Food & Drink

Weekend Gourmet: Try this classic barbecue chicken recipe

Classic Barbecue Chicken.
Classic Barbecue Chicken.

I laugh at the cycles in fashion. When I was at the beach a couple of weeks ago, I would have thought it was the late 1970s for all the neon swimwear.

We get trendy, then change, and lo and behold, our kids start looking like we did at their age. Thank goodness platform shoes for men of the disco days have remained dead and buried.

But then there are the classics. A man in a shawl-lapel tuxedo will always have the debonair look of Frank Sinatra or Sean Connery’s James Bond now and 20 years from now.

Food is the same way. Chefs and food writers muck around with food, experimenting with new spices and off-the-wall cooking methods. But things always come back around, usually to simplicity.

And classic barbecued chicken is just that: simple, great eating.

Wait Fred, you say, I don’t remember brining. OK, maybe I am mucking a bit, but brining gives you a margin of safety; it keeps the chicken juicy. And yes, brining does change the texture slightly, making the meat a little softer, but I believe it’s worth the difference.

The keys to great barbecue chicken are simple, but critical.

First, no boneless-skinless chicken allowed. Buy bone-in chicken. As my dad would say “the closer to the bone, the sweeter the meat,” but it also helps with heat transfer. Second, give it a brine. Third, use both direct heat and indirect heat: first to sear the chicken over direct, then a lower indirect heat to cook it all the way through. Finally, don’t start basting with sauce until the chicken is almost done. Why? Because more than likely you’re using a sauce with sugar, which will burn. Remember that blackened chicken that was still raw on the inside? Not great eats, huh?

Live by these tips and the recipe below and you will have great barbecued chicken every single time. Summer won’t be complete without the messy, finger-licking, sweet joy of real barbecued chicken.

Fred Thompson is a Raleigh cookbook author and publisher of Edible Piedmont magazine. His latest cookbook is The Kamado Grill Cookbook.Reach him at

Classic Barbecued Chicken

8 cups water

5 tablespoons kosher salt

2 tablespoons dried basil

2 tablespoons coriander seeds

1 tablespoon black peppercorns

1 tablespoon yellow mustard seeds

1 teaspoon granulated garlic

2 bay leaves

1 (4-pound) chicken, cut up

Freshly ground black pepper

Granulated garlic

Classic Barbecue Sauce (recipe follows)

Pour water, salt, basil, coriander seeds, black peppercorns, yellow mustard seeds, garlic and bay leaves into a large zip-top bag. Swish around to dissolve the salt. Place the chicken pieces in the brine. Close the bag and squish the brine around the chicken. Place in the refrigerator overnight.

Remove the chicken from the brine and discard the brine. Rinse the chicken pieces in cold water and pat dry. Season with the pepper and garlic.

Start a charcoal fire or preheat your grill on high. Set your grill for indirect cooking. Oil your cooking grate.

Place the chicken pieces over the direct heat portion of your grill and sear for 2 minutes per side. Move the chicken pieces to the indirect portion of the grill, close the grill, and cook for 30 minutes.

Now start brushing the chicken with the barbecue sauce, turning every 5 minutes, for about 15 minutes longer. The chicken will be firm to the touch and the juices will be clear. Remove the chicken to a platter and serve, passing additional barbecue sauce at the table.

Yield: 6 servings.

Classic Barbecue Sauce

1 cup ketchup

2 tablespoons yellow mustard

1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

2 teaspoons dark brown sugar

2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper

1/2 cup low-sodium chicken broth

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, optional

Kosher salt to taste

Place ketchup, mustard, vinegar, brown sugar, black pepper, chicken broth, butter and salt into a medium saucepan. Place the saucepan over medium heat and bring to a simmer, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Simmer for about 5 minutes for a relatively thin sauce, or cook 10 to 15 minute for a thicker variety. Place in an airtight container and refrigerate for up to a month.

Variation: Add 2 chipotle chilies in adobo sauce and 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin for a spicy Southwestern-style barbecue sauce.

Yield: 2 cups