So, in case you haven’t already noticed, it’s starting to warm up outside and things are starting to turn green. I’m so into it.
On Sunday we decided it was warm enough to have our first cookout of the year. It wasn’t really, but we were drinking so no one seemed to notice. We gathered some friends, fed them some cocktails, and cooked up a bunch of food over an open flame. We also tried to overlook the fact that I was standing over the grill with a camera while everyone else was enjoying the outdoors for the first time since 2013. In case you were wondering, photographing a grill while smoke pours out can be an awkward task, especially when the wind can’t decide which direction it wants to blow.
I thought the perfect thing for a warm(ish) spring day would be some lemony grilled chicken thighs with plenty of fresh green herbs. I know, chicken thighs again. I’ve already said this, but beyond being affordable, chicken thighs are also really juicy, tender, and flavorful. They also happen to lend themselves perfectly to grilling. I love white meat too, but I sometimes find that breast meat can dry out on the grill if you’re not a really experience griller. Chicken thighs are much more forgiving if you forget them while you’re sipping your drink and accidentally leave them on just a bit too long, or if you’re afraid of undercooking and intentionally leave them on just a bit too long. Either way, they’re going to come out moist and delicious and all your friends will tell you how skilled you are at cooking with fire.
To go along with our chicken, I also grilled some marinated veggie kabobs. A nice mix of grape tomatoes, onions, bell peppers, and mushrooms was just what the doctor ordered. I LOVE the way grape tomatoes get all hot and juicy and just barely hold their shape when you grill them. You can definitely play with other veggies too, but it’s important to keep in mind that they’ll all cook for the same amount of time. Simply cut up your veggies into bite sized chunks (l left my mushrooms and tomatoes whole), marinate for an hour or two, arrange on skewers, and cover until you’re ready to grill. If you’re using wooden skewers you should soak them in water while your veggies marinate so they don’t burn on the grill. As for marinades, I think vinaigrettes work really well for grilled vegetables, but you can really use whatever you like. In this case, I just made a little extra lemon herb marinade and used that.
When it comes to cooking outdoors, I’m a firm believer that charcoal grills give your food MUCH more flavor. Gas grills cook your food, and you’ll be standing outside while it happens, but you’re really not going to get any of that smokey “grilled” flavor. If you have a gas grill at home and want to try to get that smokiness, I’d suggest trying some hardwood smoking chips. Smoking chips usually come in a few different flavors like hickory or applewood, and can be found online or at many grocery or hardware stores. Before using them you need to soak the chips in water so they don’t just burn up. To contain the ash and prevent them from burning too quickly, you can make a pouch for your chips out of aluminum foil, or get one of these handy smoke boxes.
This chicken is seriously phenomenal. So good in fact, that one of our friends who usually doesn’t eat meat went back in for seconds. The skin gets all crispy and golden brown, while the meat stays moist and full of flavor. The marinade completely permeates the meat without being overpowering. It’s savory, aromatic, and earthy thanks to two fresh herbs and a healthy dose of garlic, and the olive oil and lemon juice make it tangy, sweet and bright. These fresh clean flavors are an ideal pairing with the smokiness that comes from cooking with charcoal or hardwood chips. You might not see another grilling recipe for the rest of year, because I’m just going to make this over and over and over. Just kidding! I promise!
Grilled Lemon Herb Chicken Thighs
8-10 chicken thighs
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup lemon juice
zest of 3 lemons
4-5 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tablespoon rosemary (finely chopped)
2 teaspoons thyme (finely chopped)
1 1/2 teaspoons coarse Kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoons ground black pepper
Wash and dry chicken thighs and place in a shallow dish. Combine all remaining ingredients, mix well, and pour over the chicken thighs. Turn the pieces over and over until they’re all well coated in marinade. Press the chicken down into the dish so it’s as submerged as possible. Cover the dish with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 4-8 hours, turning the chicken a few times so it’s all well coated.
Once marinated, prepare your grill. A gas grill should be on low heat, or a charcoal grill should be prepared so one side has fewer coals than the other. Place the chicken on the cooler side of the grill, skin side up, and cook for 10 to 12 minutes, until the underside is golden brown. Resist the urge to pour the marinade over the chicken. Turn each piece over once, cooking for another 10 to 12 minutes, or until the skin is golden brown and the chicken is cooked through. Remove from the grill and let rest, covered with foil, for 5 minutes before serving.
You can definitely increase (or decrease) this recipe to accommodate the number of guests you’re cooking for. I’d recommend one to two pieces per person, depending on the size of your thighs, what else you’re serving, and how hungry you think your guests might be.