These juicy grilled chicken thighs are the perfect meal for summer. A quick 30-minute citrus marinade dramatically boosts the flavor before searing on the barbecue.
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My go-to chicken breast marinade is always a hit during summer cookouts. But when cooking with dark meat, the timing and techniques are slightly different. This recipe is designed for chicken thighs, whether you like them with crispy skin or boneless.
The marinade is concentrated with savory and spicy seasoning. The poultry only needs a 30-minute dip in the tangy lemon and herb mixture. I also use it as a light sauce to baste during grilling. Similar to my grilled BBQ chicken, this meal pairs well with creamy coleslaw, potato salad, or crisp corn on the cob.
If you prefer crisp skin, use bone-in chicken thighs. The bone provides insulation, preventing the meat from drying out on the grill, and it also means you will need more time to cook the meat thoroughly.
Alternatively, you can use boneless skinless chicken thighs. They quickly infuse the marinade’s flavor and cook faster on the barbecue. Just trim off excess skin and fat from the pieces before marinating.
Marinate the chicken
A well-balanced and effective marinade always contains a salt, fat, acidic ingredient, sweetener, and seasonings like herbs and spices. I use kosher salt to brine the chicken quickly. Olive oil helps to enhance the taste of any fat-soluble seasonings. Pungent dijon mustard and fresh lemon juice provide a tangy and bright flavor to the grilled meat.
Honey balances the acid in the marinade, you don’t need much, and it doesn’t make the marinade overly sweet. Minced garlic, chopped parsley, lemon zest, black pepper, and paprika add a bold taste. You only need about 30 minutes for the sodium and add-ins to season and tenderize the meat.
Additional chicken seasoning options
Check out my homemade bbq sauce recipe if you prefer chicken thighs coated with a sweet and tangy flavor. Want to use a quick and easy dry rub instead of a marinade? Use my classic grilled chicken seasoning mix on top of the chicken.
How to grill chicken thighs
Whether using a charcoal grill or a gas grill, make sure that the grill grates are hot and greased to prevent sticking. The marinade does contain fat from the olive oil, so shake off or dab excess liquid with paper towels before adding the chicken pieces to the grill. Too many drippings can cause flare-ups and potential burning, so keep a close watch on the meat.
Grill the chicken thighs over medium-high heat, between 375 to 400ºF (191 to 204ºC). This range gives the meat a golden brown char while gently cooking. I like to sear both sides for 5 minutes to kickstart cooking. Then baste with the citrus marinade every few minutes on each side for more flavor.
Check for doneness
For chicken thighs, target an internal temperature between 165 to 170ºF (74 to 77) in the thickest part of the meat. I find that bone-in pieces require about 25 to 30 minutes of cooking. Bone-less thighs take about 10 to 15 minutes, depending on the thickness, and longer for bone-in pieces.
Serve this with
Yes! For even cooking, flip the chicken thighs. Get a good crust formed for about 5 minutes on each side, then continue to cover and cook, flipping every 2 to 3 minutes until the chicken is fully cooked.
Bone-in chicken thighs need about 12 to 15 minutes per side. The bone acts as an insulator, requiring more time to cook to the center. Boneless pieces need about 5 to 8 minutes per side.
Yes, however, I recommend simmering the sauce over medium heat for about 5 minutes to mellow out the intense garlic flavor. Alternatively, substitute 1 teaspoon of garlic powder for the minced garlic. It will have a more roasted taste.
Should chicken be at room temperature before grilling?
You don’t want the raw meat to sit at room temperature for an extended time. Bacteria multiply rapidly, especially in the temperature danger zone between 40 to 140°F (4.4 to 60ºC). They can double in as little as 20 minutes, be careful on those hot summer days! Never leave food out of refrigeration for over 2 hours, or it could cause food spoilage or illness. However, it’s okay to let it sit at room temperature for no more than 15 minutes while preheating the grill to take the chill out of the chicken for even more cooking.
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Grilled Chicken Thighs
- ⅓ cup olive oil
- 3 tablespoons water
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons dijon mustard
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- 1 tablespoon chopped parsley
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon lemon zest
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- ¼ teaspoon paprika, sweet or smoked
- 3 pounds chicken thighs, bone-in, skin on
- Prepare the Marinade – In a medium bowl, vigorously whisk together olive oil, water, lemon juice, mustard, soy sauce, honey, garlic, parsley, salt, lemon zest, black pepper, and paprika—Reserve ¼ cup for basting.
- Marinate the Chicken – Add the chicken to a baking dish or large resealable plastic bag. Pour the marinade over, turn to coat, cover, and refrigerate. Press out any excess air if using a plastic bag. Marinate for a minimum of 30 minutes and up to 60 minutes.
- Preheat the Grill – Preheat the grill over medium-high heat between 375 to 400ºF (191 to 204ºC). Keep one burner off for indirect heat cooking. Clean and carefully grease the grates with the oil.
- Grill the Chicken – Shake off excess marinade from the chicken. Lightly dry surface with a paper towel. Place the meat skin-side down on the grill. Close the lid and cook for 5 minutes. Flip and baste with the reserved marinade. Cook covered for about 5 minutes. Repeat flipping and basting with the remaining marinade every 2 to 3 minutes.Cook until the internal temperature reaches about 165 to 170ºF (74 to 77ºC), about 25 to 30 minutes. If browning too quickly, move the pieces to the indirect heat side of the grill to finish.
- To Serve – Cover the chicken with foil to keep warm. Rest for 5 minutes before serving.
- Servings: About 6 pieces, varies by brand
- Marinade: Makes about 2/3 cups
- Storing: Store grilled chicken in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
- Reheating: Cover and microwave the chicken on high heat in 15 to 30-second increments until hot.
- Marinating Ahead of Time: Chicken can be marinated for up to 24 hours, but wait to add the lemon juice (acid) until the last 30 to 60 minutes.
- Using Boneless Thighs: Check for doneness after the first 10 minutes of cooking. Less time will be needed.
- Make it Paleo: Use pure maple syrup instead of honey. Use coconut aminos instead of soy sauce.
- Make it Gluten-Free: Substitute soy sauce with gluten-free tamari or coconut aminos.
- Make it Keto: Use coconut aminos instead of soy sauce. Omit honey or use erythritol.
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