A Healthy, Delicious Barbeque Chicken Recipe Everyone Loves

To me, summer is heralded by three things: warm weather, swimming, and barbeque. Nothing says summer has started like digging into some barbeque in the hot sun. But too much barbeque can’t be good for you, right? And what if you don’t have a proper grill? The answer to both of these questions is simple: a delicious barbeque chicken recipe guaranteed to spice up your summer without the hassle or risk to your body. 

Obviously, barbeque isn’t the world’s healthiest meal, but chicken is much leaner when compared to the red meats you often find at barbeques. In addition to having less fat and cholesterol than other meats, Nikki Stover of beachgirlgrills says, “Chicken is a great protein because it’s a blank canvas for flavor. You can take it in any direction and have fun with it. Its mild flavor makes it family friendly and crowd pleasing. It’s also an affordable protein and one you can get at an incredible quality and feel good about without breaking your budget… organic, free-range.”

Some barbeque sauces are unhealthy, but if you make your own or use a trustworthy brand, you can get all the flavor with half of the unhealthy bits. If you want a barbeque chicken recipe that’s a surefire way to kick off your summer, I’ve got you covered, whether you own a grill or not. 

And just in case you’re catering for a crowd, I’ll hook you up with the best meat substitutes for barbeque chicken, and barbeque sauces for a variety of dietary needs.

Close up on tangy barbecue chicken wings

HOW TO COOK YOUR CHICKEN:

The very first question, even before deciding your cooking method, is what cut of chicken to choose. While chicken breasts are the leanest cut of chicken—boneless, skinless chicken breasts are the easiest to find in a store—chicken thighs are better for barbequing because they remain juicier than breasts. This is especially important if you decide to grill your meat. However, even more important than breast vs thigh is buying bone-in, skin-on cuts of meat, regardless of the type. The skin and bone seal in moisture and will ensure a succulent end result. Bone-in, skin-on cuts are also less expensive because they’ve been processed less.

Essentially,

    • Boneless, skinless breasts are the worst cut for barbequing because they dry out the fastest.
    • Boneless, skinless thighs are better than breasts, but still won’t be as juicy as less processed cuts.
    • Bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts seal in the moisture and will work pretty well. 
    • Bone-in, skin-on thighs and drumsticks are the best possible cut of meat, guaranteed to stay tender and juicy. 

Once you’re chosen your meat, it’s time to choose your cooking method. There are many ways to make bangin’ barbeque chicken, each with its own pros and cons. The two most popular ways are grilling and baking, both methods I’ll cover in recipes later. But how do you decide which way is best for you?

The most obvious consideration is if you have a grill. If you don’t, that makes your choice for you! But if you do own one, there’s still plenty to think over. Here are some things to consider when picking your method.

Grilling Pros:

    • Grilling imparts a smokey flavor that goes amazing with barbeque. 
    • Grilling lets the fat drip out as the chicken cooks, meaning it has slightly lower calories. 
    • Grilling really makes it feel like summer!

Grilling Cons:

    • Grilled chicken is easier to overcook and dry out than baked chicken. 
    • It’s harder to clean a grill than a foil-lined baking sheet.
    • There’s a slight risk that chicken cooked at grill-hot temperatures will develop the carcinogenic compound heterocyclic amines (HCA), though this risk is small.
      • You can combat this risk by sticking to smaller cuts of meat, marinating beforehand, and frequently turning the meat while grilling to avoid a thick char. 

Then what about baking?

Baking Pros:

    • Baking chicken usually has more consistent results and is less likely to dry out the meat.
    • It’s easier to clean up after the fact. 
    • There is no risk of HCAs with baked chicken. 

Baking Cons:

    • Baked chicken won’t get that same smoky flavor you get from grilling that plays so well with barbeque sauce. 
    • Baked chicken retains more fat and has slightly more calories, though by an almost negligible amount.
    • Pre-heating the oven isn’t quite as exciting as firing up the grill. 

There’s obviously a lot to consider here, coming down to personal taste and logistical preferences. Once you have made a choice, I have a barbeque chicken recipe for each option for you.

Barbeque Chicken Two Ways  

Author: Katie Merikallio                                          Total Time: 45 minutes to 1 hour                                                        Difficulty: Intermediate

Ingredients:

  • 8 pieces of bone-in, skin-on chicken (preferably thigh or drumstick)
  • 2 tbsp neutral oil
  • 2 cups barbeque sauce
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Instructions (to grill):1.

