Hands down the BEST juicy Grilled BBQ Chicken! With an optional quick brine and flavorful spice rub, this chicken is already bursting with flavor before you even add the bbq sauce!
This Grilled BBQ Chicken recipe is one of those that I love to make for potlucks and bbq’s. We also love easy summer recipes like my Classic Pasta Salad and Easy Baked Beans. This is one of my Summer recipes I know you’ll want to keep on hand!
It’s grilling season y’all! I love all things grilled and smoked, and not just because my husband usually does most of the grilling and smoking. Although it is nice to send the tray out with him and have him handle it lol.
This recipe is great to make not only for family dinner, but for a potluck or cookout. It’s truly a crowd-pleaser!
The secret is three-fold:
- The brine – the drumsticks are fine on their own, as they have fat to keep them moist, but the boneless skinless breasts need some extra help to keep them nice and juicy. A quick 20-30 minute brine solves that problem! It’s optional, but recommended if you have time.
- The rub – regular salt and pepper are great, but to really kick up the flavor, we use a simple rub recipe, very similar to what we use for our bbq chicken kabobs. You might want to make extra, you’ll be putting it on chicken all the time after you try it!
- The smoke – did you know you can get great smoky flavor from a regular grill? Maybe not as intense as you’d get from a smoker, but still delicious. Mequite or hickory are great options, and I’ve linked a brand I like down below in the “special equipment” section. The wood chips are technically optional as well, but highly recommended.
So let’s get to grilling!
HOW TO MAKE GRILLED BBQ CHICKEN
- Brine the chicken. This is an optional step, but one that really helps keep the chicken juicy. Combine water and salt, then add chicken and let sit for 20-30 minutes.
- Soak the wood chips. You don’t want them to burn, so add the wood chips to a bowl and cover them with water. Let them sit while your chicken is brining.
- Make the dry rub.
- Discard brine and season chicken. Remove chicken from brine, rinse, and pat dry. Coat chicken with olive oil spray and sprinkle with rub.
- Make a “smoker box”. Drain wood chips. Fill an aluminum foil pouch with drained wood chips, seal and poke a few holes in it to allow the smoke to come out.
- Start the grill. Start grill on HIGH, place 1 pouch of wood chips directly over the heat until you see smoke coming through the holes of the foil pouch.
- Grill chicken. Lower the heat to be about 350°F. Slide foil pouch over to the side, and add chicken. Cook about 9-10 minutes per side, with the lid closed.
- Baste. Baste chicken with bbq sauce and cook another 2-3 minutes, flipping once more, until chicken is finished cooking.
- Remove chicken from grill and brush with additional bbq sauce.
ADDITIONAL COOKING TIPS
- WOOD CHIPS – make sure you soak your wood chips for at least 20-30 minutes… and longer is totally fine. Without being soaked, they can catch fire… which is a smoke no one wants!
- ADD THE CHIPS FIRST – by adding the wood chips to the grill first, closing the lid and letting it sit there a few minutes, it really gets that smokiness going, which is what helps penetrate the chicken.
- WAIT FOR THE BBQ – as tempting as it is to slather all that bbq sauce on the chicken, you really want to wait until the last 3-5 minutes of cooking. If you add the sauce too early, it will burn (due to the sugar content). Let the chicken get nice and seared and cooked 95% of the way, then baste the chicken with bbq sauce and continue cooking another few minutes. If you like more sauce, go ahead and baste a couple of times, or slather with sauce once the chicken is off the grill.
- TAKE THE CHICKEN’S TEMPERATURE – the key to knowing when your chicken is cooked through and safe to eat, is using a meat thermometer. I’ve linked my two favorites down below, but you absolutely don’t have to spend a ton of money to get a quality thermometer. While the chicken breasts are safe at 165°, some cuts of chicken (like the drumsticks) actually taste better when they are cooked closer to 180°F because they’ll become more tender at that point.
VARIATIONS OF THIS RECIPE
- BEER – instead of soaking the wood chips in water, you could try using beer, or a mixture of beer and water!
- OVEN – Sometimes the weather doesn’t cooperate, or maybe you don’t own a grill. This chicken can be cooked in the oven if you prefer. The directions for this method will be in the recipe notes section of the recipe card down below.
- RUB – if you’d rather, you can use either a store-bought rub, or use poultry seasoning.
- SPICY – love some heat? Try adding some cayenne pepper to the rub and/or use a spicy bbq sauce.
