Skip to content

Deviled Grilled Chicken

Being stateside in preparation for les vacances (vacation), I thought I’d corral Elizabeth Karmel, who I’d had dinner with last spring when we did a special cooking event together, into grilling dinner for me. I know, it was a little forward, but Elizabeth was the chef/consultation to Hill Country Barbecue in Manhattan, which has the distinct honor of pleasing even true, hard-core bbq aficianados. She’s also written a couple of books on grilling, something I thought I knew a little about, but found out there was more to know during a warm summer evening in New York.

Deviled Grilled Chicken

Deviled Grilled Chicken

Perhaps because I’m from California, my idea of grilling is to marinate something, then slapping it on the grill, turning it once, until it’s done on both sides. When she asked what I wanted to make with her, she sent me the French Chicken recipe from her book Taming the Flame, which she said she based on Julia Child’s Poulet grillé au diable, the diable (devil) referring to a hint of spice, and a lot of lively French Dijon mustard in the sauce.

In addition to this recipe, the book is a very comprehensive guide to grilling and barbecuing, full of information, techniques and best of all, a collection of terrific recipes that will have you looking at your grill in a whole new way. Not only is Elizabeth one of the “most important” bbq’ers in America, she was also a French major in college.

Deviled Grilled Chicken

(Another French connection: Some say that the word “barbecue” comes from the French barbe à queue, or “whiskers to tail,” which refers to whole animal cooking, although others say that’s folk etymology.)

Unlike my usual “slap it on the grill” technique, this deviled chicken is cooked over indirect heat, basted frequently with the thick, flavorful sauce, then topped with chapelure (breadcrumbs). When Elizabeth first shared the recipe with me, I suggested that is would be better is marinaded overnight in the sauce. She replied, “Oh, that’s not necessary. The sauce is so flavorful that you don’t need to.” And she was right.

Deviled Grilled Chicken

Elizabeth, who hails from North Carolina, kept telling me about “indirect heat,” and I didn’t get what she was talking about because I was used to going for the char, and speed, whereas some grilling techniques involve low-and-slow cooking, at a more relaxed pace than this Yankee is used to.

Deviled Grilled Chicken

I’d met Elizabeth years ago at a culinary conference and she gave me a silicone basting and grilling brush that she had developed. Being someone who is wary of gimmicks and gadgets, I put it away in a drawer and didn’t pick it up until years later, when I was tired of picking out errant bristles from brushing the tops of pie dough with egg wash, which if I didn’t find and remove, would prompt guests to suggest that I wear a hair net next time that I cooked for them.

Deviled Grilled Chicken

Add to that, all my brushes smelled vaguely (or strongly) of garlic since even though I’d label them “PASTRY ONLY” in dark, block letters, some people (who shall remain nameless…) would ignore that. Another plus is that silicone brushes can go right in the dishwasher, which would take care of most of those offending odors. Although it’s always better to keep ones reserved for pastry, and suggest that if anyone used them for anything else, punishment would be swift and merciless.

Deviled Grilled Chicken

During a group dinner we both attended in New York last spring, stumbling over my words, I confessed that I was skeptical about silicone brushes, but hers had won me over. It was something I was waiting years to get off my chest, and she laughed, waving my silly objections (and apologies) away, and we had a grand time that evening.

So I felt a-ok asking her to give me a grilling lesson because I never want to pass an opportunity to learn something from an expert. And a bonus I discovered: She is one of the few people I’ve cooked with who’s just as persnickety about cross-contamination as I am.

Deviled Grilled Chicken

For the Poulet grillé à la diable, her original recipe called for two whole chickens. As someone who lives in France, but writes for Americans (and others), I always have to remember that French portions are different than American ones. While a French person might be content with a chicken leg or a wing for dinner, in the U.S., most recipe writers figure ½-chicken per person is the right portion for a recipe.

