My parents just sold our family house of 31 years. One of my earliest memories there — food-related memories, anyway — is of my dad making barbecue chicken on his old Weber kettle grill on our driveway while my brothers and I played in the backyard. Even now, I can practically smell it. It was nothing fancy. Store-bought sauce, maybe a little blacker in places than we would want, but enjoyable nonetheless.
The house and grill are now gone, but there’s a new house and a not-quite-as-new gas grill (Dad gave up charcoal long ago) to usher in new memories. So, when it came time for me to test a barbecue chicken recipe, the roles were reversed, to the satisfaction of both generations. I got to grill for my parents, with a bit of assistance from Dad, while Mom watched my son.
I didn’t want to stray from the simple sauce-and-chicken formula. Classic Barbecue Chicken, an archive recipe from former Washington Post columnist Jim Shahin, sounded exactly like what I needed.
The upgrades: An easy-to-assemble, from-scratch sauce and an indirect cooking strategy that keeps the skin from getting too dark and the meat too dry.
Both improvements were hits. The sauce balanced sweet and heat really well, with a more nuanced spice flavor than you find in ordinary grocery store bottles. Allowing the chicken to spend most of its time over indirect heat on the cooler part of the grill kept the meat particularly juicy, even with a few thighs going about 20 degrees above the recommended 165-degree mark thanks to a hot spot on one side.
Worth nothing: 185 to 190 degrees and a long, slow cook is what Cook’s Illustrated recommends in its grilled chicken thighs recipe, “because the longer the meat spends cooking at temperatures above 140 degrees, the more of its abundant collagen breaks down and transforms into gelatin that lubricates the meat, making it seem juicy and tender.”
We couldn’t remember the last time any of us had made barbecue chicken, but everyone agreed this recipe was a keeper. Will we do it again? You bet. Will my son remember these long, sauce-smeared summer afternoons with the same fondness as the ones I do from my youth? I hope so.