In theory, barbecued chicken kebabs sound pretty great: char-streaked chunks of juicy meat lacquered with sweet and tangy barbecue sauce. But without an insulating layer of skin, even the fattiest thigh meat can dry out and toughen when exposed to the blazing heat of the grill - and forget about ultra-lean skinless breast meat.
Our goal was simple: juicy, tender chicken with plenty of sticky-sweet, smoke-tinged flavor. Brining is one common way to safeguard against dry meat, but in this case the brine made the meat so slick that the barbecue sauce refused to stick.
A salt rub worked much better; the rub crisped up on the chicken's exterior as it cooked, forming a craggy surface that the sauce could really cling to.
For incredible depth of flavor as well as juicy meat, we turned to an unusual technique: grinding bacon to a paste and applying it to the salted meat. Combined with both sweet and smoked paprika and a little sugar, our bacon-y rub created chicken that was juicy, tender, and full-flavored, with a smoky depth that complemented the barbecue sauce.
BARBECUED CHICKEN KEBABS
Start to finish: 1 hour, 45 minutes
Use the large holes of a box grater to grate the onion for the sauce. We prefer flavorful dark thigh meat for these kebabs, but white meat can be used. Whichever you choose, don't mix white and dark meat on the same skewer, since they cook at different rates. If you have thin pieces of chicken, cut them larger than 1 inch and roll or fold them into approximate 1-inch cubes. Turbinado sugar is commonly sold as Sugar in the Raw. Demerara sugar can be substituted. You will need four 12-inch metal skewers for this recipe.
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 packed light brown sugar
2 tablespoons paprika
4 teaspoons turbinado sugar
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons smoked paprika
2 slices bacon, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs or breasts, trimmed, cut into 1-inch chunks
For the sauce: Bring all ingredients to simmer in small saucepan over medium heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until reduced to about 1 cup, 5 to 7 minutes. Transfer 1/2 cup sauce to small bowl and set remaining sauce aside for serving.
For the chicken: Combine paprika, sugar, salt, and smoked paprika in large bowl. Process bacon in food processor until smooth paste forms, 30 to 45 seconds, scraping down sides of bowl as needed. Add bacon paste and chicken to spice mixture and mix with your hands or rubber spatula until ingredients are thoroughly blended and chicken is completely coated. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour. Thread chicken tightly onto four 12-inch metal skewers.
— For a charcoal grill: Open bottom vent completely. Light large chimney starter three-quarters filled with charcoal briquettes (4 1/2 quarts). When top coals are partially covered with ash, pour evenly over half of grill. Set cooking grate in place, cover, and open lid vent completely. Heat grill until hot, about 5 minutes.
— For a gas grill: Turn all burners to high, cover, and heat grill until hot, about 15 minutes. Turn all burners to medium-high.
Clean and oil cooking grate. Place skewers on hotter part of grill (if using charcoal), and cook (covered if using gas), turning kebabs every 2 to 2 1/2 minutes, until well browned and slightly charred, 8 to 10 minutes. Brush top surface of skewers with 1/4 cup sauce, flip, and cook until sauce is sizzling and browning in spots, about 1 minute. Brush second side with remaining 1/4 cup sauce, flip, and continue to cook until sizzling and browning in spots, about 1 minute longer.
Transfer skewers to serving platter, tent with aluminum foil, and let rest for 5 to 10 minutes. Serve, passing reserved sauce separately.