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Grilled BBQ Chicken

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Fire up the grill—this easy BBQ chicken is absolutely brimming with rich, smoky barbecue flavor.

Grilled barbeque chicken on a cutting board.

Photo by Alexandra Grablewski (Chronicle Books, 2018)

We have a running joke about chicken in my family. Whenever I say we’re having chicken for dinner, my husband says, “Chicken again?” and then rattles off a seemingly endless list of chicken dinners his mother used to make: “Chicken parmesan, chicken cutlets, chicken stir-fry, chicken casserole, chicken pot pie” and so on. The kids jump right on the bandwagon, groaning about all my chicken dinners. What they don’t realize is that this only makes me even more determined to change their minds about chicken. You could almost say I’m on a chicken crusade! Luckily, these BBQ chicken breasts always win everybody over. They are absolutely loaded with smoky barbecue flavor. I guarantee clean plates all around. Winner, winner chicken dinner!

“I made this chicken twice in the past week and received raves both times. Easy peasy and definitely crowd-pleasing!”


What You’ll Need To Make BBQ Chicken

BBQ Chicken Ingredients
  • Chicken: You can use chicken tenderloins or boneless skinless chicken breasts. If using chicken breasts, it’s important to pound them to an even 1/2-inch thickness before marinating. This both tenderizes the breasts and ensures they cook evenly. (Pounding is not necessary if using tenderloins, as tenderloins are naturally very tender.)
  • Vegetable oil: The base of the marinade, oil helps the spices soak in better, making sure every bite is packed with flavor. It also keeps the chicken moist during cooking.
  • Garlic: Adds depth and pungent flavor to the marinade.
  • Salt, light brown sugar, smoked paprika, cumin, chili powder, cayenne pepper: Essentially a BBQ rub, these ingredients create a flavor base that’s sweet, smoky, and slightly spicy.
  • BBQ sauce: Applied as a glaze, the sauce envelops the chicken in a tangy, sweet, and smoky layer, delivering the quintessential BBQ flavor. You can use store-bought or use my BBQ sauce recipe to make your own.
  • Jump to the printable recipe for precise measurements

Step-by-Step Instructions

In a large bowl, combine the oil, garlic, salt, brown sugar, smoked paprika, cumin, chili powder, and cayenne pepper.

marinade ingredients in bowl

Whisk to combine.

whisked BBQ chicken marinade

Add the chicken to the bowl and toss with tongs until evenly coated. Cover the bowl and place in the refrigerator to marinate for at least 6 hours or up to 24 hours.

marinating BBQ chicken

Preheat the grill to high and oil the grates. Grill the chicken, covered, for 2 to 3 minutes.

Chicken on a grill.

Flip the chicken, and then brush with some of the barbecue sauce. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes more.

chicken on grill with BBQ sauce

Transfer the chicken to a serving platter and serve with remaining barbecue sauce alongside.

Video Tutorial

Frequently Asked Questions

Many recipes suggest marinating in BBQ sauce. Why do you recommend a different approach?

Marinating chicken in a mix of spices and oil rather than BBQ sauce is key to achieving that authentic BBQ flavor. Spices penetrate the meat more effectively, seasoning it throughout, whereas BBQ sauce tends to sit on the surface. Moreover, BBQ sauce contains tons of sugar that can burn easily when exposed to heat, leading to a burnt exterior before the chicken fully cooks inside.

Can I make BBQ in the oven?

Yes, making BBQ chicken in the oven is a fantastic alternative, especially when grilling isn’t an option. Start by preheating your broiler and positioning the oven rack so that the chicken will be about 6 inches from the heat source. Place the chicken on foil-lined baking sheet for easy cleanup. Broil the chicken for about 5 minutes on each side, then brush generously with BBQ sauce and broil for an additional 1 to 2 minutes on each side or until the sauce is caramelized and the chicken is fully cooked.

Can I use bone-in, skin-on chicken pieces instead?