- NO WOOD CHIPS – if you don’t have any wood chips, no problem! You can omit them… just add 3-4 Tbsp of liquid smoke to the brine. If you’re not using the brine method, then add a bit of the liquid smoke to the chicken itself before you add the seasoning.
- CHICKEN – I kept a mixture of light and dark meat here to accommodate different preferences, but if you prefer all dark meat, go for chicken thighs or drumsticks (or both). Or if you prefer all white meat, use all boneless skinless breasts.
MAKING BBQ CHICKEN AHEAD OF TIME
I don’t like to let my chicken breasts brine for more than an hour or two (it can get overly salty and mushy), so I wouldn’t make this entirely ahead of time.
That being said, you can certainly make up the rub ahead of time… just keep it in an airtight container on the counter.
If you’re making your own bbq sauce, that too can be made ahead of time (and the flavor will likely be even better). My favorite homemade bbq sauces are:
Leftover chicken should be refrigerated in an airtight container and consumed within 3-4 days.
SPECIAL EQUIPMENT FOR THIS RECIPE
- Tongs – these tongs are durable and I love the longer one for grilling.
- Smoker Box – in case you are adverse to using foil, or prefer something that will last.
- Basting Brush – perfect for slathering on that bbq sauce!
- Wood Chips – this is a good brand, and I love the variety pack.
- Internal Meat Thermometer – the key to great grilling is to use a meat thermometer! This one is inexpensive, accurate, and so quick! If you prefer a thermometer that stays in the meat and can alert you when the meat has reached a set temperature, try this ThermoPro!
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- 4 boneless skinless chicken breasts
- 4 chicken drumsticks
- olive oil cooking spray
- 1 cup hickory wood chips (or mesquite)
- aluminum foil (or smoker box)
- 3/4 cup bbq sauce (your favorite brand or homemade)
- 8 cups lukewarm water
- 1/2 cup kosher salt
- 1 1/2 Tbsp light brown sugar
- 1 Tbsp smoked paprika
- 2 tsp kosher salt
- 2 tsp chili powder
- 2 tsp onion powder
- 2 tsp garlic powder
- 1 tsp dried thyme
- 1/2 tsp black pepper
PREPARE CHICKEN AND BRINE
- Remove any excess fat from chicken breasts and drumsticks. To a large mixing bowl, add brine ingredients (water and salt), and stir until salt has dissolved. Add chicken, cover, and let sit 20-30 minutes.
SOAK THE WOOD CHIPS
- Add the wood chips and enough water to cover them in a mixing bowl and let sit for around 20 minutes.
MAKE DRY RUB
- Add all rub ingredients (brown sugar, smoked paprika, salt, chili powder, onion powder, garlic powder, thyme and black pepper) in a small bowl and stir to combine. Set aside.
PREPARE TO GRILL
- Remove chicken from brine, rinse, then pat dry. Discard brine. Drain wood chips.
- Spray chicken with olive oil spray (or brush lightly with olive oil), then sprinkle with rub mixture and literally rub it into the meat.
- Fill an aluminum foil pouch with soaked wood chips, seal and poke a few holes in it to allow the smoke to come out. Start grill on HIGH, place 1 pouch of wood chips directly over the heat until you see smoke coming through the holes of the foil pouch.
- Lower heat and keep temperature around 350°F. Move the foil pouch to the side of the grill. Add chicken, close lid and cook for 9-10 minutes, then flip chicken over, close lid, and grill another 9-10 minutes.
- Baste chicken with bbq sauce and cook another 2-3 minutes (flipping once more), until chicken breasts have an internal temperature of 165°F and the drumsticks are between 165-180°F.
- Remove chicken from grill and brush with additional bbq sauce if desired.
Want to save this recipe for later? Click the heart in the bottom right corner to save to your own recipe box!
TO BAKE IN THE OVEN
- Since we're not using wood chips and grilling, just add 3-4 Tbsp of liquid smoke to the brine. If you're not using the brine method, then add a bit of the liquid smoke to the chicken itself before you add the dry rub.
- Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil (easy cleanup), and top with a metal cooling rack if you have one. Spray rack with nonstick cooking spray. Add chicken to rack without touching (you may need to either cook less chicken or use more than one baking sheet). Preheat oven to 425°F. Bake chicken for 18-22 minutes or until cooked through (165°F for breasts and between 165-180°F for drumsticks).
- The last 3-4 minutes of cooking time, brush with bbq sauce and switch your oven to the BROIL setting. Broil to get golden brown edges and lightly caramelized bbq sauce.