How to Make the Best BBQ Chicken

Simple steps to making the most flavorful barbecue chicken.

In culinary school I learned how to barbecue chicken “the right way.” It involved closely monitoring a live fire on a charcoal grill, keeping the flame low and painstakingly checking the temperature. If it was too hot, the skin would burn. And if I kept it on too long, the chicken would be dry and stringy—kind of like eating dental floss.

Of course if the results were perfect, it was a pleasure to eat. But you don’t have to go through all that hoopla to enjoy delicious chicken. Here are a few secrets to great barbecued chicken.

—Hilary Meyer, Associate Food Editor


Cook With Beer

Tip 1. Cook with Beer

My favorite way to get juicy barbecued chicken is to put beer in the cavity during cooking, and you can do that a few ways. You can buy a fancy contraption that will hold a can of beer inside the bird while it cooks upright or you can balance the bird on the beer can yourself. Or you can do as we do in our Beer-Barbecued Chicken recipe and just pour beer into the cavity. If you don’t want to use beer, water or chicken broth will work too.


Experiment with Dark Meat

Tip 2. Experiment with Dark Meat

If you’re not barbecuing a whole bird, experiment with dark meat. It’s more tender than chicken breast and more forgiving if you overcook it.


Use Good BBQ Sauce

Tip 3. Use Good BBQ Sauce

Sometimes the secret to good barbecue is in the sauce. Check out these recipes to find a good barbecue sauce to serve with your chicken, and you'll be all set.


Gas vs. Charcoal

Tip 4. Gas vs. Charcoal?

EatingWell’s 13 Essential Grilling Tips will help you choose whether you should use gas or charcoal and why you shouldn’t skip marinating your meat. The age-old debate over which grilling method is “better” involves multiple variables, from flavor to cost to convenience. While no studies prove that either is healthier, gas does burn cleaner. Charcoal grills emit more carbon monoxide, particulate matter and soot into the atmosphere, contributing to increased pollution and higher concentrations of ground-level ozone. From a taste perspective, on the other hand, many people prefer the smokier, richer taste of food cooked on a charcoal grill.


Beer-Barbecued Chicken

Pictured Recipe: Beer-Barbecued Chicken

Beer-Barbecued Chicken

Here's our spin on the roast-a-chicken-on-top-of-a-can-of-beer technique that's popular with barbecue aficionados. To simplify things, we just pour a little beer inside the chicken as it cooks. The beer keeps the meat juicy and a smoky-flavored spice rub both under and over the skin gives it extra flavor. Barbecuing poultry with the skin on helps prevent the meat from drying out. To keep calories and fat in check, remove the skin before serving.


Sweet-&-Sour Chicken Drumsticks

Chicken drumsticks stay deliciously moist when grilled—even with the skin removed. Minty sweet-and-sour dipping sauce adds a refreshing twist to “ordinary” grilled chicken. Make it a meal: Serve with brown rice and slices of fresh pineapple.


Barbecued Raspberry-Hoisin Chicken

Hoisin sauce along with pureed tart raspberries makes a wonderful Chinese-inspired marinade and dipping sauce for grilled chicken. Plan ahead: The chicken thighs benefit from marinating for at least 2 hours before grilling.


Shaker-Style Smoked Chicken Thighs

Based on a recipe of the Shakers, a Quaker splinter group that flourished in the Eastern U.S. in the mid-19th century, this marinade derives its flavor from a hefty jolt of cider vinegar and lots of chopped shallots. Apple-wood chips are our first choice for smoking, but maple and hickory impart great flavor as well.