Yes, to grill whole chicken pieces, preheat the grill to medium heat (about 350-375°F). Clean and oil the cooking grate. Place the chicken, skin side up, on the cooler side of the grill and cook, covered, turning and moving occasionally to prevent burning and flare-ups, for 35 to 40 minutes. If the skin is not yet crispy, move the chicken, skin side down, to the hotter side of the grill; cook, keeping a close watch to prevent burning, until the skin is rendered and crisp, a few minutes.

Grilled barbeque chicken on a cutting board.

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Grilled BBQ Chicken

Fire up the grill—this easy BBQ chicken is absolutely brimming with rich, smoky barbecue flavor.

Servings: 4
Prep Time: 15 Minutes
Cook Time: 10 Minutes
Total Time: 25 Minutes, plus at least 6 hours to marinate


For the Chicken

  • 1¾ pounds chicken tenderloins or boneless skinless chicken breasts
  • ¼ cup vegetable oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon packed light brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons smoked paprika
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • ⅛ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • About 1 cup store-bought barbecue sauce or homemade BBQ sauce


For the Chicken

  1. If using boneless skinless chicken breasts, place the chicken breasts one at a time in a 1-gallon zip-lock bag; using a meat mallet, pound the breasts to an even ½-inch thickness. (Skip this step if using tenderloins.)
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together the oil, garlic, salt, brown sugar, smoked paprika, cumin, chili powder, and cayenne. Place the chicken in the bowl and, using tongs, toss until the chicken is evenly coated with the marinade. Cover the bowl and place in the refrigerator to marinate for at least 6 hours or up to 24 hours.
  3. Preheat the grill to high and oil the grates. Grill the chicken, covered, for 2 to 3 minutes. Flip the chicken, and then brush with some of the barbecue sauce. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes more. (Note that tenderloins will cook faster than breasts.)
  4. Transfer the chicken to a serving platter and serve with the remaining barbecue sauce alongside.

Pair with

Nutrition Information

Powered by Edamam

  • Per serving (4 servings)
  • Calories: 386
  • Fat: 20 g
  • Saturated fat: 2 g
  • Carbohydrates: 5 g
  • Sugar: 4 g
  • Fiber: 1 g
  • Protein: 45 g
  • Sodium: 513 mg
  • Cholesterol: 145 mg

This website is written and produced for informational purposes only. I am not a certified nutritionist and the nutritional data on this site has not been evaluated or approved by a nutritionist or the Food and Drug Administration. Nutritional information is offered as a courtesy and should not be construed as a guarantee. The data is calculated through an online nutritional calculator, Edamam.com. Although I do my best to provide accurate nutritional information, these figures should be considered estimates only. Varying factors such as product types or brands purchased, natural fluctuations in fresh produce, and the way ingredients are processed change the effective nutritional information in any given recipe. Furthermore, different online calculators provide different results depending on their own nutrition fact sources and algorithms. To obtain the most accurate nutritional information in a given recipe, you should calculate the nutritional information with the actual ingredients used in your recipe, using your preferred nutrition calculator.

Gluten-Free Adaptable Note

To the best of my knowledge, all of the ingredients used in this recipe are gluten-free or widely available in gluten-free versions. There is hidden gluten in many foods; if you're following a gluten-free diet or cooking for someone with gluten allergies, always read the labels of your ingredients to verify that they are gluten-free.

See more recipes:


  • Made this last night. Only had one hour to marinate and it was still amazing. I am adding this comment because I tried to find others that hadn’t had a ton of time to marinate to see if it would still be ok, and it was! Another winner and so easy.

