whiskey smoky barbecue chicken plated
Proteins,  Recipes,  Tips & Tricks

Smoky Whiskey Barbecue Chicken

Grilling chicken is one of our favorite “go-to” meals in the summer. It is quick, easy and just takes a little bit of prep.

This recipe is ideal for chicken drumsticks, but I am not a fan of dark meat.  We substituted skinless, boneless chicken breast and it turned out delicious.

For this Whiskey Smoky Barbecue Chicken, as with any grilled chicken recipe, the most important, MOST CRUCIAL step is the brine.



Chicken is a very lean protein.  Brining the poultry helps maintain moisture and impart flavor.

After trying several “salt” based potions, I have found using a 1:1 ratio of sugar to salt, mixed thoroughly in a large amount of water.  is a great combination.  I never measure brine water.   I just make sure the meat is completely submerged and has plenty of room in the container.

The meat must sit in the brine, refrigerated, for a minimum of one hour, but no more than 90 minutes.

The salt is seasoning the meat and changing the protein structure, reducing its overall toughness and creating gaps that fill up with water, and keep the meat juicy and flavorful.

Brining can be used on most lean cuts of meat, even pork loin, since it adds, versus merely retains, moisture.

Brining is not a good idea for any recipe where you desire a crispy skin, once removed from the brine, the surface will not brown very well.  You can try patting the meat dry with paper towels, but I advise against brining in a salt water for any meat where you want a crust.

Adding a Smoky Rub

McCormick Smoked Paprika

Of course, there are many, many commercial rubs on the market; however, I love playing around with spices at home.

This rub is especially smoky with the use of “Smoked Paprika.”  Most supermarkets carry McCormick’s version.  It’s made from pimiento peppers that have been dried and smoked over an oak fire, then ground into a fine powder.

For the rub, you will need:

  • 2 teaspoons smoked paprika
  • 2 teaspoons granulated garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/2  teaspoon cayenne pepper (if you like more heat, you can add up to 1 teaspoon)
  • 1/2 teaspoon of Kosher salt

I liberally coat both sides of the chicken breast and allow to sit at room temperature for about 10 minutes before adding to the grill.


The Whiskey Sauce

Six and Twenty 5-Grain Bourbon Whiskey bottleIf you are not a whiskey fan, no worries.  This recipe calls for the sauce to be heated before applying, or dipping the chicken – all the alcohol evaporates, but leaves a smoky flavor.

For the sauce, I used Six & Twenty’s 5- Grain Bourbon Whiskey.  Made in South Carolina, it contains corn and wheat from the Upstate, barley and rye for the Midlands and rice from the Low Country.  It is potent, but smooth.

Whisk together the following:

  • 1 cup ketchup (never use ketchup containing corn syrup)
  • 1/3 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup whiskey (you can substitute apple juice)
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 2 Tablespoons yellow mustard
  • 2 Tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • juice from one lime = 2 Tablespoons
  • pinch of Kosher salt

After whisking together, place in a small pot.  I just warmed the sauce on my cook top as you want to watch it closely, so it does not burn or scorch.

Once heated through, sit aside.

Grilling the Chicken

spice rub applied to raw chickenAfter the rubbed chicken has acclimated for 10-15 minutes…

Clean your grill grates and apply a light coating of oil…

Heat the grill to approximately 400º

Place the chicken on the grill and turn burners to medium.

Cook for approximately 7 minutes; flip to cook other side, also for 7 minutes.

Once chicken has reached an internal temperature of about 150º, dip each piece of chicken in your glaze, turning if necessary, to coat both sides.

Return chicken to grill and cook till it reaches an internal temp of 165º – flipping if necessary.

Remove and tent with foil.  Allow chicken to rest for about 8-9 minutes before serving.


finished whiskey sauced smoky rubbed chicken breast

Other Smoke Flavor Ingredients:

I use smoked paprika frequently, but here are a few more ingredients providing a different type of smoke flavor:

Amira Smoked Basmati Rice – this fragrant rice has a smoky edge that is great in stews, roasted meats, nuts and apricots.          worldmarket.com

Woodford Reserve Bourbon Smoked Sugar – besides being JoAnn’s favorite bourbon whiskey, Woodford has developed this aromatic sugar which can add a sweet smokiness to peach cobbler or rim your favorite cocktail glass.  The sugar is smoked with wood from the barrels that Woodford ages the bourbon in.        atasteofkentucky.com

SmokraRicks Picks Smokra – adding smoked paprika to pickled okra can accompany ham for a quick appetizer.              rickspicks.com

Hot Cakes Smoked Chocolate Chips – cold smoked over alder wood, these chips turn ordinary ganache into smoked chocolate ganache and takes cookies to a whole new place.    getyourhotcakes.com

Gran Luchito Smoked Chilli Ketchup or Mayo – maded with smoked pasilla Oaxaca peppers (chipotle’s smokier cousin), these condiments fire up burgers and sandwiches.


What products do you use to acquire a smoke flavor? Comment below!