Tested and Perfected For Extra-Juicy and Flavorful Results Every Time!
If you’ve followed Plays Well With Butter for a while you know that we’re obsessed with all things grilling.
Over the years, we’ve meticulously tested countless classic grilling recipes, from beer brats to chicken wings, and grilled sausage to get the absolute best results and they’ve become some of our reader’s absolute favorite dinner recipes, especially in the summer months.
This Grilled BBQ Chicken recipe is no exception!
While grilling BBQ chicken seems really simple, doing it the right way, for perfect results, requires a little bit of technique.
Our trusted method for making the most tender, juicy, and smoky BBQ chicken depends on creating three layers of flavor with a quick brine, a homemade dry rub, and the 2-zone grilling method. All that’s left to do is slather on your favorite BBQ sauce for chicken that’s seasoned and flavorful all the way through.
Join the 30,000+ readers who have saved this recipe and make it your new go-to grilled chicken dinner, we can’t wait for you to try it!
The Best Chicken For Grilled BBQ Chicken
The best chicken parts to use for BBQ chicken are whatever parts you love most. Seriously! This recipe is so versatile it will work great with chicken breasts, chicken thighs, drumsticks, leg quarters, and even chicken wings.
For this recipe, I’m especially partial to bone-in chicken thighs! Dark meat has a higher fat content that renders and becomes even more flavorful and juicy compared to boneless chicken parts, which is why you see them pictured in this post.
No matter what you choose this chicken is sure to be a hit!
Love Crispy Chicken Skin? Since this particular barbecue chicken recipe involves a dry rub the chicken skin gets perfectly crisp on the grill so I love making some pieces with the skin still on. 😋 Pro Tip! ⇢ The chicken skin will soak up the sauce pretty quickly, so it’s best to only add BBQ sauce to the skin-on side just as you serve it. (Soggy, saucy chicken skin is no good!)
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An Easy Brine Keeps Things EXTRA Juicy!
Because chicken is a lean protein, marinating or brining it in a liquid before you barbecue is key in helping to ensure your barbecue chicken stays totally juicy and doesn’t dry out on the grill.
My absolute favorite grilled chicken trick for adding rich, deep flavor to the chicken is soaking chicken in beer. While it won’t make the chicken taste like beer, it will keep the chicken nice and juicy throughout grilling.🍻
For the best flavor, use a full-bodied, dry, and hoppy beer, such as an IPA. Brine the chicken for up to 3 days in the fridge. The longer you can brine the more flavor you’ll get but if you only have 15 minutes before dinner needs to get on the grill, please don’t skip this step. Even the quickest brine will make a difference!
Don’t Like Beer? Use Buttermilk! If beer isn’t your thing (I get it!), you can use buttermilk, which is totally classic and has the added benefit of naturally tenderizing the chicken. Pro Tip! ⇢ If you don’t have buttermilk on hand, you can DIY it by adding a splash of vinegar or lemon juice to regular ol’ milk.
Build Bold Flavor with Homemade BBQ Dry Rub
My go-to BBQ chicken rub is so simple to make with pantry spices, and it’s filled with flavor.
Chili powder, paprika, and cumin add rich, smokiness, while garlic powder, onion powder, and mustard powder provide nice aromatics. To finish, the littlest bit of brown sugar adds the perfect kiss of sweetness.
It takes less than 5 minutes to mix up and you’ll want to grill with it all summer long!
Meal Prep Tip
I always suggest making a double or triple batch of homemade BBQ dry rub. It’s great on grilled chicken, of course, but it’s also awesome on pork, steaks, or sprinkled on burgers. It’s an all-purpose dry rub that you’ll turn to time and time again!
How To Grill BBQ Chicken
Now for the fun part – grilling up your chicken! The secret to perfectly cooked, juicy, and tender grilled BBQ chicken lies in zone grilling.
By creating 2 distinct zones of heat on your grill, you can first cook your chicken with really gentle, steady indirect heat before finishing it over strong direct heat.
The result? Grilled BBQ chicken that’s perfectly juicy and tender through the middle, with the best crispy and charred exterior every single time!
Cook first with indirect heat. Place the seasoned chicken on the indirect side of the grill (skin side up, if using skin-on chicken), as close to the fire as possible without being over the direct heat. Pro Tip! ⇢ Be sure to close the lid while indirect grilling to keep the grill temperature within the desired range. Rotate the chicken 180 degrees every 15 minutes, and cook until an instant-read thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the chicken (without hitting the bone) registers a temperature of 150 degrees F.