    • — CJHSC on September 15, 2023
    • Reply
  • Loved this recipe the first time we made it. Have the chicken marinating in the fridge and the homemade sauce coming to room temp on the counter now. So excited! Was thinking of serving with your white bean ragout and steamed asparagus because I happen to have all the components on hand. Tomorrow your Cedar Plank Salmon and Peach Burrata salad. Haven’t tried anything I am making tomorrow so can’t wait to try them. Thank you for curating the most trustworthy collection of recipes. They make cooking a joy and the results are consistently impressive. My 8 y/o daughter says she wishes she could have dined at the restaurant you cooked at and my husband tells my mother in law he doesn’t enjoy eating out anymore because your recipes always blow away the best version of any dish we’ve tried in even the nicest restaurants. I have one of your cookbooks on display in my kitchen at all times- they’re part of the family! I found a homemade Mother’s Day card from a few years back and the prompt was “I know my mom loves be because she” and my daughter wrote in “makes me the best Kofta.” Your lamb Kofta really knocks my daughter’s socks off. Lol. Thank you for everything you put into your books/recipes.

    • — Shannon C on August 26, 2023
    • Reply
    • ❤️❤️

      • — Jenn on August 28, 2023
      • Reply
  • I made this chicken twice in the past week and received raves both times. Easy peasy and definitely crowd- pleasing!

    • — Margaret on August 7, 2023
    • Reply
  • One question on this recipe, which was delicious—I didn’t have light brown sugar, so used dark. I suspect it doesn’t make that much of a difference, but can you help me understand what is the difference between dark and light brown sugar? and why it is typically specified in recipes? Thanks

    • — Karen on July 30, 2023
    • Reply
    • Hi Karen, dark brown sugar has a little more molasses than light brown. Recipes that call for dark brown sugar are typically aiming for a slightly stronger molasses flavor, but if you don’t have one or the other on hand, they’re pretty interchangeable.

      • — Jenn on July 31, 2023
      • Reply
  • This was a real crowd pleaser with my family! They loved every bite of it, and that is coming from my 14 year old daughter who typically doesn’t like chicken! This is definitely a keeper that will go into the regular recipe column!

    • — Karen on July 30, 2023
    • Reply
  • This was absolutely delicious and easy to prepare. Deeply marinated, moist, perfect chicken! I have a delicious homemade bbq sauce recipe that I make frequently but decided to try your recipe last night, it is excellent and paired perfectly with the chicken.

    • — Susan on July 19, 2023
    • Reply
  • This is a great go-to recipe for grilled chicken. It uses pantry ingredients and takes minimal time or effort to prepare. I used bone in, skin on thighs and grilled over indirect heat, so the cook time was a bit longer. The skin was beautifully charred and the meat was moist and nicely flavoured. The only change I made to the recipe was to add ancho chili powder and omit the cayenne. I basted with a molasses barbecue sauce but the skin was so nicely caramelized and tasty from the residual marinade that the sauce really didn’t add much and wouldn’t have been missed if I’d left it off.

    • — Sadie on July 17, 2023
    • Reply
  • Yum yum from your old.old admirer!

    • — Rosemarie on July 17, 2023
    • Reply
  • Ok to marinate for about 28 hours?

    • — Awiater on July 2, 2023
    • Reply
    • Sure – enjoy!

      • — Jenn on July 3, 2023
      • Reply
  • What an amazing recipe. I had everything except brown sugar so substituted with granulated sugar and a bit of maple syrup. Used sweet baby Ray’s bbq sauce and some shredded cheese on top. (For the kiddos) loved the heat from the ingredients but it wasn’t “hot”

    • — Alan on May 28, 2023
    • Reply
  • I normally don’t write reviews but this recipe was absolutely delicious! I had not been able to get my bbq chicken the way I wanted it until this recipe! Absolutely, mouth watering! Best recipe I’ve tried and I’ve tried many…. I didn’t have the full six hours to marinate it, so I did 4 and it still turned out perfectly! Thank you!

    • — Anber on May 11, 2023
    • Reply
  • Your recipe prep should include the marinading time – or put in another section for resting or marinading time. It has been disappointing to read several of your recipes only to find none that I can make tonight, seeing as dinner is in an hour and a half. Will try one another night when I am prepping the day before.

    • — J Austin on May 9, 2023
    • Reply
    • I’m sorry you had that experience! For future reference, under the prep and cook time lines in the recipe box, there is a total time line. If the recipe requires marinating, chilling, etc., it’s indicated there.