Deviled Grilled Chicken

Since they’re easily available, and tasty, I decided it’d be nice with chicken thighs, which might cook more evenly – and yup, speedier – on the grill. After I plied Elizabeth with a gin & tonic – the first of several, she got to work firing up the grill and laying the thighs not over the highest heat part of the grill, or the flame, but down the center, where that elusive indirect heat is.

We used a Weber Q grill, which is small enough for a New York apartment balcony, and it was a convenient gas model, which could be fired up in a New York minute. (Elizabeth says that she’s done side-by-side taste tests with people, and almost everyone couldn’t tell the difference between food cooked over a gas versus a charcoal grill.) If you have a charcoal grill, move the hot stuff off to the side and find a place over indirect heat to make these thighs.

Deviled Grilled Chicken

Elizabeth showed me that slowing down the cooking, and basting with the mustardy sauce was the way to get it well-seasoned without the usual blitz-charring that I do. Being a renegade, I had suggested grilling some broccoli raab or broccolini to go alongside because I try to eat as many stewing greens as possible when I’m in the states (after tasting this, Romain is beside himself because we don’t get this kind of broccoli raab, or broccolini, in Paris), which was something she had never done – proving that even the experts are open to learning something.

I was predisposed to precooking it a bit, but we tried it throwing it on the grill, raw, tossed in some olive oil with some salt and pepper first – and it was pretty chewy. Elizabeth liked it, but I’m not a fan of toothy greens so the next time I made it, I steamed the greens for a few minutes first, then tossed them with a small amount of olive oil and chopped garlic, and grilled it until it was slightly charred, which made an excellent accompaniment.

Deviled Grilled Chicken

All in all, the meal with a big success. We had a grand time cooking together, I got a little lesson in grilling from an expert, and afterward, we sat down a nice dinner, toasting ourselves over a Franco-American alliance of cooking technique, and flavors.

Grilled Deviled Chicken

Adapted from Taming the Flame by Elizabeth Karmel As mentioned, per person portion sizes can vary. I found one chicken thigh sufficient per person, served as part of a meal with other things on the plate, such as vegetables or potatoes. We used a compact grill, but if your grill is larger, or you want to serve more people, feel free to double the recipe. If you want to make it without the wine or vermouth, use a mix of lemon juice and water. Elizabeth noted that this works fine with boneless, skinless chicken breasts, but to be aware that they will cook faster than thighs. You can also use it with a whole chicken. If so, you’ll want to butterfly the chicken, removing the backbone, cracking the breastbone, then opening the chicken up (like a book) so it lies flat. Tuck the wing tips under the wings, so they don’t burn. She advises grilling the chicken skin side up for 20 minutes, turn the chicken, and spread some of the sauce on the chicken. Grill for 10 more minutes, then turn the chicken over so it is breast side up again, and grill for 5 more minutes, basting with more sauce. Sprinkle the chicken with the crumbs and grill it for another 10 to 15 minutes, basting carefully with additional sauce, until done.
  • 1 tablespoon white wine or vermouth
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons melted butter, salted or unsalted
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, plus additional for coating the chicken
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme, or 1 teaspoon fresh thyme, minced
  • Very generous pinch cayenne, red pepper powder, or paprika (sweet or smoked)
  • 2 small scallions, chopped
  • 8 bone-in, skinless chicken thighs, (about 2 pounds, 1kg)
  • 1/4 cup (20g) toasted breadcrumbs, panko, or cracker crumbs
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Heat the grill to about 375ºF (190ºC), if your grill has a thermometer. If not, get it moderately hot, but remember that this cooks best over medium, indirect heat.
  • In a small bowl, whisk the white wine and mustard together. Slowly drizzle the butter and olive oil into the mustard mixture, whisking constantly. Add the thyme, cayenne and scallions. Set aside.
  • Toss the chicken thighs in a bowl with a good drizzle of olive oil and salt and pepper.
  • Without unrolling or flattening the thighs, set them on a grill, bone side down over indirect heat, not over a direct flame. Lower the cover of the grill and let cook, checking frequently, until the tops of the thighs go from being raw to changing color with the exterior looking cooked. The inside will still be undercooked, and they will have shrunk by about one-third. They should take about 15 minutes to reach this point. The bottom may be nice and crispy. If they get too dark, slip a sheet of aluminum foil under them.
  • Start basting the chicken frequently with the sauce, closing the cover, then lifting it a few minutes later to baste them again. Continue cooking, and basting a bit, until the thighs are cooked through, which will be between 15 and 20 more minutes depending on the temperature of the grill.
  • About ten minutes before the thighs are finished, sprinkle the tops with breadcrumbs and keep basting; avoid disturbing the crumb crust and dribble the sauce over the crumbs, rather than brushing. The thighs are done when you poke a paring knife into one and the chicken is cooked close to the bone or an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part registers at least 165ºF/75ºC. Remove from the grill and serve.


