jalapeños.
  • Apple BBQ Sauce: Unsweetened applesauce is a delicious base for a barbecue sauce.
  • Sweet Bourbon BBQ Sauce: Sweet, yet tangy, this option adds bourbon, maple syrup, and Dijon mustard to the usual ingredients.

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