1. Oil your grill’s grate then heat the grill to a medium heat. Lightly brush your chicken with a neutral oil then salt and pepper to taste.

2. Cook the chicken skin-side down for 15 minutes, moving occasionally to avoid too much char.

3. Baste the chicken with barbeque sauce then flip to cook the other side for 20-30 minutes, continuing to brush on more sauce periodically as it cooks. The meat is done cooking when it reaches an internal temperature of 165.

4. Remove from the heat, allow to rest for 5 minutes, brush with the remaining barbeque sauce, and serve.

      Instructions (to bake):

    1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and line a baking sheet with foil.

    2. Brush the chicken with oil and season it with salt and pepper to taste. Place the chicken skin-side down on the baking sheet. Bake for 25 minutes.

    3. Remove the chicken from the oven and turn the heat up to 425 degrees. Brush the top of the chicken with barbeque sauce, flip it over, and brush the other side with more sauce. When the oven is hot enough, put the chicken back in.

    4. Roast the chicken for 7-10 more minutes before removing and brushing with sauce again. Roast for another 7-10 minutes. For the best results, you can repeat this process a third time if you like to get a truly thick, burnished sauce but be careful of drying out your meat. The meat is done when its internal temperature is 165.

    5. If you want the skin to be crispier, broil for 3-5 minutes. Otherwise, brush the chicken with your remaining sauce, allow it to rest for 5 minutes, then serve.

    Both versions of this barbeque chicken recipe make a chicken that’s tender with a caramelized sauce that clings to the meat deliciously. Once you try them out, I guarantee you won’t want chicken any other way. And not only is the meat great on its own, it’s also versatile and great for adding an extra kick to other meals. 

    Chicken grilling on an outdoor barbecue on a sunny day

    HOW TO USE BARBEQUE CHICKEN:

    Both of these barbeque chicken recipes make an entrée that’s delicious just by itself. I’ve certainly gobbled down my fair share of barbequed drumsticks as is. However, just because the chicken is good by itself doesn’t mean it won’t be even better in something else! 

    Barbeque chicken is good in pretty much anything that needs a flavorful protein. Tacos, pizzas, salads, pulled chicken sandwiches—they’re all only improved by adding delicious, home-cooked chicken. 

    It’s easy to make your own barbeque chicken pizza. Homemade pizza dough is surprisingly simple to whip up, but if you don’t have the time (or if you’re gluten-free) you can easily buy ready-to-go pizza dough from the store, along with sauce, cheese, and whatever other toppings you want. Toppings I recommend to go with barbeque chicken are red onion, peppers, or (if you’re willing to splurge on the calories) bacon. For extra barbeque flavor, you can also substitute your barbeque sauce for the tomato sauce, giving your pizza an extra sweet and smoky punch of flavor.

    If you’re looking for something a little healthier than pizza—but just as filling and delicious—then look no further than the barbeque chicken salad. Salads are great for the summer because they’re cool in the heat and easy to throw together. Obviously, you can put anything in your salad that you like, but I personally recommend avocado, sweet corn, black beans, tomatoes, and red onion. 

    Traditionally, ranch or barbeque ranch would be the dressing used on a barbeque chicken salad, but store-bought ranch can be fatty and filled with preservatives—that’s why I’m happy to tell you it’s surprisingly easy to whip up your own that’s much healthier! The secret? Greek yogurt instead of buttermilk and vegetable oil. The resulting dressing is creamy and tangy with a fraction of the fat and double the protein!

    Healthy Homemade Ranch Dressing  

    Author: Katie Merikallio                                          Total Time: 5 minutes                                                        Difficulty: Easy

    Ingredients:

    • 1 cup plain greek yogurt
    • 1 tsp fresh dill (or 1½  tsp dried)
    • 1-2 cloves minced garlic (or 1 tsp garlic powder)
    • ¼ tsp onion powder
    • 1½ tsp lemon juice or apple cider vinegar
    • ¼ tsp salt (or to taste)
    • ¼ tsp black pepper (or to taste)
    • ½ tsp dried parsley or chives (optional)
    • ¼ tsp sugar (optional)
    • 2-3 tbsp milk or water to reach preferred consistency
        Instructions:

      1. Put all ingredients in a jar, screw on the lid, shake it up until combined, and you’re done!

      This ranch takes less than five minutes to whip up, is made of ingredients you’re likely to already have laying around the house, and is both tastier and healthier than anything you’ll get in a bottle! It lasts for a week after being made, and I promise you that you’ll be eating salads the whole time just to get another taste. If you like, you can also add 1-2 tbsp of barbeque sauce to make barbeque ranch and give your salad that extra oomph!

