As I’ve saidmanytimes, I’m a fan of dark meat chicken…and my kids are fans of tacos. 1 It’s a beautiful spring day, and I want to fire up the grill. When I saw the blowout sale on bone-in chicken thighs at my grocery store, I knew what was for dinner. Smoky, spice, and tender roasted chicken, chopped up and wrapped in tortillas.
Now I could start with boneless, skinless chicken thighs – I do that all the time on weeknights – but that’s more of a grilled chicken taco. I want smoky, tender chicken in this taco, so I start with bone-in thighs, and slow roast them on the grill. 2 The first thing I do is pull the skin off of the thighs – it gets in the way of the spice rub and the smoke, and I don’t like the texture of chopped chicken skin in my taco meat.
The thighs are sprinkled with spice rub, and grilled over indirect medium heat, with a couple of good-sized wood chunks. I let them slow roast in the grill for close to an hour – thighs are hard to overcook, and extra time just makes them more tender. In other words, this is the perfect recipe for a spring day, where you can sit on the deck with a tasty beverage and watch the smoke slowly rise from the grill. 3
Rub the chicken thighs: Sprinkle a heavy coat of the rub over the chicken thighs. Gently pat the rub to help it stick, and work it into any natural seams in the meat.
Set the grill up for indirect medium heat: Set your grill up for indirect medium heat, 350°F, with a drip pan in the middle of the grill and the fire on the sides. In my kettle grill, I light a chimney starter 3/4 full of coals; when the coals are lit and covered with gray ash, I pour them in two piles on the sides of the grill, with the drip pan in the middle. (If your grill comes with charcoal baskets, use them - they help keep the charcoal piles together.) Then I put on my grill grate and brush it clean.
Grill the chicken thighs: Add the smoking wood to the coals, put the chicken thighs on the grill over indirect heat (that is, on the grate over the drip pan). Cook the chicken with the lid closed as much as possible until the chicken reaches an internal temperature of at least 185°F, about 50 minutes. Remove the chicken to a platter.
Rest, chop, and serve: Let the chicken rest until it is cool enough to handle, about 5 minutes. Chop the chicken by carefully cutting the bone out of the middle of each thigh, making sure to get the gristle at both knobs of the bone, then slicing the meat lengthwise into strips, then chopping across the strips to rough dice the chicken. (This doesn’t have to be precise - just aim for small, bite sized pieces.) Pour any juices left in the platter over the chopped chicken, then pass the chicken at the table with the accompaniments and let everyone make their own tacos.
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Allegedly, the bone doesn’t help – chicken will taste the same, bone-in or not – but that’s if it’s cooked to the exact temperature. I prefer bone-in for roasting, because the bone slows down cooking. This lets me cook it at a gentle temperature, and the chicken has more time to absorb the smoke.↩
Or, in my case, a day where the wind sends smoke in my direction no matter where I move on the deck.↩
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