Finish over direct heat. Move the chicken over direct heat to finish cooking then baste the chicken with your BBQ sauce of choice, allowing it to cook for 2 minutes. Next, flip the chicken using tongs, baste it with more sauce, and cook for 2 minutes more.* Repeat this process 2-3 times, until chicken is as charred and saucy as desired, or until an instant-read thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the chicken (without hitting the bone) registers a temperature of 160 degrees F.
Allow the chicken to rest. Carryover heat will cause the internal temperature to continue to rise. Let the chicken rest for 5-10 minutes until it has reached a safe 165 degrees F. Serve immediately and enjoy!
*Important Note: If using skin-on chicken be sure to check the Recipe Notes for my tips on how to avoid soggy skin!
Learn more! ⇢ Be sure to check out our comprehensive guide to 2-zone grilling for tips on how to use zone grilling on a gas or charcoal grill.
Understanding Grill Time and Doneness
Grill cooking times can vary based on the temperature of your grill or the size of your chicken pieces.
The best way to ensure your chicken is cooked through is to use an instant-read thermometer but if you are looking for some general guidelines for how long to grill BBQ chicken we’ve laid them out below.
BBQ Chicken Grill Time Guidelines:
- Chicken Breasts: For boneless, skinless chicken breasts, begin checking for doneness after 10-15 minutes. For bone-in chicken breasts, begin checking for doneness after 20-25 minutes.
- Thighs: For boneless, skinless chicken thighs, begin checking for doneness after 10-12 minutes. For bone-in chicken thighs, begin checking for doneness after 15-20 minutes.
- Drumsticks: Begin checking for doneness after 15-20 minutes.
- Leg Quarters: Begin checking for doneness after 15-20 minutes.
When it comes to side dishes for grilled barbecue chicken, I like to keep things super classic. A few of my faves…
- Classic Potato Salad, Coleslaw, Broccoli Salad, and Macaroni Salad make for the ultimate summertime meal!
- Grilled veggies – No summer plate is complete without some grilled veggies. Grill up some corn on the cob, peppers and onions, or sweet potatoes!
- My ideal plate? A Grilled BBQ Chicken Bowl! Dice up your chicken and serve it over greens and quinoa, with grilled veggies, a little sharp cheddar, and some guacamole for good measure. Weeknight dinner perfection!
I can’t wait for you to try this Grilled Barbecue Chicken recipe. It’s so classic, totally easy, and I’m certain that it’ll be a staple at your house once you master it this summer!
If you do give it a try, be sure to let me know! Leave a comment with a star rating below. You can also snap a photo and tag @playswellwithbutter on Instagram. We LOVE seeing your PWWB creations! Happy grilling! ♡Print
Say hello to your newest go-to summer staple, the best Grilled BBQ Chicken recipe! This easy recipe utilizes a quick BBQ chicken marinade, a flavorful BBQ chicken dry rub, and indirect grilling, yielding perfectly tender, juicy, and flavorful BBQ chicken every time. The only grilled barbecue chicken recipe you’ll need from now on!
- one 4–5-pound package bone-in chicken thighs (see Recipe Notes)
- kosher salt, to season
- 2 cups BBQ sauce of choice
- for serving, as desired: extra BBQ sauce of choice, freshly snipped chives, grilled corn, potato salad, macaroni salad, coleslaw, cornbread, etc.
for the grilled BBQ chicken marinade/brine:
- one 16-ounce beer of choice (see Recipe Notes)
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt
for the grilled BBQ chicken dry rub:
- 3 tablespoons firmly packed brown sugar
- 1 ½ teaspoons chili powder
- 1 ½ teaspoons ground cumin
- 1 ½ teaspoons garlic powder
- 1 ½ teaspoons mustard powder
- 1 ½ teaspoons onion powder
- 1 ½ teaspoons smoked paprika
- ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
- optional: ⅛-¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
- Chicken: If you’d like to make BBQ chicken without the skin, tear the skin off of each chicken thigh. If you’d like to make skin-on BBQ chicken, simply trim off any excess skin or fat.
- Dry rub: Add all listed ingredients to a small bowl or jar. Stir to combine. Set aside, or store on your spice rack in an airtight container for up to 2 months.
