The thighs are the best part of the chicken, and these delectable grilled BBQ chicken thighs are super easy to make and should be eaten with your fingers. No utensils are necessary, just grab extra napkins.
Flavor-packed from a dry rub marinade and finished with a glaze of sweet-and-tangy BBQ sauce, this will be the best BBQ chicken you have ever tasted. The succulent chicken gets nice and smoky, especially if you add some wood chips to the grill for extra smoke.
While BBQ chicken is best made on a grill (preferably charcoal) because it will pick up so much extra flavor from the fire, these BBQ chicken thighs can totally be made in the oven or even in an air fryer. And you can make a BBQ salmon version with the same delicious results.
One of the keys to making the best barbecue chicken is to get a good amount of caramelization on the chicken without burning it. This flavor development comes in a few ways. One is from the rub, which should contain just a little sugar. The second is from the sauce, which is applied after the chicken is moved to the indirect heat side of the grill. When those sugars caramelize, they create an incredible flavor that we think of when we taste great BBQ chicken.
Advantages of Using Chicken Thighs
As wonderful as it is to grill the whole bird, grilling chicken thighs has some great advantages:
- Thighs cook evenly because they are all the same size.
- Super Affordable! The thighs are really inexpensive.
- Thighs are forgiving. Unlike with chicken breasts, if you overcook them by a little, they will still be great.
- No need to brine. The meat will stay juicy and flavorful.
- Thighs are the most flavorful part of the chicken.
- They are easy to manage on the grill.
What You'll Need
Scroll down to the recipe card for all the specifics and instructions.
How to Make Grilled Chicken Thighs
- Season the thighs with kosher salt and a dry rub at least 45 minutes before cooking, but preferably the night before.
- Prepare the grill for medium-high heat grilling (325° - 350° F). A Two-zone grill setup is key for perfect BBQ chicken without burning it. If using charcoal, keep the coals on half of the grill. If using a gas grill, turn on only half of the burners and leave the other side off for indirect heat cooking.
Clean the grill grates to help keep the chicken from sticking. Just before grilling, dip a rolled-up paper towel into some canola oil and rub it onto the grill grates.
- Grill the thighs. Place the chicken thighs skin-side down on the grill over the direct heat and close the lid. Grill for about 3 to 5 minutes until browned, then turn the thighs and grill for another 2 to 4 minutes
- Move the thighs to the indirect side of the grill and brush on about half the bbq sauce to both sides and close the lid.
- Continue to cook for about 20 more minutes, then baste on about ¼ cup more bbq sauce.
- The thighs are done when the internal temperature reaches 175° F, about 40 minutes total.
- Rest for 10 minutes on a cutting board or serving dish for 10 minutes before serving with the remaining BBQ sauce.
A Dry Rub Rub Is the Best BBQ Chicken Marinade
The best BBQ chicken marinade is actually a dry rub. Marinating the BBQ chicken with salt (as a dry bine) and the dry spice rub the day before cooking will infuse wonderful flavors. Let the rub sit on the chicken for at least 2 hours, but preferably overnight.
Avoid marinating the chicken with a wet sauce that contains sugar, because the sauce will burn on the grill before the skin gets crispy when you grill it over direct heat.
Make It Extra Smoky!
If you are grilling with charcoal (which I highly recommend), there will already be some delicious smoke flavor infused into the chicken during the cook. But to kick up the flavors even more, you can add some applewood chips to the coals to really boost the smokiness. And if you really want it smoky, try making smoked chicken thighs.
Don't Apply the Sauce Too Early
If you marinate the chicken in your preferred BBQ sauce or apply it while the chicken is cooking over direct heat, it can burn because of all the sugar in the sauce. Wait to apply your sauce until you have transferred it to the indirect heat side of the grill.
How Long to Grill BBQ Chicken Thighs?
Grill the thighs for 6 to 10 minutes over direct heat, then move them over to the indirect side of the grill. Overall, it will take about 45-50 minutes to fully cook the thighs to an internal temperature of 175° F in a barbecue that is around 350° F.
With of all the variables of cook time, including the temperature of the barbecue, the size and starting temperature of the chicken thighs, it's always best to cook to temperature instead of time. Always verify the temperatures with an instant-read probe thermometer.
How to Make BBQ Chicken Thighs in the Oven
You can totally make these delicious BBQ chicken thighs in the oven if you don't have grill handy.
- Season the thighs with salt and dry rub ahead of time.
- Preheat your oven to 400° F and place the thighs skin-side down on a foil-lined baking sheet.
- Bake for about 20-25 minutes then remove the chicken from the oven and crank up the temperature to 450° F. Brush on about ½ cup of BBQ sauce on both sides of the thighs. Then place the chicken back in the oven with the skin side up. Roast for about 10 minutes, then brush on more BBQ sauce. Back in the oven until it finishes cooking and reaches an internal temp of 175° F. Enjoy!
Enjoying the Leftovers
If you happen to make too much, you are in luck. BBQ chicken thighs are good for the next few days, and you don't even need to bother reheating them to enjoy. Try them sliced or shredded on a sandwich, in tacos, on a salad, in a cheesy quesadilla or make BBQ chicken pizza!
Perfect Sides for BBQ Chicken
- Creamy Coleslaw
- Mashed Potatoes
- Potato Salad
- Macaroni Salad
- BBQ Baked Beans
- Simple Cucumber Salad
- A baked potato with all the toppings
More Delicious Chicken Recipes to Try
- Smoked Whole Chicken
- Grilled Huli Huli Chicken
- BBQ Beer Can Chicken
- Sweet and Smoky Glazed Chicken
- Perfect Grilled Chicken Breasts
BBQ Chicken Thighs Recipe
- Season and apply the dry rub to the thighs and refrigerate overnight, or for at least 45 minutes before cooking.
- Remove the chicken from the refrigerator to bring them up to room temperature while you set up the grill for two-zone cooking with the direct side on medium-high heat (325° to 350° F).
- Lightly oil the grates, then place the chicken thighs skin-side down over the direct heat with the lid closed until browned, about 3 to 5 minutes. Turn thighs over and cook on the second side until browned.
- Move the thighs over to the indirect heat side of the grill and use a heatproof basting brush to apply about ½ cup of BBQ sauce to both sides of the chicken (finishing with the skin side up).
- Close the lid and cook for about 20 minutes before brushing both sides again with about ¼ cup more BBQ sauce.
- Continue to cook until the internal temperature of the thighs reaches 175° F, about 20 minutes longer. (Verify with a meat thermometer)
- Transfer the chicken to a cutting board or serving platter and rest uncovered for 10 minutes before serving with more BBQ sauce.
- This recipe serves 4, but can easily be scaled up to any quantity.
- Temper the chicken (bring to room temperature) before grilling for quicker and more even cooking.
- Season with plenty of salt if your dry rub doesn't contain any. Want to skip the dry rub? No problem. You can substitute simple kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.
- If the chicken is sticking to the grill grates, don't touch it yet! It needs to cook a little longer and it will release.
- Watch for flare-ups. If the rub contains sugar it can easily burn on the grill during a flare-up. Be ready to move the chicken to the cooler side of the grill if needed.