      • — Jenn on May 10, 2023
      • Reply
  • Another delicious recipe! Loved the smoky, sweet, & tangy flavors. I added this chicken to a barbecue chicken salad including black beans, jicama, roasted corn, and onion strings. For the dressing, I mixed your buttermilk ranch dressing recipe and your sweet and tangy barbecue sauce. Out of this world! This will become a regular!

    • — Tammie Farley on January 21, 2023
    • Reply
  • Hi Jenn! This is one of our all-time faves (we love EVERYTHING we’ve tried from you!) This will be my first time cooking it in the oven as it is way too cold and rainy to go outside to use the grill. I see your instructions to other people on broiling and my question is: do I need to do anything to the sheet pan…foil? grease it? Also do I pre-heat? I grill outside on a super-hot setting and I’m not sure if my oven’s grill gets hot enough to keep the wonderful tenderloins moist. It’s a gas stove, BTW.

    • — MARYALICE on November 4, 2022
    • Reply
    • Hi Maryalice, thanks for your nice words about the recipes-so glad you like them! You can broil this in the oven as I’ve shared with other readers. I would put it on a sheet pan covered with foil for easy cleanup. No cooking spray needed. And, yes, I preheat your broiler for a few minutes before putting the chicken in. Alternatively, you can use a use a grill pan. Heat it over medium-high heat until hot. Add the marinated chicken breasts and cook for 2 to 3 minutes on the first side without touching, until the chicken develops nice grill marks. Using tongs, flip the chicken over and cook 2 to 3 minutes more, or until cooked through. Hope that helps!

      • — Jenn on November 7, 2022
      • Reply
  • I’ve tried 4,762 chicken recipes and tips on how to cook moist chicken. AT LAST, Success with this one!
    Thank you!

    • — Sheela B on September 27, 2022
    • Reply
    • 🙂
      I’m glad the 4,763rd one worked!

      • — Jenn on September 27, 2022
      • Reply
      • LOL, 4,763. My husband and I thought this recipe was just wonderful. I couldn’t believe how perfect the heat was. I was a little afraid with all the heated spices it would be to spicy for hubby, but it was great and he loved it. I don’t know if anybody ever tells you this, but what a blessing it is that great people like you start blogs and share so many of your recipes. It must be so time consuming to list them all and so attractively on your site. I just wanted to thank you for sharing. I salute you and all the other food bloggers for your tireless efforts to make the world happy and share your fantastic recipes.

        • — Sandy on March 2, 2024
        • Reply
        • 💗

          • — Jenn on March 3, 2024
          • Reply
  • Hello, this looks delicious. I’m planning on making it with drums … will 6 hours marinating be enough and will it still be favourful?

    • — Natacha on August 23, 2022
    • Reply
    • Sure Natacha, 6 hours is enough — hope you enjoy!

      • — Jenn on August 23, 2022
      • Reply
  • This recipe, like all of the recipes from you that I’ve made, was splendid! We used skinless boneless breasts because thats what we had on hand. I was worried they would be dry, but they were incredibly moist and so flavourful. We used Sweet Baby Ray’s Hickory & Brown Sugar BBQ sauce, but I’m looking forward to trying with your homemade sauce. We served with leftover mushroom and beef consomme rice, a kale salad, and diced cucumbers. We’re having leftovers tonight as chicken burgers. Adding this to our menu rotation.

    • — Jennifer on July 5, 2022
    • Reply
  • Great recipe, as always. What do you think about using this to marinate pork blade steaks?

    • — Jim on July 2, 2022
    • Reply
    • Sure, I think it would work nicely (and glad you liked it)!

      • — Jenn on July 3, 2022
      • Reply
  • Great, simple recipe to accompany a summertime salad. Made this one yesterday and fed a crowd by tripling the ingredients. I used tenderloins. I prepared your A Better Macaroni Salad in the morning, along with some deviled eggs, and appreciated the short cook time for the chicken. It freed me up to spend more time with my family. They all enjoyed the meal including my younger, picky son who normally doesn’t eat chicken. He said, “It’s good. I’ll eat it again.” Thanks for sharing this one, Jenn!