Do-Ahead: Like most grilled food, this is best served hot off the grill. You can make the sauce the same day you plan to grill the chicken.


    • Claire

    As it’s still high summer here in Central Texas and the temps are hovering at or above 100F, we frequently turn to the outdoor grill rather than heat the house. This recipe sounds fantastic! Love the mustard chicken recipe in your latest cookbook and this just sounds even more wonderful being cooked on a grill. I know what’s on the menu for this weekend! Thanks!

    • Suzy | The Mediterranean Dish

    I must admit, I, too, am more in the camp of blitz-charring. But sometimes, it is so worth it to slow down! Elizabeth’s slow-grilled chicken covered in that mustard sauce looks divine! I will be checking out her book!

    • Judy

    Sadly NYC fire regulations prohibit grilling on apartment balconies – may be OK on terraces, i.e., nothing overhead. Some day I will have a grill…

    • Michael

    8 bone-in, skinless chicken things.

    “Chicken things”?

      • Michael

      …fixed now, yea!

    • Anne Wright

    Wow! I will definitely make this recipe in a couple of weeks. Just today I bought some chicken for tonight’s dinner. After I got home I read your interesting words and saw your wonderful photos.Great to see someone from NC, too. I’m originally from Cheraw, SC, just below the state line. Thanks, David!

    • Jenne

    Half a chicken per person?? I know Americans are crazy eaters but that sounds excessive even for us.

      • David
      David Lebovitz

      I always think it’s a lot, too but on the same trip the U.S. I had this, which I could barely finish!

        • Jenne

        Well, maybe at a restaurant, but do home cooks really plan for that?

          • David
          David Lebovitz

          When you write recipes for cookbooks, blogs, etc, you need to plan for a wide range of circumstances. To some, one thigh is plenty per person, but some people like two. A reviewer for my last book said that they were surprised that I said one chicken would feed 4 people, which in France, is normal, but I guess to them, that wasn’t quite enough. So it’s always better to err on the side of having a bit too much so people can enjoy leftovers, rather than ending up short.

            • Bonnie

            I think restaurants now believe they have to provide large portions so people can take a”doggy bag” home for another meal. When Europeans see the size of our portions they are amazed, as they don’t do restaurant leftovers. I and friends have taken to sharing one main course for 2 people and that works very well. Restaurants no longer raise an eyebrow when we do this as they use to a few years ago.

            • Jenne

            Very true! Leftover chicken is always welcome. :-)

    • italiangirlcooks

    I’m in California and I love char marks, and adore my smoker – but am also game for new techniques, especially indirect grilling…will give her book a look at.

    • Annette

    I know you wrote this up as a paean to grilling, but could this chicken dish not also be easily made in an oven? The marinade sounds too luscious to waste.

      • David
      David Lebovitz

      Yes, although I tested it 3x before posting it, I didn’t test it in an oven but could likely be done by basting with the marinade which the thighs cook.

    • Allyson

    As an apartment dweller without a balcony I have minimal ability to grill right now, but if I had a grill I would make this for dinner tonight. It looks fantastic. (P.S. The grill pictured is adorable looking.)

