This BBQ chicken recipe delivers the real deal – a whole bird infused with a flavorful dry rub, seared over live fire for a gentle kiss of smoke, and lacquered with a sticky, sweet sauce. The key is cutting the chicken into halves for faster, more even cooking over a two-zone grill setup.

While restaurant versions often disappoint with oven-baked chicken drowning in sauce, this method replicates the authentic low-and-slow barbecue joint experience. Getting that perfect combo of smoke from the charcoal, an expertly timed baste with the sauce, and juicy, fall-off-the-bone meat is easier than it seems.

Have your napkins ready – this messy, finger-licking chicken is worth getting your hands dirty. The simple ingredients are a whole chicken, a peppery dry rub, and your favorite barbecue sauce. But it’s the technique of searing, indirect grilling, and basting at just the right moments that makes all the difference. One bite of that caramelized, smoky-sweet lacquer will transport you to your local barbecue shack.

Ingredients You’ll Need

  • Chicken – A whole bird around 3-4 lbs will work great. You can also use just chicken thighs, legs or breasts if you don’t have a whole chicken.
  • Dry Rub (homemade or store-bought) – The rub I use contains kosher salt, dark brown sugar, smoked paprika, ground black pepper, dark chili powder, celery seeds, ground cumin and granulated garlic. Rubs help create a gorgeous flavorful exterior.
  • Kosher salt – To season the chicken (if the rub doesn’t contain salt).
  • Favorite BBQ Sauce – The sauce flavor is key to the results. It will be basted on the chicken as it cooks, but have extra for serving. I like to use my homemade sweet and tangy BBQ sauce, but Stubb’s and Sweet Baby Ray’s are my favorites from the store.

See the full recipe card for full information on ingredients and quantities.

grilled bbq chicken halves on sheet pan

How to Grill BBQ Chicken

Step-by-Step Instructions

  1. Up to 24 hours ahead: Cut the whole chicken in half and generously all sides with a dry rub. Refrigerate uncovered.
  2. 30 minutes before cooking: Remove the chicken from the fridge to take the chill off. Prepare your grill for two-zone indirect cooking, with one side at medium-high heat (around 400°F).
  3. Sear the chicken: Oil the grill grates and place the chicken halves skin-side down over direct heat. Sear for 5-7 minutes per side until nicely browned.
  4. Indirect grilling: Transfer the seared chicken to the indirect heat zone, positioning breasts away from the hotter side. Cover and cook for 20 minutes, maintaining 400°F.
  5. First baste: After 20 minutes, use a basting brush to slather 1/2 cup of BBQ sauce all over the chicken, flipping to coat both sides and finishing skin-side up.
  6. Second baste: Cook for 10 more minutes, then baste again with the remaining 1/4 cup of sauce.
  7. Finish grilling: Continue cooking until the internal temp of the breasts register 160°F and the thighs reach 175°F on an instant-read thermometer, about 20 more minutes.
  8. Rest and serve: Transfer the beautifully lacquered chicken to a cutting board and let rest for 10 minutes to allow juices to redistribute. Slice, serve hot, and have extra sauce on the side.
bite of BBQ Chicken Thighs close up

Pro Tips for Success

  • Cut the chicken into halves for faster, more even cooking.
  • Apply the dry rub (and salt) generously at least 2 hours ahead, preferably overnight.
  • Set up two-zone grill for indirect cooking, with one side at medium-high heat for searing. The cooking should all be done with the grill lid closed.
  • Sear first, then move to indirect heat before saucing to prevent burning.
  • Position breasts farthest from direct heat when indirect grilling.
  • Use a quality sauce and sauce strategically: Opt for a thin, sweet and tangy BBQ sauce. If too thick, thin it with water or cider vinegar. Only apply the sauce after searing, once the chicken has moved to indirect heat – this allows it to caramelize beautifully without burning.
  • Use a remote probe thermometer to track internal temperatures precisely so you know right when it’s done cooking.
  • Allow to rest uncovered for 10 minutes before slicing.