    • — Jen R on June 26, 2022
    • Reply
  • Good basic bbq chicken recipe. Will make again.

    • — Dara on June 25, 2022
    • Reply
  • Good morning Jenn! Just wondering if you remove the entire tendon or just the white “nub” from the tenderloin? Thanks! Ally in NJ 🙂

    • — Ally O'Connor on June 25, 2022
    • Reply
    • Just the nub 🙂

      • — Jenn on June 25, 2022
      • Reply
      • Thanks!! I’m going to make them tomorrow! : ]

        • — Ally O'Connor on June 25, 2022
        • Reply
  • Thank you such reliably awesome recipes! This is another new family favorite. The chicken came out so tender, juicy, and flavorful. It didn’t even really need extra bbq sauce, that’s how good it was. The leftovers were perfect cut up into a green salad.

    • — Stacy C on June 23, 2022
    • Reply
  • Love all your recipes and can’t wait to try this. We like chicken tenderloins better because they’re much more “tender” and I usually remove the tendon before cooking, but I’ve seen you and other chefs not remove it. I also never seem to find that pesky tendon in a whole rotisserie chicken. Does the tendon cook down / off and am I wasting my time removing it?

    • — Sharon on June 23, 2022
    • Reply
    • Hi Sharon, I snip off the tendon if it’s sticking out of the end of the tenderloin. I’ve never bothered to pull them out. I find that while they don’t necessarily cook off, they don’t really bother me or my family when eating them.

      • — Jenn on June 27, 2022
      • Reply
  • Aside from broiling, would a well heated cast iron grill pan work on top of the stove work too?

    • — Laura on June 23, 2022
    • Reply
    • Sure – enjoy!

      • — Jenn on June 23, 2022
      • Reply
    • Perfect summer meal with your broccoli salad AND the homemade BBQ sauce. The chicken is crazy good. My husband over- or undercooks everything on the grill—except when it’s your recipe. It’s a mystery… ☺️

      • — Barb on June 26, 2022
      • Reply
  • Hi Jenn,
    SO GOOD! What an easy and delicious BBQ chicken dinner. I used tenderloins and with that short cook time, I had dinner on the table in just minutes. Another keeper, of course!!
    After I whisked the marinade together, I just used my hands to coat the chicken. Easy. I’m going to double the chicken next time – we both were hoping for leftovers. The smoked paprika and cayenne added such great flavor!
    Thanks for another wonderful recipe!

    • — Sandra on June 12, 2022
    • Reply
  • Hi! I was thinking of making these for a party along with your pulled pork. Could you give suggestions on making ahead and possibly freezing and reheating?

    • Hi Kim, If you freeze this, I would thaw them in the fridge overnight and then reheat it, covered with foil, in a 325°F-oven until hot. Hope that helps!

  • Hi Jen,
    What a great recipe! Would this work with pork tenderloin?

  • So delicious – going in my regular recipes!

  • Made this for my husband and we shredded it and made BBQ chicken sandwiches. The chicken tasted great with the marinade!

    • — Evadne Rodriguez Henson
    • Reply
  • These are so delicious! Followed the recipe as written. My family gobbled then down. Served with corn on the cob and tater tots. They loved it! It’s on rotation!

  • I made this recipe when entertaining friends at the lake. Perfect as the chicken is prepped in advance! Wonderful flavor and very tender. I served with purchased barbeque sauce for convenience and it was great. Kids would love this too!

  • This was great! The marinade was just perfect, really flavorful with a little sweetness. Using tenderloins was a nice shortcut.

  • Thank you for the recipe! The chicken tenderloins came out perfectly and the homemade bbq sauce was an added bonus. Looking forward to the arrival of your new book.

  • Can I grill these on skewers?

    • Sure, that should work. Enjoy!

