Grilled chicken thighs are a versatile dish that work well with minimum work on the grill, but just get better with the more effort that is put into them.
An easy take on grilled chicken thighs is a simple rub and BBQ sauce. A salt, pepper, and garlic dry rub is complemented by an injection of your favorite BBQ sauce before hitting the grill. With this technique a good sear is important, so using a combination of direct and indirect heat creates great results.
Grilled chicken thighs can easily take on a bit of added complexity and are hard to over cook, making them the favored cut for kebab techniques. The simplest form of this is alternating red peppers and chicken thighs along the skewer. It allows for a fantastic melding of flavors as well as a tantalizing display, while still maintaining the flavor and juiciness of the chicken without the worry of drying out.
Most parts of the chicken are useful in one way or another, but the cuts mostly seen in grilling are the breast, wing, drum, and thigh with a bit of special mentions to the neck for more adventurous eaters. The thigh, however, is probably the easiest to fit into a multitude of different tasting recipes.
How to Choose the Best Chicken Thighs for Grilling
The good things about chicken thighs are their simplicity, so there isn’t a whole lot to be considered when purchasing. Ethically raised chickens who were free-range and given good grain and no antibiotics tend to taste a bit better, but can be pricey when buying in bulk.
Beyond the chicken’s living conditions the choice between bone-in and boneless is up to the personal preferences of the griller. Bone-in tend to keep their structure a bit better, and usually have more skin to crisp up and season for the grill. Thighs with more skin on them generally taste the best, have a better pocket for sauce, and have a satisfying, crispy bite.
Tips and Tricks for Grilling Chicken Thighs
The sauce goes under the skin when possible
Using an injector, or very carefully with a spoon, place a good amount of sauce underneath the chicken skin. This stops as much of the sauce from dripping and flaring up the grill and lets the flavor directly into the meat.
Salt and dry rubs for maximum crispness
Though a wet marinade can be quite tasty, a dry rub with plenty of salt will make for a more crisp grilled chicken thigh. Liberal amounts of salt, pepper, and garlic are an unbeatable base for just about any recipe.
Sear on direct heat, cook on indirect heat
Set the grill up so one side is hotter than the other. Do the initial sear on the high heat side, then let them finish over the indirect heat.
Cook to an internal temperature of 165F
Chicken thighs have a high fat content and are difficult to dry out unlike chicken breasts. Aiming for 165F ensures proper pasteurization while also breaking down stringy connective tissues.
Tools that are helpful for Grilling Chicken Thighs
An always important tool for grilling any kind of meat. Going by sight and feel for chicken is very difficult and a good thermometer is the only way to consistently ensure a proper cook.
Not necessarily required, but an injector is the best way to get sauce or marinades to penetrate the skin without interfering with a proper outer layer of browning.
Highly important for kebabs, but still useful for whole boneless chicken thighs that can tend to have structural problems during long cooks. Metal skewers are preferred just because they are reusable and they won’t burn.
Basic BBQ Grilled Chicken Thighs
A simple, juicy, and flavorful way to grill chicken thighs. This one is easily accomplished with either bone-in or boneless chicken thighs and is infinitely customizable.
Step One: Season the Chicken Thighs
You’ll want to use both a sauce and a dry rub for the best flavor. Inject a sauce of your choice underneath the chicken skin then pat the outside completely with a dry rub of salt, pepper, and garlic powder.
Step Two: Prepare the Grill
Direct heat is best for searing, indirect heat is best for cooking. If using a coal grill then load one side up with charcoal and let it get piping hot. With a gas grill just turning on one of the burners should work similarly.
Related: How to grill brats
Step Three: Sear the Chicken on Direct Heat
Using tongs, place the chicken thighs directly onto the hottest part of the grill. 30 seconds to 1 minute before flipping should be plenty if the grill is correctly prepped. You’re looking for a solid char on each side
Step Four: Cook on Indirect Heat
After the thighs have a good color on both sides move them to the part of the grill without a direct heat source. Leave them here for until an internal temperature around 165F before moving to a rack or plate to rest.
Usually this takes about 20 minutes, but it differs depending on the grill so don’t be afraid to check often.
Grilled Chicken Thigh and Red Pepper Kebabs
This next recipe takes the same basic principles of grilling chicken thighs, but ups the flavor and presentation factor with the addition of skewered red peppers that compliment the chicken’s flavor.
Related: How to cook kielbasa on the grill
Step One: Cut the Chicken Thighs
Using either a knife or scissors cut the thighs into bite-sized pieces that will fit on a skewer without too much hanging off. Aim for similar sized and shaped bites, simple squares work the best.
Step Two: Seasoning the Chicken Thighs
Dry rubs and marinades are both valid choices here, but a dry rub allows for a lot more charring. Keeping it basic with a salt, pepper, and garlic powder rub is perfectly valid, but the beauty of kebabs are the ability to experiment. Turmeric, ginger, and chile powders are great flavors to add into most rubs.
Step Three: Cut the Peppers
Halve the peppers and scoop out the seeds before cutting them into bite-sized chunks as close as you can to the same size as the chicken bites.
Step Four: Skewer
Alternate between chicken and red pepper all along the top half to ⅔’s of the skewer. Pack them in tightly and leave a bit of space at the top to avoid ingredients falling off mid grill.
Step Five: Prep the Grill
Get one side of the grill very hot by loading the coals onto one side, or turning a single burner on high.
Step Six: Sear on Direct Heat
Place the skewers one by one onto the hottest part of the grill. Let them sear on each side for 30 seconds to a minute until a good char is formed.
Step Seven: Cook on Indirect Heat
Once they have seared nicely move them to the other side of the grill, turning every 2 minutes, until the meat hits 165F. This should only take about 10 minutes.
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Chicken thighs are the way to go for a low-effort and high reward grill. Overcooking chicken thighs is very difficult, as the high fat content keeps them juicy even over the recommended temperature of 165F.
They’re a sure fire way to impress and the amount of time needed to cook a truly great dish is a lot lower than some thicker and more difficult to cook meats. Highly recommended for a good time in the yard.