Barbecue chicken thighs are what the competition guys generally turn in to the judges for the chicken portion of competitions. They jump through hoops and generally wear themselves out trying to stand out from a hundred other entries, trying to make the perfect bite through skin and putting together a rub that will jump out at you. There’s no point wearing yourself out like that at home. Really, I wouldn’t recommend it. Great barbecue chicken thighs are very easy to cook with just a few simple steps. The complexities you see at the competitions may be a bit much for a meal at home anyway (the judges typically only take one bite so the competitors have a very small window to make a big impression).
I recommend brining your chicken thighs for an hour or two prior to putting on your rub. This is really the key to making them tender and juicy. I like to loosen the skin just a bit by inserting my finger between the skin and meat and gently pulling it away. Try not to pull it completely away, but leave the edges attached so you won’t have problems with it falling off later. That’ll help the brine get underneath the skin (it won’t otherwise pass through the impermeable skin and fat layer underneath). It’ll also help the skin get a bit crispier when you’re cooking it later. Make sure that when you put it in the brine that the skin isn’t sealed against the meat. You might have to open it up a little to let some of the brine underneath.
When your chicken is ready to come out of the brine, rinse it well in tap water and pat it dry with paper towels. Don’t forget to rinse under the skin too.
Before you apply your rub, coat your chicken in a very light coat of vegetable oil. It’ll help with crispiness and will help the rub adhere to the chicken.
I used a bold rub on this batch of chicken, so if you decide to use the same one, and you don’t want the bold flavor, use it sparingly. Also, be sure to skip the salt if you brined your chicken.
Bold and Spicy Chicken Rub:
- 1/3 cup coarse salt (omit this if you brined your chicken)
- 1/4 cup packed brown sugar
- 1/4 cup paprika
- 2 tbs ground black pepper
- 2 tbs dried oregano
- 2 tbs dried thyme
- 2 tbs dried rosemary
- 1 tbs cayenne pepper (or less to none if you don’t like it spicy)
Let it sit in the fridge for another hour or so and you’re good to go.
You’ll want to set up your barbecue pit for two zone cooking like in the picture below. The optimum temperature range is from 300 to 325 degrees F. I used apple wood (my favorite for lighter meats) for this batch. If you want a little bolder smoke flavor, you might consider pecan wood.
Since you’re cooking dark meat, your target internal temperature is between 170 and 175 degrees. It’ll take around 45 minutes to an hour to cook, so there’s plenty of time for another cold one before you have to go back inside.
Barbecue chicken thighs are really very simple to cook. You can get crazy and try to master bite through skin by removing it and scraping the fat from the inside and tying or gluing (meat glue) the skin back on or other competition style tricks. That’s a bit excessive if you just want to chill in your backyard on the weekend with the pit going and a bottle (or six) of Dos Equis. Trust me, these barbecue chicken thighs will keep everybody happy and leave you time to enjoy your day too.