Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Spice rubbed chicken on the grill

     Everything went well for the wedding reception I catered this weekend. We had appetizers and a taco bar for 270 people. It was a lot of work but not too difficult and I think I have a few new recipes to use that I came up with for the dinner.

One that I think I will use often is a flavorful spicy chicken recipe on the grill. I sometimes don’t really like to grill boneless, skinless chicken unless I use a tasty marinade and sauce such as teriyaki or BBQ. I feel like thin skinless boneless pieces can be a bit flavorless and it is easy for it to become dried out during the grilling if cooked even a little too long or they don’t get done well if I pull them off too fast. Using a meat thermometer can help but the pieces are so thin, it is hard to get an effective reading. There are those who are very skilled at grilling chicken but I wanted fool-proof since we were cooking 50lbs. of chicken and not serving immediately.  I needed a way to cook chicken that would still be tender and juicy after refrigerating for up to 24 hours and cutting it up the night before serving since I had many other things to do the morning of the wedding.

My catering partner, Jason, suggested brining it rather than marinating and that was a wonderful method that I will use again. I brine turkeys and whole chicken pieces but somehow had never tried it with boneless skinless pieces before but it was quite good! I think I will try brining again. It is not essential to this recipe and you can skip it but I think it did make the chicken retain more of its juiciness and taste.

Next I decided to try something akin to how I cook fish with a spice rub that builds a nice tasty crust around the chicken, further keeping it tender and juicy on the inside. I will be using this again! I like the dry rub and think it keeps more of the flavorful spice on the chicken.

Okay a word on food safety here. Assume your chicken carries bacteria that can cause food poisoning. While freezing will not kill this bacteria, grilling chicken until thoroughly cooked does. So your cooked chicken is safe if you keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold! However, there is also the danger of cross contamination. If you get raw chicken on your hands and touch things in your kitchen- kitchen sinks, handles, bowls, spice bottles, other foods- you may be spreading bacteria. Wash your hands with soap every time you need to touch other things. Clean the things you touch as you go. Have a helper in the kitchen handing you what you may need while you are dealing with raw chicken.

The other danger is your counters, cutting boards and anywhere raw chicken juices may spill. Clean them well as you go. I put cutting boards I use for chicken into the dishwasher right away so that no one accidently gives them a quick rinse and cuts up salad on them. Okay there are my words of food safety wisdom for the day.

Spice-rubbed grilled chicken

4-5 lbs of Chicken (boneless skinless chicken thighs are best or boneless chicken breasts)
1  TBSP Ancho Chile powder or other mild chile powder
1 TBSP ground chipotle chiles
1 TBSP smoked paprika
2 tsp paprika
2 tsp lemon pepper
2 ½  tsp ground Cumin
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp onion powder
1 ½-2  tsp ground cinnamon
4-6 tsp brown sugar
2 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp ground black pepper, smoked if you have it
Oil olive or canola drizzle

Note: If you have some of these spices whole (like chilies, cumin seed, pepper corns) and grind them up just before use, this will be even more flavorful! However, don’t use whole cinnamon sticks.

Note: If some of the chicken pieces are on the thicker side, you may want to place them in a Ziploc bag and pound them with a flat side of a meat mallet. This is not essential but makes for even cooking and nice sized pieces.

Brine chicken ( see recipe below.) This step is optional. I think it makes the chicken even more flavorful and juicy.

After brining, remove chicken from brine and pat dry a bit. Sprinkle with spice mix. You should have enough spice mix for all your pieces but if you do not, make a bit more. Try to keep from contaminating the spice mix with raw chicken from hand or utensil if you think you will have some left over.

Rub spice mix into each piece (use gloves if your hands are sensitive) and place in covered container in the refrigerator for an hour or ½ day. Actually you could probably leave it longer if needed.

Drizzle with oil and place on hot grill which has been prepared with oil. Lower to med low once chicken is on. Boneless thighs about 4 minutes per side. Check for doneness.

You may serve these whole or cut up into strips or bite sized pieces depending on presentation. Serve with Lime cilantro rice, spicy rice and beans or with tortillas and taco fixings.

Chicken brine

2 quarts warm water
1/3 cup kosher salt
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup soy sauce, gluten free or low sodium options if needed
1 TBSP of oil, optional

Pour warm water into a glass, plastic, Ziploc bag in a bowl or other non-reactive container and mix in everything,  stirring until salt and sugar are dissolved. Cool. Add very cold chicken pieces. Leave them in the brine for 3-4 hours. I think they would be fine a bit longer, but I had them in for this long and they were nice and juicy when grilled.

This will brine up to 5 lbs or more of chicken pieces.


  1. This really looks good and my husband is always looking for a way to prepare grilled chicken. I have bookmarked-thanks for the tasty rub and brine recipes!

  2. Glad you like it! Let me know how it turns out if you try making it.

  3. Good to hear it went well for you this weekend. What a daunting task, I've never cooked and planned a meal for that many people. Kudos to you.

  4. It sounds like you did a great job. All of that salmon looked so good, can't wait to see the rest. I love the spices you used on the chicken!

  5. Thanks, I have never planned and cooked for that many before this and I think I probably will not do it again. The logistics of planning, purchasing, a budget considerations and food storage are all a bit much for this many people. What I really enjoy is the cooking but that is just a part of catering. I prefer to teach cooking and cook for smaller events but this was an exciting and fun thing to do for a friend!
    Thanks Cassie, the salmon was quite amazing and it cost very little since someone who was family or friends of the groom caught it. I really want to get a smoker after this because everything was so tasty. Of course, my friend Jason is the best at smoking meats and fish! Whatever he smokes is better than any other smoked fish or meat I have ever tasted!!
    I hope I have learned some from him!

  6. Cooking for 270 people and this was your first time... I'm SUPER IMPRESSED!!!!! Just a thought of it make me have stomachache from nervousness and I won't be able to stay in the kitchen LOL. What a great achievement and I'm sure everyone enjoyed your food! I'm so proud of you Denise!!!!

  7. Thanks Nami! I get anxious too :-) I am just very stubborn and want to do a great job so much that I push myself beyond what I should be able to do, ya know? Just like you do, I think :-)
    It was mostly just hard to plan for that many people and figure out where to store the stuff I bought and how to transport it. There wasn't any kitchen at the venue, that was the other difficulty.So everything had to be cooked elsewhere and I had to rent insulated boxes to keep food warm and borrow coolers with ice for the cold stuff. We only had a few spots in a refrigerator, little microwave and a sink! I have done this kind of thing before but only for around 150 usually.Once I catered a weddding at a historical cabin type place 5 hours from home- we had to bring in water and BBQ grills!You have to get creative sometimes :-) This was the biggest amount ever but I had wonderful help of friends and family!!