      Creamy, homemade ranch dressing in a glass jar, next to lettuce.

      VEGAN CHICKEN SUBSTITUTES:

      Now you have a delicious barbeque chicken recipe and have some ideas of what to do with it. But what if you’re barbequing for a crowd and have some meatless friends you need to feed? Don’t compromise on flavor—you can make something that they can enjoy just as much too. 

      You can either try to find a substitute that feels like chicken or find something filling and vegan that works well with barbeque flavors. No matter what you’re aiming for, you have some great options available. 

      Seitan:

        • Of all the popular meat substitutes, many believe seitan is the closest to the texture of poultry. It’s so meaty that one of my vegetarian friends doesn’t like seitan because it reminds her too much of real meat! It also has an even higher protein content than chicken. Seitan is made of wheat gluten so it’s great for anyone with a soy intolerance—but is distinctly not gluten-free. Still, if you can eat gluten, seitan is a great meat substitute for barbeque chicken.

      Jackfruit:

        • Jackfruit has gotten more and more mainstream as a meat substitute the last few years, and it’s easy to see why—its mild taste goes well with most sauces and its texture is soft and stringy like meat. While you can’t grill a slab of it like chicken, it makes something incredibly similar to pulled chicken for sandwiches. Jackfruit is a great option for a meat substitute that really feels like meat, and you can buy canned jackfruit in many grocery stores nowadays.

      Soy Curls:

        • Soy curls, made from dehydrated soy, not only feel like chicken but are also filled with omega 3 and fiber, meaning they’re healthy even as they feel like meat. Similar to jackfruit, they have a small size and can’t replicate a big slab of meat, but prepare them with barbeque sauce and they’ll feel like little pieces of chicken. Soy curls are definitely one of the best options when it comes to a substitute that really feels like meat. 

      Tofu:

        • The perennial vegan substitute, tofu can also work well for barbeque. Unlike the previous options, it can be served in larger slabs, and can even be grilled as well as baked! If grilling your tofu, make sure it doesn’t burn—tofu has less fat content than meat, so it will get stuck to the grill if you’re not careful. 

      Tempeh:

        • Tempeh is another popular plant-based meat substitute that can be served as a larger hunk and grilled. It’s even healthier than tofu—it has more protein, vitamins, and fiber—but also has more of a distinctive flavor and grainy texture, so is less like meat. If you’re going to use tempeh for your barbeque, I recommend boiling it first to remove the more bitter notes and to soften it up for marinating beforehand. 

      Cauliflower:

        • On the flip side from substitutes that feel like meat are substitutes that are great for grilling. Cauliflower won’t trick anyone into thinking it’s poultry, but cauliflower steaks take to the grill well, and smaller chunks of cauliflower can be baked in barbeque sauce. Cauliflower doesn’t have a lot of protein, so you might decide it’s better as a side dish, but it’s guaranteed to be delicious either way.

      As you can see, not only is barbeque chicken a cinch to whip up, but there are plenty of great plant-based options you can make alongside your chicken to accommodate any dietary restrictions your guests may have!

      Barbecue baked cauliflower, with buffalo barbecue sauce.

      BARBEQUE SAUCE:

      Just as important as ensuring your chicken is tender and well-cooked is choosing the right barbeque sauce. The sauce is what defines your chicken and decides its flavor. This might seem daunting to choose, but never fear! There are many great options both to buy and to make yourself. 

      Here are my top three choices of barbeque sauce brands for various dietary restrictions, all of which go well with my barbeque chicken recipe.

      Keto and Low Sugar:

      Barbeque can be great for keto diets, because of its high fat and protein content and lack of carbs. While chicken is less fatty than other typical barbequed meats, it’s still a nice keto-friendly dish and needs a great sauce to go with it. 

        • G Hughes Smokehouse Sugar-Free BBQ Sauce is a sugar-free, keto-friendly offering from an already popular brand—a version that definitely holds up. Best of all, it comes in a variety of flavors, so you can choose your favorite (I personally enjoy the Hickory flavor’s smokiness).
        • Lynchburg Tennessee Whiskey Sweet & Mild has a full, robust flavor with a lot of zing—and only 1 gram of carb per serving! Delicious, keto, and diabetic-friendly to boot—what’s not to love?
        • Keto Primo Oh So Sweet Super BBQ Sauce tastes as sweet as a full sugar barbeque sauce despite being low-carb. The secret? Monkfruit! The end result has 2 grams of carbs per tablespoon despite holding up against any sugary sauce.

