A Phoenix from the Flames

Among the world’s barbecue meats, next to regal rib-eyes and blissful racks of pork baby backs, chicken is the ugly red-headed stepchild.

More often than not, as I’m sure you’ve experienced at your share of backyard feasts, chicken is ruined on the grill. Rubbery thighs emerge black and blistered. Breasts languish on blazing grates while the host chats and tends to other things, turning them six or eight times over the course of an hour or so and eventually asking, “Do you think they’re done?” (Is it possible to successfully cook a chicken breast on the barbecue? Yes. Is it likely you will encounter it this summer? No.)

As the protector of a flock of twelve pet chickens who think I am their mother and follow me about the property, I feel it my duty to ensure that their brethren bound for the barbecue do not die in vain. In fact, I will offer a recipe that will forever change your feelings about grilled chicken for the better.

Forget the breasts for now. Serious barbecue chefs will tell you that the thigh is the cut for the grill. Breasts are too easily overcooked. Opt instead for the juicy, rich dark meat of the thighs. (You skinny girls will just have to get over it. You can remove the skin if you must.) You’ll need to be attentive, as the fat from thighs will cause those flare-ups that turn meat to carbon. (Not to mention the butter I’m going to have you baste the things with.) I served this recently at one of my own cookouts, and my guests couldn’t tell what kind of meat it was. “You mean,” they said in astonishment, “this is chicken!??”

This is chicken. No longer the reviled step-sister, now the belle of the ball.

*   *   *

Grilled chicken thighs with spicy vinegar and butter
serves 4 – 6 with sides

2 lbs chicken thighs, bone and skin left on


1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup salt
2 cups water

dry rub:

2 tbsp. sugar
2 tbsp. salt
2 tbsp. paprika
1 tbsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. celery seeds
1 tsp. cayenne pepper


1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup seasoned rice wine vinegar
1 tbsp. hot red pepper flakes

The day before: Make the brine. With a cleaver or large chef’s knife, cut the chicken thighs in half across, cutting through the bone. (The best way to do this is with a fast, forceful chop — watch your fingers!) In a large bowl or tupperware, toss the half chicken thighs in the brine, cover and refrigerate. Toss once or twice over the course of the brining.

In a small saucepan, combine the vinegars and pepper flakes. Heat over medium until simmering and remove from heat to a bowl.

Remove thighs from brine. Pat dry with a paper towel. Sprinkle skin side of each piece generously with the rub. Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat and remove to a bowl.

Heat your grill to medium high. If you would like a smoked flavor, place wood chips soaked in water on a piece of foil above the flames. Begin grilling chicken, breast-side up. You may need to move the chicken thighs around if you get flame flare ups. As you’re cooking, using a pastry brush or barbecue brush, baste the chicken with vinegar sauce. Turn over, and baste the other side. You’ll need to watch the chicken closely, turning and moving so it doesn’t burn. Baste frequently. After 10 minutes, when the chicken is skin-side down, baste with the butter. Continue cooking and basting with the vinegar for about 10 more minutes, until chicken thighs are well cooked and browned. Baste a final time with remaining butter, and remove from heat to a large platter.

Serve with sides such as potato salad or cole slaw. Goes well with a nice hoppy beer such as Anchor Steam or Sierra Nevada.

12 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Andy
    Aug 09, 2011 @ 14:49:30

    We are scared the world economy is going to collapse. We are thinking about stockpiling food.


  2. Lisa Gaskin
    Aug 10, 2011 @ 01:29:58

    we need chicken coops (or pigeon coops) inside joke 😉


  3. g
    Aug 11, 2011 @ 03:43:45

    thinking about flames is a little too scarey for me right now!! Thanks so much for your help and support!


  4. rachelocal
    Sep 10, 2012 @ 18:00:59

    I’m so trying this recipe on our charcoal grill. How would you adapt this recipe for the oven (for those of us in colder states that want this chicken but don’t want to grill outside)?


    • scolgin
      Sep 10, 2012 @ 18:07:16

      I had to go back and see which recipe you were talking about. LOL

      I think the go-to adaptation for trying to recreate a grill-like experience in the kitchen is broiling. (You just want that heat, the difference in this case being that it would come from above rather than below.) So I would put the thighs on a slightly elevated rack, with a pan underneath, and broil until crisp, brushing occasionally with butter and/or pan juices. Mmmmm.


  5. rachelocal
    Sep 10, 2012 @ 18:03:03

    Nice title, btw.


  6. Trackback: Pepper-licious Grilled Chicken Thighs « Rachel's Table
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