  • A new favorite! I made this for dinner last night and everyone raved about how good it was. I marinated for about 18 hours and it was full of flavor, tender and juicy. Those are not how most grilled chicken breast are described…haha I used Sweet Baby Ray’s BBQ sauce. Thanks again Jen 🙂

  • I love this recipe!!!! After it’s been marinated can I freeze it?

    • Sure, Pat, that’s fine. 🙂

      • Hi Jenn
        This recipe sounds delicious! Do you think it would work to make it in a crockpot and shred the chicken once it’s cooked?
        Thanks so much for all of your wonderful recipes!❤️

        • — Cindy Barnett on December 27, 2022
        • Reply
        • Hi Cindy, So glad you like the recipes! I don’t have a crockpot but I think it would work. I’d probably stick to chicken breasts and wouldn’t bother to pound them out first.

          • — Jenn on December 27, 2022
          • Reply
          • Thanks so much Jenn for getting back to me so quickly!

            • — Cindy Barnett on December 27, 2022
  • Is there a good way to grill the chicken a half hour before and keep it warm and on hold for dinner?

    • Hi Jamie, I think you could grill this and then put it on the warm setting in your oven covered with foil until you’re ready to serve it. (I think this would taste good at room temperature too.)

      • Thanks so much for your prompt reply. We really, really, enjoy your recipes!

  • Hello Jen,
    What would be a good store bought BBQ sauce you recommend?

    • Hi Elaine, I usually buy Sweet Baby Ray’s.

  • Another winner Jenn! Made exactly as per your instructions. Easy, made with ingredients always on hand, a quick cook, and just excellent results. Everyone loved it! And made your bbq sauce as well. Winner, winner, chicken dinner 😁

  • Another stellar recipe from you Jenn!! My husband declared it the absolute best he’s ever had! Made recipe exactly as written and it was perfect!!

  • I’ve made this twice and it is an excellent recipe. It is full of flavor and the chicken was moist and tender. For my taste, it has too much smoked paprika, so the second time I only used 1 Tsp of smoked, and 1 Tsp of regular paprika. Thanks for another great recipe! Pounding out the breasts and the short cooking time work great.

  • This chicken was excellent! nice amount of spice and heat without being too intense. I was bored by BBQ chicken and now am interested to make this again.

  • Delicious! The marinade/rub gives it an extra flavorful boost! The family loved it. Served with corn on cob, grilled garlic bread and tomato, mozzarella, basil and avocado salad. Def a keeper!!

  • Hi Jen,
    I have no grill, how do you recommend to cook it: oven, pan? For how long?
    Thanks in advance.

    • Hi Natalie, Sure, I’d broil it in your oven. Set your oven rack about 4 inches from the heat source and broil for the same amount of time specified for the grill (flipping once) and put the bbq sauce on after flipping. Hope that helps and that you enjoy!

  • Sounds yummy! No grill here — any tips for doing this in the oven or stove top?

    • Hi Deborah, I’d use the oven and broil it. Set your oven rack about 4 inches from the heat source and broil for the same amount of time specified for the grill (flipping once) and put the bbq sauce on after flipping. Enjoy!

  • This sounds yummy! Can I sub boneless, skinless chicken thighs?

  • I recently made this recipe from your cookbook and it was delicious. If I wanted to make this again with a bit of less smoky flavor– it possible to reduce the amount of smoked paprika or would you suggest substituting some of it with regular paprika?

    • Hi Debbie, Glad you like it! I’d probably just replace some or all of the smoked paprika with regular paprika.

  • I don’t have a grill so how do you think this would taste baked in oven?
    Any other options?
    Thanks do much!

    • Hi Marny, I’d broil instead of bake it. Set your oven rack about 4 inches from the heat source and broil for the same amount of time specified for the grill (flipping once) and put the bbq sauce on after flipping. Hope that helps!

  • Can this dish be prepared in the oven? If so, what temp and for how long should it cook?

    Thank you.

    June V.

    • Sure, I’d broil it. Set your oven rack about 4 inches from the heat source and broil for the same amount of time specified for the grill (flipping once) and put the bbq sauce on after flipping. Hope that helps and that you enjoy!

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