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Recipe | America’s Test Kitchen’s Classic Barbecued Chicken A tangy, tomatoey, sauce is the star of barbecued chicken

recipe for classic barbecue chicken This recipe for classic barbecue chicken appears in the cookbook “Just Add Sauce.” (Carl Tremblay | America's Test Kitchen via AP)
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2 minute read

A tangy, tomatoey, molasses-laced sauce is the indisputable star of traditional American barbecued chicken.

The brick-hued sauce should be mopped on as the chicken cooks, resulting in a beautifully browned (not charred) exterior surrounding moist, evenly cooked meat. Our Classic Barbecue Sauce gave simple chicken parts all the intense, multidimensional flavor we craved, but the real secret to this recipe was the method: A two-level grill fire allowed us to cook the chicken most of the way through on the cooler side of the grill, rendering the fat without causing flare-ups, and then we moved the chicken to the hotter side to get a lacquered layer of sauce.

Applying the sauce in coats and turning the chicken as it cooked encouraged the sauce to thicken and caramelize, perfectly glazing the chicken. Don’t try to grill more than 10 pieces of chicken at a time; you won’t be able to line them up. You can use a mix of chicken breasts, thighs, and drumsticks, making sure they add up to about 10 pieces.

Love to cook at home? Want to learn some new skills in the kitchen? Find America’s Test Kitchen on Kansas City PBS in our schedule and watch at 11 a.m. every Saturday.

Classic Barbecued Chicken 

Servings: 4 to 6

Start to finish: 1 hour and 45 minutes (plus 30 minutes to prepare barbecue sauce)


1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon pepper

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

3 1/2 pounds bone-in chicken pieces (split breasts cut in half, drumsticks, and/or thighs), trimmed

1 (13 by 9-inch) disposable aluminum roasting pan (if using charcoal)

1 cup Classic Barbecue Sauce

Classic Barbecue Sauce

Makes about 2 cups

This sauce can be used on just about anything. For a thinner, smoother texture, strain the sauce after it has finished cooking.

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 onion, chopped fine

Salt and pepper

1 garlic clove, minced

1 teaspoon chili powder

1 1/4 cups ketchup

6 tablespoons molasses

3 tablespoons cider vinegar

2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

To Make Classic Barbecue Sauce: 

Heat oil in medium saucepan over medium heat until shimmering. Add onion and pinch salt and cook until onion is softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in garlic and chili powder and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

Whisk in ketchup, molasses, vinegar, Worcestershire, and mustard. Bring sauce to simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until thickened and reduced to about 2 cups, about 25 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. (Sauce can be refrigerated for up to 4 days.)

To Make Classic Barbecued Chicken:

Combine salt, pepper, and cayenne in bowl. Pat chicken dry with paper towels and rub with seasoning mixture.

For a charcoal grill, open bottom vent completely and place disposable pan on one side of grill. Light large chimney starter filled with charcoal briquettes (6 quarts). When top coals are partially covered with ash, pour evenly over other side of grill. Set cooking grate in place, cover, and open lid vent completely. Heat grill until hot, about 5 minutes.

For a gas grill, turn all burners to high, cover, and heat grill until hot, about 15 minutes. Leave primary burner on high and turn off other burner(s). (Adjust primary burner as needed to maintain grill temperature around 350 F.)

Clean and oil cooking grate. Place chicken, skin side down, on cooler side of grill. Cover and cook until chicken begins to brown, 30 to 35 minutes.

Slide chicken into single line between hotter and cooler sides of grill. Cook uncovered, flipping chicken and brushing every 5 minutes with some of sauce, until sticky, about 20 minutes.

Slide chicken to hotter side of grill and cook, uncovered, flipping and brushing with remaining sauce, until well glazed, breasts register 160 degrees, and drumsticks/thighs register 175 degrees, about 5 minutes. (Smaller pieces may cook faster than larger pieces. Remove pieces from grill as they reach correct temperature.) Transfer chicken to serving dish, tent with aluminum foil, and let rest for 5 to 10 minutes. Serve.


Nutrition information per serving: 349 calories; 74 calories from fat; 8 g fat (2 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 133 mg cholesterol; 1020 mg sodium; 27 g carbohydrate; 0 g fiber; 23 g sugar; 41 g protein.


For more recipes, cooking tips and ingredient and product reviews, visit Find more recipes like Classic Barbecued Chicken in “Just Add Sauce.

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