I know it’s fall for the rest of you, but here in L.A. the hot, dry weather persists. I’m aching for a cool breeze right now, but at least it doesn’t feel strange to still be catching up on my summer recipes. This one hearkens all the way back to when I gambled on trying potato salad for the first time (and won in a big way). I wanted something appropriately picnic-like to accompany it, and also to round out a valid meal in case it turned out I hated potato salad. Sweet, smoky, spicy barbecue seemed like the perfect balance for all that creamy starchiness, but since the salad was fairly labor-intensive I wanted the second dish to be as easy as possible. Baking up some chicken in some sauce sounded about right.
I’ve made basic barbecue sauces before, for pizza and sandwiches, but since the sauce would be the main event here, I thought I should try something a little more complex. Unfortunately, the first recipe I chose was Not So Great. I had to make and apply a dry rub, sear the (bone in, skin-on) chicken on the stove, make and apply the sauce, then bake it in the oven, and both the rub and the sauce were loaded with sugar. It was perfectly edible, but a hassle. The next time around, I went straight to the boneless, skinless chicken thighs—way less fuss to make, and easier to eat too. For the sauce, I searched high and low to find something that looked like it wasn’t too sweet and had enough flavor complexity without calling for any extra steps (dicing an onion, etc.) or special ingredients I don’t normally keep on hand (like chipotle chiles). As is often the case, I found exactly what I wanted at Serious Eats, aptly labeled Basic Barbecue Sauce. Because one of the ingredients is “your favorite barbecue rub,” I had to find a separate seasoning recipe and do some clever math to get the quantities right, but it was all worth it.
Barbecue sauce is a controversial topic (for instance, many purists cringe to see a recipe calling for ketchup), but this one suits me to a T. It’s still got some sweetness, but also acid and plenty of spice—in fact, I dial down the Tabasco a bit now, because the full amount was making my lips burn. You could bathe just about anything in this and it would taste delicious. The amounts below are for a half-recipe, which is roughly the amount you need for the chicken recipe with a little to spare, but the sauce keeps a long time in the fridge, so consider going for the full batch and you can have this meal again soon. You’ll definitely want it.
1 cup ketchup
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons firmly packed brown sugar
1 tablespoon molasses
1 tablespoon prepared yellow mustard
1 teaspoon Tabasco sauce
½ teaspoon paprika
¼ teaspoon chili powder
¼ teaspoon chipotle chili powder
¼ teaspoon cumin
¼ teaspoon mustard powder
1/8 teaspoon onion powder
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
1½ pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs
- Combine all of the ingredients except chicken in a nonreactive saucepan, and slowly bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low or low, and gently simmer until dark, thick, and richly flavored, 10 to 15 minutes. (Sauce can be made ahead of time; store in a sealed glass container in the refrigerator.)
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and line a large baking sheet with foil.
- Place the chicken in a large bowl and add about ½ cup of the barbecue sauce. Toss well until the chicken is completely coated. Arrange the chicken on the baking sheet.
- Bake chicken for 20-30 minutes, or until cooked through. Baste with additional barbecue sauce and place under the broiler for a few minutes, until the sauce just starts to bubble. Serve with more sauce if desired.
Time: 1 hour
Leftover potential: Good, and any extra, unused sauce will keep in a sealed container in the fridge for up to several months.