Barbecued Chicken Kebabs

With weeks of constant rain seeming to transform overnight into instant summer, my party for 30 of my closest friends could have been nothing other than a barbecue.  For the kids, I cheated, and simply grilled hamburgers and hot dogs. But for the adults I tried a new recipe (from May 2011 issue of Cook’s Illustrated); Barbecued Chicken Kebabs. Of course, I tripled the recipe and cooked 6 pounds of boneless chicken thighs, which was the upper limit of the 22″ Weber grill.  The result was perhaps the best BBQ chicken I’ve ever had, though the chicken ran out before two or three of my guests ate  (a serious faux pas; I know). Overall, 4-1/2 stars, with a promise to make it again for those who only ate Arroz con Pollo.

Maybe the best BBQ chicken I've ever had.


  1. I only had one type of Paprika, so used 2-2/3 tablespoon of regular paprika. I’m not sure if it was smoked paprika or sweet paprika.
  2. While I tripled the chicken, I only doubled the BBQ sauce recipe. I still had a little left over, so it was the right choice.
  3. I am having issues with the new formulation of Kingsford charcoal. They claim that it “starts even faster, and burns even longer”. Using my chimney starter, I am finding takes 50% longer to start. (30 minutes instead of 20 minutes), and that the coals usually go out (self extinguish) when I cook any meat that is even slightly juicy. Whereas, the prior formulation worked perfectly.

Rating: 4-1/2-stars.
Cost: $12 for 6 pounds of chicken.
How much work? Medium.
How big of a mess?  Low/Medium.
Start time 4:00 PM. Ready at 6:00 PM.

Chris Kimball’s original recipe is here. My descriptions of how I prepare it are given below (except that I cut the measurements back down to the original 2-lbs of chicken):

Homemade BBQ Sauce:

1/2 cup ketchup
1/4 cup molasses
2 tablespoons grated onion
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1 tablespoon light brown sugar

2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 tablespoons sweet paprika
2 teaspoons smoked paprika
4 teaspoons sugar
2 slices bacon
4 skewers

  1. To make the sauce: Cook all the sauce ingredients in small saucepan over medium heat. Stir occasionally until the sauce has reduced to 1 cup; about 7 minutes. Add 1/2-cup sauce to small bowl (to be used during barbecuing), setting the remaining sauce aside to serve at the table.
  2. Trim any excess fat from chicken and cut into 1-inch cubes. Put chicken cubes in a large bowl, add 2 teaspoons kosher salt and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerator for 1 hour.
  3. Light a large chimney starter three-quarters filled, about 75-coals.
  4. Pat the chicken dry with paper towels. Combine paprika and sugar in small bowl.
  5. Cut the bacon slices into 1/2-inch pieces, and process in food processor until it forms a smooth paste; about 45 seconds. Scrape the sides of the food processor twice during processing to ensure an even paste. Sprinkle spice mixture over chicken, then add the bacon paste. Using your hands, mix until spices and evenly blended and chicken is completely coated with paste.
  6. Thread the chicken cubes onto skewers. Chris Kimball recommends metal skewers, but I used wood skewers without problem. Some oddly shaped chicken cubes required rolling or folding meat to maintain even thickness of the skewers.
  7. Once charcoal is fully ignited and partially covered with thin layer of ash (takes about 30 minutes with new Kingsford formulation), dump all charcoal over half of grill bottom, leaving other half empty. Replace the cooking grate and scrape clean with grill brush.
  8. Place chicken kebabs directly over the coals. Grill, turning a quarter turn every 2-1/2 minutes (for a total of 10 minutes for thighs). They should be well browned and slightly charred. Brush the tops of the kebabs with 1/4-cup of BBQ sauce. Flip the kebobs (sauce side down) and cook for 1 or 2 minutes. Brush the second side with another 1/4-cup sauce. Flip and cook until a thermometer registers 175 degrees (for thighs)
  9. Remove kebabs from grill and let rest for 5 minutes. Serve, passing reserved barbecue sauce separately.

16 Responses to Barbecued Chicken Kebabs

  1. Lorri says:

    looks and sounds fab! I must try this soon.

  2. Valerie Munson-Drohobycky says:

    I had the great fortune to taste this. It was amazing! Tender, juicy chicken with delicious sauce that you could really taste and not have wear. I must have more!!!!!

    • I’m so glad to hear that you enjoyed them, Val. I’ll be happy to make more for you anytime. It was nice that you were able to make the trip down for the evening; too bad the house was so full and you couldn’t have stayed longer.


  3. amy Ward says:

    I saw this post Thursday and made them for the Memorial day bbq…they were a big hit. We did make them on wood skewers too (soaked in H20 for an hour beforehand) and then cut the skewers in half for serving. A weirder recipe for grilled chicken than usual for sure, but Yum-zilla. Now they are placed in the permanent BBQ rotation.

  4. lorri says:

    I finally made this! Anything with bacon gets my interest ; – ) Great taste and I will make it again.

    Regarding the recipe and prep: I used 10 pieces of bacon instead of two, to make the paste, and I was not successful in coating the chicken before skewering. Maybe because I had too much bacon – LOL. I scraped it off, skewered the chicken, and then mashed the bacon pulp onto both sides of the skewers. SUCCESS!

    • Hi Lorri,

      I also made it again, and it came out just as good the second time. I used 1.5x the recipe, so 3 slices of bacon.

      It did not cover all parts of the chicken, but rather was scattered throughout the chicken basting the chicken as it cooked. But I agree; 10 pieces of bacon will always taste better than 3!!


  5. nilu says:

    Hi Mark,

    I love the concept of your website as well as all things Cooks illustrated. I made these kebabs tonight and they were so good. very moist. Always had trouble with chicken getting dry on the grill in the past. loved the bbq sauce as well. only drawback is cleaning out the food processor after making the bacon paste. still sitting in my sink..always looking to see which recipes you’ll try next.

    p.s. I also tried the Indonesian rice–same issue as the kebabs..also a hit!!

    • Hi Nilu,

      Thanks, Chris Kimball always says that “this is the best recipe we’ve ever done on America’s Test Kitchen”. So I try to give an honest second opinion; obviously everything can’t be the best thing ever. But I agree, their recipes are usually quite good.

      Up until the last month or two I not only had to cook, but also clean everything. But now I am starting to get other family members to clean up. What a happy difference!


  6. lorri aiello says:

    Oh the joys of the boys getting older! LOL. Coincidentally I am making this chicken recipe AGAIN – TODAY. Love it and I’m glad you brought it to my attention. Cheers, L

  7. farrah says:

    I hope this isn’t a dumb question, but do you mean cooked or uncooked bacon?

  8. Kristin says:

    This is a great recipe. The bacon paste keeps the outside of the chicken moist. By the time the center is cooked the outside is not dry.

  9. Looks delicious..have to try it soon

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