Kansas City–Inspired Barbecued Chicken Recipe

Okay, summer may not technically begin until June 20, but Memorial Day weekend—the “unofficial” kickoff to the beloved season—is coming up soon and you’ll want to be ready to fire up the grill in style. Many burgers and hot dogs will be sizzling this summer, but if you want to step up your game right out of the gate, you can’t beat barbecued chicken—especially when you make your own sauce and also layer flavor by starting with a dry rub.

Sauces vary throughout the country from South Carolina’s mustard-based to North Carolina’s vinegar-based sauces. When most of us think of barbecue sauce, the Kansas City version comes to mind. Many store-bought varieties were originally inspired by recipes from Kansas City (think KC Masterpiece). These tomato-based sauces are sweet and usually contain ingredients such as molasses. Often they are smoky from the addition of liquid smoke. This pungent-style sauce is not only good on chicken but is wonderful on ribs, smoked sausage and brisket, suggests Bruce Aidells, author of The Great Meat Cookbook, who contributed this recipe to Real Food.

Excellent sides include a mayonnaise-based potato salad, coleslaw or a green lettuce salad with a blue-cheese dressing, says Aidells. And hot corn bread is always nice. Serve with a lager or wheat beer with a squeeze of lemon. If using liquid smoke in the sauce, a dark beer, such as a stout or porter, can make a good match.

The sauce can be made up to a week ahead and stored in a covered container in the refrigerator so it’s ready when you are. You’ll want to plan ahead as overnight prep/marinating is recommended for this recipe—but then you’re halfway there to a tasty dinner and will have more time to enjoy the beginning of summer to the fullest.

Kansas City–Inspired Barbecued Chicken

Makes 4 Servings, With Leftovers

Kansas City Barbecue Sauce
2 tbsp. vegetable or olive oil, or bacon fat
112 c. finely chopped onion
12 c. chopped red bell pepper
2 tbsp. minced garlic
12 tsp. salt
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp. dried sage
3 tbsp. sweet Hungarian paprika
12 tsp. ground cumin
2 tsp. dry mustard powder
12 c. yellow mustard
2 c. ketchup
14 c. low-sulfur molasses
12 c. dark brown sugar
14 c. lemon juice
3 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp. liquid smoke (optional)
3 tbsp. cider vinegar
2 tsp. Tabasco, or more to taste
   Freshly ground black pepper

Grilled Chicken Rub
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
2 tbsp. chili powder
12 tsp. cayenne pepper
2 tsp. minced garlic
2 tsp. golden brown sugar
1 tsp. mustard powder
1 tsp. fresh sage
1 tsp. fresh thyme
1 tbsp. kosher salt

4 chicken legs, 4 thighs and 4 breasts, or any combination thereof
   (serve 2 to 3 pieces per person)

For the barbecue sauce: Heat oil and cook onion in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat covered 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. When soft, stir in red pepper, garlic, salt and pepper. Stir in remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook uncovered 30 to 40 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent burning. Sauce should be slightly thick and syrupy but not too thick to pour; stir in water if too thick. Season to taste with Tabasco, salt and pepper. Sauce can be made up to 1 week ahead and stored in a covered container in refrigerator.

For the rub: Combine all ingredients in a small bowl until well mixed. Rub a generous layer over chicken. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

Heat one side of a gas or charcoal grill to produce a medium-hot fire. Scatter chicken, skin side down, over heat. Cover grill and sear 1 to 3 minutes, until nicely browned. Turn and cook other side 1 to 3 minutes, until beginning to brown. If grill flares up, immediately move chicken to unlit part of grill to prevent burning.

When chicken is nicely seared, space over unlit side of grill. Cover and cook 30 to 40 minutes, until area near bone is no longer red. Breasts will take less time than legs. Generously brush skin side with sauce and place, skin side down, over fire 2 to 3 minutes to just caramelize sauce, taking care not to burn. Arrange chicken on a platter and serve with warm barbecue sauce on the side.

Nutrition info Barbecued Chicken (Per Serving): Calories 648 (218 From Fat); Fat 24g (Sat. 6g); Chol 146mg; Sodium 2472mg; Carb 55g; Fiber 4g; Protein 54g

Mary Subialka is the editor of Real Food and Drinks magazines, covering the flavorful world of food, wine, and spirits. She rarely meets a chicken she doesn’t like, and hopes that her son, who used to eat beets and Indian food as a preschooler, will one day again think of real food as more than something you need to eat before dessert and be inspired by his younger brother, who is now into trying new foods.