BBQ Spice Rubbed Picnic Chicken

June 2024 View more

By Kelli Ra Anderson

BBQ Spice Rubbed Picnic Chicken

This baked chicken dish is a poster child for culinary alchemy. The secret? Salt and time. The longer salt is in contact with meat, the deeper it infuses, breaking down tight protein strands and creating gaps that fill with juice pockets as it cooks—and the more it breaks down collagen into moisture-binding fibers. The result is a flavorful, tender, juicy chicken. No matter the cut, white or dark.

Moreover, the high levels of brown sugar in this rub and raising the temperature midbake create a caramelized crunch on the skin that stays crisp, even when cold. Perfect to pack for a picnic (if you can wait that long before you eat it).

BBQ chicken spices


3-4 pounds bone-in, skin-on chicken pieces
3 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons chili powder
2 tablespoons onion powder
2 tablespoons sweet or Hungarian paprika
2 tablespoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons fresh-ground black pepper
1 teaspoon cayenne (optional, as the black pepper already will add some heat)

PRO TIP: Rather than buying precut chicken, cutting up a whole chicken into its various parts ensures all the pieces originate from the same bird, allows for better control over the quality of the cuts, and, as an added bonus, costs less per pound.

Seasoning the chicken


1. Combine spices together in a medium-size bowl.

2. Rinse and dry the chicken parts. With a very sharp knife, lightly score the skin all over (especially in thickest parts of fat). Do not cut all the way through to the muscle.

3. Loosen the skin on each piece and rub the spice mix thoroughly underneath, before putting the loosened skin back in place. Liberally coat the outside of each piece. With toothpicks, pin the loosest sections of skin in place to prevent shrinking while cooking.

4. Set pieces on a rack over a baking sheet. Leave, uncovered, in the fridge for a minimum of 6 to 24 hours—preferably overnight—to tenderize.

5. When ready to cook, preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

6. Place the chicken, uncovered, in the oven for 15 minutes.

7. Check internal temperatures. When the first piece reaches 140 degrees, turn the oven up to 500 degrees.

8. When each piece reaches its optimal internal temperature (white meat at 160 degrees, and dark meat at 170) remove from the oven. Temperatures will continue to rise to 165 and 175, respectively, while they rest.

9. Let cooked pieces rest a minimum of 10 minutes before eating—they’re ideally served just warm at room temperature—or chill and serve cold from the fridge.

PRO TIP: Scoring the skin of chicken, much like with fattier birds like duck or goose, renders out the fat (prized as schmaltz for cooking other dishes) and leaves the skin light and crisp, less likely to be flabby when it cools.


Photos: Courtesy of Kellira Media