This Thai Grilled Chicken recipe is a fun twist on BBQ chicken with a bright and tangy Thai marinade. Thai chicken is easy, healthy and bursting with authentic flavor, the perfect American meets Thai food recipe for summer grilling.
Anyone who knows me, knows I have an extreme obsession and compulsive addiction to all things Asian food. Sushi, ma po tofu, banh mi, tonkatsu, ramen, pho, spring rolls, curry… if it originated in Asia, I’m probably eating it.
In fact, I am so enamored with the many flavorful cuisines found in Asia that my husband, Matt, and I traveled to Thailand and Japan for our honeymoon, purely to eat authentic Asian food.
We fell so in love with Thai food in Yao Noi that the following year, we went back to Thailand, this time to Chiang Mai (here’s my guide to the city) with the sole mission to “eat more curry”.
After two weeks of stuffing ourselves full of larb, Khao soi, Issan sausage, papaya salad, tom yum soup, mango sticky rice and too many Singha beers to count, we made our way back to Atlanta and subsequently cry daily for the lack of good Thai food in this city.
Sushi: Atlanta’s got the best I’ve ever tasted, included in Japan (Umi). Vietnamese: incredible pho (Pho Dai Loi #2), banh mi (Lee’s Bakery) and everything else (Nam Phuong). Chinese: We’ve got it (Gu’s Dumplings and Makan are my favorites). Indian: Chai Pani and Botiwalla are some of the best I’ve had.
But Thai food. I’m gonna give Atlanta’s Thai food restaurants a big fat mehhhhhh. They’re not bad, per se. Rather, the Thai food in Atlanta is so watered down, the flavors and spices neutered to appease boring American palettes, most menus just a selection of pick-your-protein Technicolor curries that are decidedly mediocre at best.
All of this to say, if I want big Thai flavors, I have to make it myself.
As usual, it starts with the sauce.
Thai Marinade for Grilled Chicken
Fortunately, thanks to Amazon, Thrive Market (where I buy organic and natural foods for wholesale prices! sign up now and you’ll receive SIX FREE chocolate almond bars from Primal Kitchen) and some local international markets (my favorite in Atlanta is the Buford Highway Farmer’s Market), it’s never been easier to source Thai ingredients, like fish sauce, lemongrass, kaffir limes, Thai chiles and galangal.
Likewise, though some substitutes like regular limes for kaffir or ginger for galangal aren’t foolproof, if you really can’t find those ingredients, you can still get pretty close to those classic Thai flavors with a few standard grocery store swaps.
To make things easy, I kept this recipe pretty basic, to ensure anyone, anywhere could find the ingredients. All you need is fish sauce, garlic, ginger, lime juice, red pepper flakes and a sweetener.
Coconut sugar is made from dried coconut palm nectar (not to be confused with Thai palm sugar, which is made from sugar palm trees), with a taste similar to brown sugar.
And it’s unrefined (which is in keeping with our Real, Whole Foods philosophy here on R+R), meaning it is lower on the glycemic index and, more importantly, contains less fructose than refined white sugar (source).
Of course, coconut sugar is still sugar, so don’t go overboard with it. You need just a touch in this recipe for balance.
After marinating your chicken, you’re ready to grill. But before you go out and buy boneless, skinless chicken breast with zero flavor, let me STOP YOU RIGHT THERE.
PLEASE for the love of all things holy and delicious, buy bone-in, skin-in chicken for this recipe. In fact, buy a whole chicken and cut it into pieces when you get home (or ask the butcher to do it for you). Chicken thighs, drumsticks/legs, wings and breasts all work beautifully in this recipe, but you NEED THE SKIN!
Not only will it get golden and perfectly crispy on the grill, adding serious flavor and interest to the dish, but chicken with the skin on is also perfectly healthy.
I don’t know where the myth came from that eating chicken with the skin on was bad for us, but the truth is that a 12-ounce bone-in, skin-on chicken breast half contains just 2.5 grams of saturated fat and 50 calories more than its similarly portioned skinless counterpart (source). WELL WORTH IT!
Lest we also forget that fat is not the enemy! Healthy fats, like those from nuts/seeds, avocados, olive oil, coconuts and even modest amounts from healthy, pastured animals, are actually incredibly good for us, aiding in digestion, improving skin, hair, nails, regulating blood sugar and even preventing heart disease.
Yep! It’s really true. Fat, including saturated fat, does not cause heart disease, cancer, high cholesterol, obesity or any of the other ills we once thought (source). Phew!
So, now that you’ve got your bone-in, skin-on chicken marinated and ready to cook, fire up that grill and get ready for a flavor bomb explosion to go off in your mouth!
I’ve found the key to getting the most flavor out of this Thai grilled chicken recipe is to continue brushing the marinade on the chicken at every step. So after you grill one side, flip the chicken and brush with the marinade again. Once the chicken comes off the grill, brush with the marinade once more.
There ya go! Delicious, bright, tangy, flavorful and healthy Thai grilled chicken that will totally wow your friends at your next BBQ. Say goodbye to boring boneless, skinless chicken breast and embrace flavor!
P.S. Stay tuned for my Coconut Milk Thai Greens recipe that pairs perfectly with this Thai Grilled Chicken–you can see a little of the delicious side peeking out in the above photo. It tastes even better than it looks! 🙂
Thai Grilled Chicken
- In a small glass bowl, combine the first 7 ingredients (fish sauce through black pepper) and stir to combine.
- Place chicken in a ziplock bag and pour marinade over top, reserving 1/4 cup. Toss the chicken in the bag to coat and allow to marinate in the fridge for 30 minutes up to overnight.
- Preheat gas grill to medium-high. Once hot, add the chicken pieces, skin side down. Cook for 5 minutes over direct heat. Then flip the chicken and move to indirect heat. Take the reserved marinade and brush over top of the chicken skin with a pastry brush. Cook for 7 minutes, or until an internal thermometer reads 160F.
- Serve and enjoy!
If you don't have a gas grill, follow the instructions for grilling chicken on your charcoal grill. Or you can use a cast-iron skillet.
Photo Credit: Heidi Geldhauser