    • Marsha

    this sounds great, but am I correct that you never turn the chicken over?
    Allyson, why not try this in a grill pan on the stove? not quite the same, but better than nothing.

      • David
      David Lebovitz

      It doesn’t get turned over, which helps it get that crisp bottom. However on one of my tests, I found the bottoms got very dark so advise slipping foil under them if they do. (Perhaps it was the cut, size, or type of chicken.)

    • Shirley

    oh, David, you’ve done it again…another wonderful recipe and a lovely story to go with it. I’m going right home to make it as I have thighs waiting for me. Elizabeth Karmel has the most beautiful, warm face…how divine to spend the evening drinking it in. AND her book is on its way to me. Thank you.

    • Linda

    I’ve grilled pork chops using a similar recipe, but adding sage leaves and they were excellent! Agree with you on the silicon brush — my natural bristle pastry brush is a thing of the past.

    • Philip

    I do something similar with a grill pan on the stove top, finishing it in a 350 oven for about 15 minutes, but using boneless, skinless thighs. Perfect for apartment living with an electric stove. Can’t wait to try this recipe– I love mustard, and love breadcrumbs.

    • Audrey

    Pity to forego that lovely crispy skin when grilling!

    • deborah

    Lucky for me, I took chicken thighs out for dinner tonight. In my post-work browsing, I see this beautiful post.
    I love that every ingredient is a pantry staple, so I was able to whip up the marinade in under a minute and had fresh breadcrumbs made from toast.
    The flavour was incredible, the chicken thighs juicy….will definitely make this part of my usual rotation of chicken recipes. Even my non-mustard loving boyfriend loved it!

    Thank you David.

    • terri

    Another persnickety person wants to know–what’s your technique(s) for avoiding cross-contamination?

      • David
      David Lebovitz

      I have several pairs of tongs and spatulas, and make sure that after using them to handle raw chicken, they go right into the dishwasher. I don’t like putting them in the sink because water (and any bacteria on the items) splashing off them can splatter around on things. I also don’t wash chicken before cooking for the same reason. Any bowls or dishes that have held raw chicken go right into the dishwasher as well, not the sink.

    • kittie

    Now in NC, I have found the quiet contemplation of an icy g&t as I wait in the garden for dinner off the grill. Love this one.

    • George SSF

    I love your recipe! The ingredient of this dishes makes the chicken looks so juicy! I cant wait to try this recipe! Thanks for sharing

    • Gavrielle

    Elizabeth says that she’s done side-by-side taste tests with people, and almost everyone couldn’t tell the difference between food cooked over a gas versus a charcoal grill.

    What? Were they dead? I’ve had to retire my non-charcoal barbecue (as we call a grill) because of the flavour difference. Although to be fair, Elizabeth probably cooks expertly on a charcoal barbecue without clouds of unhealthy (yet delicious) smoke, which would make a difference. Either way, however, this recipe looks delicious.

    • Sarah

    Sychophants! Anyone who can’t tell a difference between food cooked over a gas versus a charcoal grill must be a sychophant (or, as Gavrielle suggests, dead!)
    Otherwise, the recipe looks delicious, and I look forward to trying it (on my Weber drum!)
    Love your blog and books, thank you!

    • Leftbankgirl

    This looks easy and so delicious! Grilling and French combined – perfect! I will be trying this soon

    • Robert

    I’ll be trying this soon too. I’m used to charring and then turning the heat down, but I can see how this might keep the meat from drying out.

    • Tim

    I was planning on having this last night but it is summer in San Francisco and it was too cold out. I ended up roasting it in the oven and it was delicious. I promise to try it again on the grill next time!

    • Nick

    I know you said that it was indirect heat, but the pictures look like you’re grilling directly over the flame. I have a same grill and have have never figured out how to set up 2 zones for grilling.


Get David's newsletter sent right to your Inbox!


Sign up for my newsletter and get my FREE guidebook to the best bakeries and pastry shops in Paris...