Understanding BBQ Chicken

Summer is almost here and we've got a few months of outdoor grilling, tailgating and homegating in front of us. As men we are expected to be masters of the grill and while an important part of that is understanding how to "cook" the meat ... it's equally important to know how to prepare that meat before cooking it.

When getting ready to grill, there's really three main ways to go - Rub, Marinade, or Sauce. Do you understand the difference though? This is a subject that deserves to be explored a bit, so let's look at how the preparation affects the way the meat tastes and looks on the other side.

The first stop when planning a BBQ is the meat aisle since really it doesn't matter what you put ON it if the meat itself isn't any good. Today, we're going to pick up some Foster Farms drumsticks. I honestly love Foster Farms - not only do I find that their product is always juicy and full of flavor but the chicken is locally raised right here in California and the Pacific Northwest. It's always fresh and 100% Natural with no added hormones or steroids and it's even American Humane Certified.

The next step though on today's look at the differences between BBQ rub, BBQ marinade, and BBQ sauce is to pick up some Stubb's. Even though I've done sponsored work on their behalf in the past, I honestly love their stuff. Sweet Heat BBQ sauce is my "Go To" for pretty much everything. There are a lot of products out there that taste great - but Stubb's is certified gluten free and free of high-fructose corn syrup, artificial preservatives, colors, or flavorings. 

bbq pinterest small

Each of these techniques is designed to showcase the flavor and texture of the meat in completely different ways so I encourage you to experiment and try them all at some point. However, before you start it's important to take the chicken out of the packaging, wash it under running water and then dry it. This will help remove any residue from the packaging and make the chicken taste even fresher.

rub chicken

How to Use BBQ Rub:

BBQ Rub is designed to enhance the natural flavor of the meat by adding a spiced flavor. I recommend that you apply the rub a day or so before your BBQ and then wrap the meat back up in butcher paper or plastic wrap and keep in the fridge. This will give it time to interact with the meat and fully enhance the flavor. 

However, even when I don't have time to do it "right" it still tastes good if you place the chicken in a bowl and coat it completely in the spice rub. With chicken in particular, make sure to get it under the skin so it doesn't flake off on the grill. 

What you'll find when finished cooking is a delicious light crisp flavor that doesn't have the char marks that BBQ sauce leaves because of the caramelized sugar. Additionally, depending on how much rub is applied you will experience what is known as a "bark" or crisp flavorful crust. In addition to tasting delicious the bark also serves to help keep the natural moisture in the chicken.

stubbs marinade

How to Use BBQ Marinade:

Like using a BBQ rub, you'll want to marinade your chicken overnight or at least a minimum of 4 hours prior to grilling. To do so, pour the marinade in a bowl and make sure to cover the chicken so it has a chance to seep into the meat. I really like the Stubb's marinade because it has plenty of chunks to give it added texture. Beyond flavor though, a BBQ marinade like this "Citrus and Onion" one typically uses an acid to help break down fibers in the meat. This results in a more tender texture so the flavoring part of the marinade can be even more awesome.

Unlike the rub though, because there is typically sugar in a marinade it will "burn". This isn't really the chicken itself burning but sugars in the marinade that are very sensitive to heat so the old adage of "low and slow" is important here to avoid flareups that will blacken your bird.

Additionally, during the cooking process make sure to continually baste the chicken so that it doesn't dry out.

marinade chicken

How to Use BBQ Sauce:

Finally, it's time to look at the classic and here's where things get complicated. The challenge here is that BBQ sauce typically has a significant amount of sugar - and that means that it will burn easily under the heat from the grill. Different people have different solutions and some choose to only apply the sauce once the chicken is almost ready to serve. The nice thing about the sauce is that it is easy - there's no waiting overnight to marinade or getting your hands dirty rubbing spices on it. However, despite the fact that the sauce itself tastes great, the flavor of the chicken just isn't the same as the other two methods.

When I do use BBQ sauce though, I put a light layer of sauce on to help keep the meat from drying out and gradually paint more layers on it. This way there is less sauce to burn. 

Any way you choose though - grilled chicken is simply delicious and doubly so when you add in other sides and have it as the centerpiece of your tailgating experience with your best buddies.

top down bbq trio

Now that you know the proper way to use these, it's time to get cooking!