Grilled BBQ Chicken:
- Brine the chicken: Add the beer (or buttermilk) to a large bowl or ziptop bag. Add in the kosher salt and stir to combine. Add the chicken, submerging all the parts in the beer mixture. Set aside to brine for at least 20 minutes or up to 2 days. If brining longer than 1 hour, be sure to store the chicken in the brine in an airtight container or ziptop bag in the refrigerator. If I have the time, I usually try to brine for at least 12 hours.
- Preheat the grill: Prepare your grill for indirect cooking, creating a zone of direct high heat and a second zone of indirect heat. If using a gas grill, begin preheating at least 15 minutes before grilling. If using charcoal, light the charcoal at least 30 minutes prior to grilling. (To learn more about zone grilling, be sure to check out this post.)
- Season the chicken: Once the grill is hot, remove the chicken from the brine, patting off any excess moisture with a paper towel. Season generously with salt and the BBQ chicken dry rub. If using skin-on chicken, work your fingers under the skin to season both sides of the skin.
- Grill the barbecue chicken: Place the seasoned chicken on the indirect side of the grill (skin side up, if using skin-on chicken), as close to the fire as possible without being over the direct heat. Cook the chicken, rotating the pieces 180 degrees every 15 minutes, until an instant-read thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the chicken (without hitting the bone) registers a temperature of 150 degrees F. Depending on the size of your chicken and the temperature of your grill, this could take as little as 15 minutes or up to 40 minutes.
- Baste the chicken: Move the chicken over direct heat. If using skin-on pieces, flip the chicken so the skin-side is down. Use a pastry brush to baste the BBQ chicken with BBQ sauce and cook for 2 minutes. Flip the chicken and cook for 2 minutes more. If using skinless chicken, baste the second side with BBQ sauce; if using skin-on chicken, I suggest not applying BBQ sauce to the skin to keep it nice and crispy. Repeat 2-3 times, until your chicken is as charred and saucy as desired and an instant-read thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the chicken (without hitting the bone) registers a temperature of 160 degrees F. Remove from the grill and set aside to rest for 5-10 minutes. Carryover heat will cause the internal temperature to continue to rise as it rests. The chicken will be ready to serve once an instant-read thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the chicken (without hitting the bone) registers a temperature of 165 degrees F.
- Serve your grilled BBQ chicken with extra BBQ sauce and your favorite summer side dishes. Enjoy!
- Best chicken to use for grilled BBQ chicken: Use whatever you love most – seriously. This recipe will work great with chicken breasts, chicken thighs, chicken wings, drumsticks – whatever you love! I prefer chicken thighs, which is what you see pictured in this blog post.
- Bone-in vs boneless: If possible, I strongly suggest using bone-in chicken parts, as they tend to be more flavorful and juicy than boneless parts.
- Skin-on vs skinless: Whether or not you leave the skin on the chicken is up to you. Removing the skin from your chicken will help you create what you likely think of when you think of grilled BBQ chicken – a chicken piece coated in layers of BBQ sauce. Because this recipe involves a dry rub and the chicken skin gets perfectly crispy on the grill, I also like making some pieces with the skin still on. The chicken skin will soak up the sauce pretty quickly, so it’s best to only add BBQ sauce to the skin-on side just as you serve it. (Soggy, saucy chicken skin is no good!). It just depends on what you’re craving!
- Brining liquid: Beer-brined chicken is simply the best! Even if you don’t love the flavor of beer or you’re not typically a beer drinker, a beer brine adds rich, earthy flavor to chicken that’s pretty hard to beat. For the best flavor, use a big, hoppy beer such as an IPA. If you’d prefer not to use beer, buttermilk is an awesome option – it makes the chicken extra juicy and tender. If you do not have buttermilk on hand, you can quickly DIY it by adding 1 tablespoon vinegar or lemon juice to 1 cup of milk. You’ll need 1 ½ cups of buttermilk for the chicken brine.
- Barbeque sauce: Homemade is always an option, but there are so many incredible store-bought BBQ sauces these days! My all-time favorites are Lillie’s Q & the Burman’s BBQ sauces at ALDI. Both offer a variety for each major BBQ region (Kansas City, Memphis, Texas, & Carolina), so it’s fun to be able to pick & choose whatever you’re in the mood for.
- 10-minute meal prep: To prep your grilled barbecue chicken ahead of time, I suggest brining the chicken according to Step 1 of Recipe Directions and preparing the dry rub according to the Prep notes. At dinnertime, all you have to do is fire up the grill, season the chicken, and grill. Easy!
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