How to Halve a Whole Chicken

Halving the chicken (or two) will make handling it on the grill super easy. It’s just 3 quick steps.

  1. Place the chicken breast-side down on a cutting board. Using poultry shears, spatchcock the chicken by cutting out the backbone which is about 1 1/2″ wide.
  2. Turn the chicken over and firmly press down with both hands (a little like CPR) to crack the breast bone to flatten the chicken.
  3. Stretch the skin so it is evenly distributed, then use a very sharp chef knife or cleaver to slice right through the center of the breast bone.

Reserve the backbone (and any other leftover bones) for making chicken stock. And if you want to totally break down the chicken, learn how to cut up a whole chicken.

How Long to Grill the Chicken

A whole chicken (cut in half) will take approximately 1 hour to cook on the grill. Figure about 5-7 minutes of searing per side, plus 45-50 minutes of indirect heat cooking.

The best way to tell when it’s done is to cook to temperature rather than by time using a high-quality meat thermometer to verify doneness..

Key Temperatures

Grill Temperature (closed lid)400° F / 204°C
(pull temp)
160° F / 73.8°C
(pull temp)
170° F / 79°C
*Pull temp should be 5 degrees below target finish temperature as there will be some carryover cooking.

Serving Suggestions

Like with most BBQ, it’s all about the sides. If you are making the main, here are some ideas for what to pair with it.

grilled bbq chicken on a sheet pan with BBQ Sauce

Grilled BBQ Chicken

With just a few ingredients and an hour on the grill, this recipe yields irresistibly sticky, finger-licking BBQ chicken. Juicy meat infused with a savory rub takes on smoky flavors as it's charred over live fire and lacquered with a sweet, tangy sauce that sears your lips with incredible flavor.
5 from 2 votes
Print Pin Save Rate
Course: Main
Cuisine: American
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour 5 minutes
Resting Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour 25 minutes
Servings: 6



  • Using kitchen shears or a sharp knife, halve the chicken by removing the backbone and splitting the breastbone. This allows for more even cooking.
  • Generously season the chicken all over with the dry rub. Refrigerate uncovered for at least 2 hours or up to overnight.
  • Remove the chicken from the fridge 30 minutes before cooking. Set your grill up for a two-zone fire in your grill for indirect cooking, with one side at medium-high heat.
  • Oil the grill grates, then place the chicken halves skin-side down over direct heat and close the lid. Sear for 5-7 minutes per side until nicely browned, while being careful that it doesn't burn.
  • Transfer the chicken to the indirect heat zone, positioning the breasts away from the high heat. Cover and cook for 20 minutes at 400°F.
  • After 20 minutes, use a heat-resistant basting brush to apply 1/2 cup of BBQ sauce all over the chicken, flipping to coat both sides and doing the skin side last.
  • After 10 more minutes, baste with the remaining 1/4 cup of sauce.
  • Continue cooking until the breast meat registers 160°F and the thighs reach 175°F on an instant-read thermometer, about 20 minutes more.
  • Transfer the lacquered chicken to a cutting board and let it rest for 10 minutes before slicing and serving with extra BBQ sauce on the side.


  • There will be about 5° of carry-over cooking after the chicken is removed from the grill, so I like to pull the chicken when the breasts are 160°. 
  • Monitor grill temperatures closely and adjust vents/fuel as needed to maintain 400°F.
  • Let the chicken rest to allow juices to redistribute for juicier, more tender meat.
5 from 2 votes

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  1. 5 stars
    I’m a propane griller and haven’t charcoal grilled for a long time.
    But, your photo of your Best Damn Grilled Chicken looked mouthwatering, so I thought I’d give it a try. I followed your recipe to a T and it was delicious, flavorful and juicy. I think the indirect heating, which I never do, was a factor too. Maybe I’ll use charcoal more in the future.
    Thanks for the tips Justin.