Anyone who knew my dad well knew one of his happiest places in the world was in our backyard manning the grill.  Usually he made steaks, ribs (his specialty), or occasionally burgers.  Since I have never been a huge fan of steak or ribs, he would usually throw a couple of pieces of barbecued chicken onto the grill for me.  Eventually it got to the point where it happened so often, I was way sick of barbecued chicken.  He never quite caught on to that though, and one year on my birthday when he asked what I wanted for my birthday dinner, he suggested…you guessed it: barbecued chicken.  January in Indiana was never enough to stop him from grilling.

Now it’s been over a year and a half since Dad made the chicken for me and of course, I’ve been missing it.  A small side effect of missing him, I suppose.  When I came across this recipe it looked really promising.  Dad’s chicken was good, but I was looking for a fully from-scratch version.  We were cautiously optimistic when we started the grill but as soon as things started cooking, we knew just by the smell that it was going to be amazing.  In the end, were kind of blown away by just how good something as basic as barbecued chicken could be.  The nostalgia was set into full swing.  And just like that, we have a new appreciation for this dish on multiple levels.  (Who knew it even had more than one level?)


For the chicken:

  • 2 tbsp. packed brown sugar
  • 4½ tsp. kosher salt
  • 1½ tsp. onion powder
  • 1½ tsp. garlic powder
  • 1½ tsp. paprika
  • ¼ tsp. cayenne pepper
  • 6 lbs. bone-in chicken pieces (split breasts, leg quarters, thighs and/or drumsticks)

For the sauce:

  • 1 cup ketchup
  • 5 tbsp. molasses
  • 3 tbsp. cider vinegar
  • 2 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 tbsp. Dijon mustard
  • ¼ tsp. pepper
  • 2 tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 1/3 cup grated onion
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp. chili powder
  • ¼ tsp. cayenne pepper

1 large disposable aluminum roasting pan (for charcoal) or 2 disposable aluminum pie plates (for gas)


  • 01

    To prep the chicken, combine the sugar, salt, onion powder, garlic powder, paprika and cayenne in a small bowl.  Whisk until well blended.  Arrange the chicken in a single layer on a baking sheet and sprinkle both sides evenly with the spice rub.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 6 hours or up to 24 hours.

  • 02

    To make the sauce, combine the ketchup, molasses, vinegar, Worcestershire, mustard and pepper in a bowl or a liquid measuring cup.  Whisk to blend.  In a medium saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat until shimmering.  Stir in the onion and garlic.  Cook until the onion is just softened, 2-4 minutes.  Stir in the chili powder and cayenne and cook just until fragrant, about 30-60 seconds.  Stir in the ketchup mixture and bring to a boil.  Lower the heat to medium-low and simmer gently for about 5 minutes.  Reserve ¾ of the sauce for basting the chicken, and the rest will be additional for serving.

  • 03

    To prepare a charcoal grill, open the bottom vent halfway.  Place the aluminum pan filled with 3 cups of water on 1 side of the grill.  Light a large charcoal chimney filled with charcoal.  When the top coals are partially covered in ash, pour evenly over the other half of the grill (on the side opposite the aluminum pan).  Place the cooking grate, cover the grill, and open the lid vent halfway.  Heat grill until hot, about 5 minutes.

  • 04

    To set up a gas grill, place 2 disposable pie plates directly on 1 burner (opposite the primary burner).  Fill each with 1½ cups of water.  Turn all the burners to high, cover, and heat the grill until hot, about 15 minutes.  Reduce the heat of the primary burner to medium-high and turn off the other burners.  Maintain the grill between 325˚ and 350˚ F, adjusting the burner as needed.

  • 05

    Clean and oil the grate.  Place the chicken, skin side down, over the hotter part of the grill and cook until browned and blistered in spots, 2-5 minutes.  Flip the chicken and cook until the second side is browned, 4-6 minutes.  Move the chicken pieces to the cooler part of the grill and brush both sides with 1/3 cup of the reserved sauce.  Arrange the chicken skin side up, larger pieces closer to the hotter side of the grill.  Cover (with vent over the chicken if using charcoal), and cook for 25 minutes.

  • 06

    Brush both sides of the chicken with the remaining reserved sauce and continue to cook, covered, until breasts register 160˚ and leg quarters register 175˚ F on an instant read thermometer, about 25-35 minutes longer.  Remove the chicken to a serving platter, tent with foil, and let rest 10 minutes.  Serve, passing the additional sauce (not the sauce that was in contact with raw chicken).

  • 07

    Note: Since this recipe is a bit involved, you might as well go ahead and make a full batch even if you aren’t serving 6-8 people.  It freezes well (we shredded it and tossed with a bit of the additional sauce), and is great later for sandwiches, pizza, etc. 

  • Tasha

    Thanks for sharing! I am always looking for a homemade sauce for BBQ chicken. In the spring we raised and later butchered pasture raised poultry and it just seems fitting to use a homemade sauce. I’ll be trying this soon.

  • HalfBakedHarvest

    I love you sauce and the way your chicken looks! It is BBQ chicken heaven!

  • jamiesrecipes

    This looks finger-lickin’ good. I love how food triggers such great memories of loved ones.

  • Gosh this looks good. I have special recipes that relate to memories of my father, too. It’s funny how, when someone passes, there are little bursts of memory in everything–even things you wouldn’t think of. He was a TERRIBLE cook though. Grilling was pretty easy for him, so I never worried about that. Any soup, stew, or pasta had to be eaten carefully though. Haha.

  • The sauce makes this chicken. I hate dry roasted chicken so this is the perfect marinade for chicken in fridge! My family will love it!

  • Stacy | Wicked Good Kitchen

    Annie, your BBQ sauce for recipe for Barbecued Chicken looks fabulous. And, I enjoyed reading about your connection with this dish and memories of your father. Thank you for sharing!

  • simplygloria1

    This seems like the best chicken ever! Sounds like me when my husband puts all of those ribs and steaks on the grill…I just want a really good chicken!

  • Gwen

    This looks so good! Yum :D

  • Pat

    This looks great. I do have a question though. When you move the chicken to the cooler part of the grill – do you mean the part where the burners had been turned off ( where the disposable pans are)? I assume the pans get taken off the grill at that point? Sorry if this is an obvious question – just want to make sure I get the method right. Thanks!

  • This chicken looks soo good! I am going to definitely try it! Your pics are excellent too!

  • Jen

    I saw that recipe in Cooks Illustrated and wondered about it…usually I don’t like barbecued chicken because it seems dry…will need to try this…BTW one of my friends on Facebook was asking about homemade fondant and three people chimed in to say to try your recipe…that they always work….I have never made anything off your site that wasn’t amazing…

  • annieseats

    You know, we use a charcoal grill so I’m not sure about the gas instructions. However, since they don’t actually say to remove the pans, I would think you leave them on. Enjoy!

  • Aimée

    Brilliant recipe, I must try it out very soon! Also great to see my home city (Worcestershire) having a mention in the sauce :)

  • Jenn V

    Loved this one! The rub and sauce have the perfect amount of spiciness. The best flavorful sort of heat. The chicken itself was nice and juicy, too. Great grilling method.

  • Shari

    Made this, after the first time I tweaked it a little, added brown sugar, honey, regular mustard, liquid smoke, and some Jamaican jerk marinade. This sauce was SO GOOD! My go to now!