In theory, barbecued chicken kebabs sound pretty great: char-streaked chunks of juicy meat lacquered with sweet and tangy barbecue sauce. But without an insulating layer of skin, even the fattiest thigh meat can dry out and toughen when exposed to the blazing heat of the grill — and forget about ultra- lean skinless breast meat.
Our goal was simple: juicy, tender chicken with plenty of sticky-sweet, smoke-tinged flavor. Brining is one common way to safeguard against dry meat, but in this case the brine made the meat so slick that the sauce refused to stick.
A salt rub worked much better; the rub crisped up on the chicken’s exterior as it cooked, forming a craggy surface that the sauce could really cling to.
For incredible depth of flavor as well as juicy meat, we turned to an unusual technique: grinding bacon to a paste and applying it to the salted meat. Combined with both sweet and smoked paprika and a little sugar, our bacon-y rub created chicken that was juicy, tender, and full-flavored, with a smoky depth that complemented the barbecue sauce.
We prefer flavorful dark thigh meat for these kebabs, but white meat can be used. Whichever you choose, don’t mix white and dark meat on the same skewer, since they cook at different rates. If you have thin pieces of chicken, cut them larger than 1 inch and roll or fold them into approximate 1-inch cubes. You will need four 12-inch metal skewers for this recipe.
One ingredient note: Turbinado sugar is commonly sold as Sugar in the Raw. Demerara sugar can be substituted.
BARBECUED CHICKEN KEBABS
- 2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs or breasts, trimmed, cut into 1-inch chunks
>> Salt rub:
- 2 tablespoons paprika
- 4 teaspoons turbinado sugar
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 2 teaspoons smoked paprika
- 2 slices bacon, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
- 1/2 cup ketchup
- 1/4 cup molasses
- 2 tablespoons EACH grated onion, Worcestershire sauce, Dijon mustard and cider vinegar
- 1 tablespoon packed brown sugar
For the sauce: Bring all ingredients to simmer in small saucepan over medium heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until reduced to about 1 cup, 5 to 7 minutes. Transfer 1/2 cup sauce to small bowl; reserving the rest for serving.
To make rub: Combine paprika, sugar, salt and smoked paprika in large bowl. Process bacon in food processor into smooth paste, 30 to 45 seconds, scraping down bowl as needed. Add to spice mixture.
Add chicken to rub and mix until ingredients are thoroughly blended and chicken is completely coated. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate 1 hour.
Thread chicken tightly onto four 12-inch metal skewers.
For a charcoal grill: Light 4-1/2 quarts charcoal briquettes. When top coals are partially covered with ash, pour evenly over half of grill. Set grate in place, cover, open lid vent. Heat about 5 minutes.
For a gas grill: Turn all burners to high, cover and heat about 15 minutes. Turn burners to medium-high.
Place skewers on hotter part of grill (if using charcoal), and cook (covered if using gas), turning kebabs every 2 to 2-1/2 minutes, until well browned and slightly charred, 8 to 10 minutes.
Brush skewers with sauce, flip; cook until sauce is sizzling and browning in spots, about 1 minute. Brush second side with more sauce, flip; cook until sizzling and browning in spots, about 1 minute longer.
Remove to platter, tent with foil; let rest 5 to 10 minutes. Serve with reserved sauce. Serves 6.
Approximate nutritional information, per serving: 282 calories, 12 g total fat, 3 g saturated fats, 84 mg cholesterol, 771 mg sodium, 25 g carbohydrate, 1 g fiber, 22 g sugar, 18 g protein