I’m taking back the grill, because I’ve always been better at it anyway.
When I remember barbecues of my childhood, the standard vision of the average American dad is always present: hand on hip, furrowed brow, a set of long grilling tongs in one hand staring intently at a charcoal barbecue where rosy hamburger patties are beginning to char.
Mom would be making strawberry poppyseed coleslaw, and we’d be swimming in the Smiths’ pool while dad once again overcooked the burgers.
The flavor of the meat was rarely the focal point or inspiration of most barbecues anyway, but I’ve never confronted him.
The saving grace of the culinary disaster, for me, was always the Sweet Baby Ray’s barbecued chicken thighs: saucy, rich and sweet, slightly charred, sticky, crispy and tender all at the same always had me perched, a raptor by the grill to make sure I could snag one before the dads swooped in.
Vermont is home to some of the highest-quality produce and meats imaginable, and thankfully it is also home to several Asian markets, like Burlington’s Thai Phat on North Street in Burlington. It’s markets like these that inspire me culinarily: shelves lined with pastes, creams, sauces and spices, many of which I’ve never seen before, waiting to be plucked and tried.
My partner grabbed the crispy sesame shrimp snacks one time, and I’ve never forgiven him.
Now that Vermont has agreed to hold off on the snow, I upgraded my barbecue chicken game inspired by the qualities I love most about grilled delights: saucy, spicy, sweet, sour and sticky.
I give you, the Chili Jam barbecue chicken.
For a sweet-sour marinade, I start with Mae Ploy sweet chili sauce for the base, about a half-cup, mixed with two tablespoons of pulverized lemongrass, four heaping tablespoons of chopped garlic, one tablespoon of fermented chili paste and one cup of orange juice, plus a healthy shake of Himalayan pink salt.
Pick your clucker
One of my favorites is Misty Knoll Farm chicken thighs. The quality and flavor of the meat from Misty Knoll has never failed to surpass my expectations, and I’d rather give my money to local people who deeply care about their animals and how they raise them.
Combine all of your ingredients together smother the chicken in the marinade, cover and let sit overnight. You can add on finely sliced serrano pepper into the marinade for a little more heat.
On the grill
The next day, preheat your grill to medium-high heat, around 420 degrees, and drain the marinade from your chicken — you’re going to reduce that down in a pan to use as a glaze for the grilled chicken thighs after their initial sear. Once reduced, the consistency should be thick enough to coat a spoon, but not as thick as honey. If it accidentally gets that thick, adding some water to thin it out should work just fine.
After greasing up the grill, place each of the thighs skin-side down on the grill first, and grill each of them for seven minutes before flipping. Once you flip, take a grilling brush and begin basting the cooked side of the chicken with the glaze, until they’re nice and glossy. Before you flip again, jack the temperature up a bit to get that caramel char.
Flip the bird again and baste the other side, letting the sauce caramelize on the chicken and get nice and sticky. Your porch should smell so good at this point that the neighbors are in your driveway.
If you like to use thermometers, the internal temperature should be about 166 degrees where the thigh is fattest. The great thing about chicken thighs is that they stay pretty tender and juicy even when overcooked, especially soaked in sauce.
As with any spicy food, you’re going to want lighter, refreshing accompaniments that have common sweetnesses with the chili sauce. This recipe pairs wonderfully with a bright, citrusy slaw, grilled and buttered baby potatoes, and lemon-scented asparagus. To draw out the orange in your sauce, a California rose or off-dry Riesling works well. I sometimes reach for a Primitivo red or a fruity, juicy Garnacha to compliment the char on the meat.
Recipes like these can be altered to fit your needs and flavor desires: there needs to be enough sweet to create a glaze, but enough acid to balance it out, so if you prefer pears and lemons to oranges, it’s easy to switch the flavors out. Whether it’s berries or citrus with honey, making your own custom reductions and sauces for the grill, the pan and the oven is an easy way to impress the pickiest guest, or your partner who is stuck at the office editing the next day’s paper.