We're all familiar with barbecue chicken, that quintessential hand-held, finger-licking dish served at many a cookout. And some versions are better than others—juicy versus dry, glazed skin instead of burnt—even though this is a somewhat basic dish. By following a few steps, you can make what is often an ordinary entree standout fare on the buffet table.
This technique for barbecue chicken makes for a really juicy bird with a delicious thick glaze of barbecue sauce and without the dreaded burnt skin. Since the chicken is barbecued almost all the way with the skin-side up on the grill, the sauce can cook onto the surface without being burned by the grill's flames. The three-pronged flavoring technique—marinade, dry rub, barbecue sauce—makes for a moist and tasty bird. Whether homemade or store-bought, you can use any type of barbecue sauce for this recipe.
With a sharp knife, make several deep slashes through the skin and flesh of the chicken: two across the breast, two across the thigh, one across the leg.
In a wide, shallow dish, combine the rice vinegar, garlic, and 1/4 cup of the barbecue sauce. Add the chicken and coat with the marinade. Once coated turn the chicken skin-side down in the dish, cover, and refrigerate for 1 to 3 hours.
Remove the chicken from the marinade, pat dry with paper towels, and place on a foil-lined baking sheet. In a small bowl, mix together the dry rub ingredients and sprinkle over both sides of the chicken.
Build a medium fire in your charcoal grill (you may use a gas grill, but charcoal is recommended for this recipe). When all of the charcoal is covered in gray ash, brush the grates lightly with oil and place the chicken skin-side down on the grill.
Cook for just 3 to 4 minutes to lightly char the skin and create some grill marks, then turn over so the skin side is up. Brush the top of the chicken generously with barbecue sauce.
Cover the grill and cook, without turning the chicken again, for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the internal temperature is 165 to 170 F. Baste with sauce every 5 minutes.
Recipe Tips and Variations
- This recipe calls for splitting the whole chicken in half, which is also referred to as butterflying or spatchcocking. This technique shortens grilling time, allows the chicken to cook more evenly, and makes it easier to carve once it is cooked. To split the chicken in half, place breast-side down on a cutting board and remove the backbone. The easiest way to do this is with sharp kitchen scissors, cutting down either side of the bone and then removing it. Then, flip over the chicken, spread it out, and flatten it by pressing down on each of the wings until the breastbone breaks. At this point, you can snip off the wing tips using the kitchen shears.
- While the chicken is grilling, lift the cover every 5 minutes to add more barbecue sauce to the last layer. Since the chicken is cooked all the way with the skin-side up, the sauce will not burn and will build up a nice thick coating as the chicken cooks from the bottom up. This is a great way to get juicy meat and beautifully glazed skin without worrying about the chicken turning black.
- After the chicken is done and you remove it from the grill, make sure you let it rest before carving. To cut the chicken into pieces, you will need to find the connecting points between the legs, breast, thighs, and wings. First, you need to separate the leg from the breast by cutting through the skin and then the joint. Next, cut through the joint between the legs and thighs. Then remove the breast meat along with the wings, and finish by separating the wings from the breast meat.
- You can change the flavor of this barbecue chicken depending on what type of sauce you use. Whether you prefer sweet, tangy, spicy, or smoky, you can alter the taste just by switching the sauce.