      Gluten-Free:

      Many barbeque sauce brands either contain gluten or are manufactured with the risk of cross-contamination. These brands are fully gluten-free, and many even sell gluten-free rubs or marinades as well, if you have an extra hankering for barbeque.

        • Ford’s Gourmet Food’s Bone Suckin’ Sauce is gluten-free and non-GMO and uses no high fructose corn syrup. Food & Wine Magazine, Country Living, and Bon Appetit all give it rave reviews to boot. It’s one of the best options on the market for any barbeque sauce on the market, gluten-free or no.
        • Rib Rack All Natural BBQ does away with highly processed ingredients, corn syrup, artificial colors and flavors, and GMOs. Made from natural ingredients, it is a great choice to get good flavor while staying gluten-free. 
        • Organicville BBQ Sauce comes in two flavors: original and tangy. Both are delicious, organic, vegan, and fully gluten-free! It’s also non-GMO and an employee-owned company. 

      Vegan:

      Most barbeque sauces are already vegan, but watch out for any containing honey—a popular ingredient in high-end barbeque sauces. Here are some popular sauces on the market guaranteed to be vegan.

        • Head Country Bar-B-Q Sauce is not only delicious, it makes sure to use anchovy-free Worcestershire sauce—meaning you get the depths of flavor found in barbeque sauce that uses Worcestershire sauce without the animal products!
        • Annie’s Organic Original BBQ Sauce vegan, gluten-free, non-GMO, and organic. It uses no artificial flavors, colors, or preservatives. On top of being healthy for both you and the planet, it tastes great!
        • Simple Girl Carolina Style BBQ Sauce is fully vegan, but its benefits don’t end there. It’s low calorie and sugar-free, meaning it’s diabetic (and diet) friendly as well.

      If you’d prefer to not buy anything pre-bottled, you can also always make your own barbeque sauce! It’s surprisingly simple to make. Here’s my favorite barbeque sauce recipe, which is gluten-free and can be made vegan. 

      Easy Homemade Barbeque Sauce  

      Author: Katie Merikallio                    Total Time: 20 minutes                                      Difficulty: Easy

      Ingredients:

      • 15 oz tomato sauce
      • 4 oz tomato paste (or, for a sweeter taste, ketchup)
      • ¼ cup high-quality maple syrup
      • ¼ cup molasses
      •  ⅓ cup apple cider vinegar
      • 3 tbsp Worcestershire sauce (use anchovy free if aiming for vegan sauce)
      • 1 tsp dijon mustard
      • 1 tsp garlic powder
      • 1 tsp smoked paprika
      • ½ tsp onion powder
      • ½ tsp salt
      • ½ tsp black pepper
      • ¼ tsp cayenne
      • ¼ tsp chili powder
      • 1 tsp liquid smoke (optional)
          Instructions:

        1. Combine all ingredients in a medium-sized saucepan. Turn the heat to medium-low and bring the mixture to a simmer, not a boil.

        2. Cook for 10-15 minutes until thick, stirring occasionally to prevent burning on the bottom. Check for taste and add any additional spices needed. If the sauce starts splattering, cover with a lid but leave a crack for steam to escape.

        3. Use immediately or let cool and jar for refrigeration. This sauce lasts for a week after it’s made. 

        As you can see, this recipe is simple to make, easy to customize, and lower on sugar and artificial ingredients than many store-bought brands. With this homemade barbeque sauce (or any of the brands I recommended) and my barbeque chicken recipe, you’ll be ready to make the most delicious barbeque chicken of your life.

        Barbecue sauce in a gravy boat, surrounded by the peppers, spices, and tomatoes used to make it.

        Barbeque chicken is the perfect dish for the upcoming summer, no matter which method you use to cook it. With this barbeque chicken recipe, you’ll be ready to make an easy weeknight dinner or to impress guests—no matter their dietary restrictions. So whip up this chicken at the earliest chance you get, and if you’re looking for more ideas of tasty, protein-rich foods that are environmentally friendly, check out our blog 10 Environmentally-Friendly Proteins… That Actually Taste Good

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        Written by Katie Merikallio