Spicy Sweet-and-Sour Grilled Chicken

Makes 6 servings
  • Active time: 45 min
    Total time: 1 hr 50 min
There are hundreds, if not thousands, of barbecue chicken recipes out there, and we've certainly had our share, so we can say with authority that this spicy sweet-and-sour grilled chicken is the best we've had to date. It's got enough heat to titillate your taste buds, but not so much that kids will steer clear. The additions of tomato paste and soy sauce provide deep, dark, low notes that keep the sauce from squealing. In other words, it's heat with harmony.

This recipe is part of our Gourmet Modern Menu: Fiery Fare. Click here to view the full menu.
Published in Gourmet Live 08.29.12


For the Sauce:

  • 1 cup water
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons tomato paste (from a 6-ounce can)
  • 1 cup soy sauce
  • 1 cup distilled white vinegar
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup minced onion (about 1 medium)
  • 1/3 cup minced serrano or jalapeño chiles with seeds
  • 1/4 cup minced garlic (about 9 large cloves)

For the Chicken:

  • 6 large chicken drumsticks (about 1 1/2 pounds)
  • 6 large chicken thighs (about 2 pounds), trimmed of any excess fat and skin
  • Lime wedges for serving


  • Instant-read thermometer


  • Stir together water and tomato paste in a 2 1/2- to 3-quart heavy saucepan until smooth, then stir in remaining sauce ingredients. Bring mixture to a boil, stirring, then reduce heat and briskly simmer, stirring occasionally, until sauce is reduced to 2 1/4 cups, 50 to 60 minutes. Stir frequently toward end of cooking to prevent sticking. Reserve 1 cup sauce for serving.
  • Prepare grill for indirect-heat grilling over medium-hot charcoal (medium-high heat for gas grills; see Grilling Procedure below).
  • Pat chicken dry (do not season with salt and pepper). Lightly oil grill rack and place chicken, skin side down, on area with no coals underneath (over turned-off burner if using gas). Grill, covered, turning once, until chicken registers 165°F, 22 to 25 minutes. (Chicken may appear pale; no cause for worry.)
  • Brush generously all over with some of sauce, then move chicken directly over coals (turned-on burners if using gas). Grill chicken, covered, turning and moving to area with no coals or heat underneath if flare-ups occur, until browned, 3 to 5 minutes more. (Add more charcoal during grilling if necessary to maintain heat.)
  • Serve chicken with reserved sauce.


  • Sauce can be made 3 days ahead and kept refrigerated once cooled. Reheat before using.


Charcoal Grilling Instructions:

  • Open vents on bottom and lid of grill. Light a large chimney starter full of charcoal (preferably hardwood). When coals are lit, dump them out along two opposite sides of bottom rack, leaving a space free of charcoal in middle of rack equal to the size of the food to be grilled.
  • When lit charcoal turns grayish white (start checking coals after 15 minutes), the grill will be at its hottest and will then begin to cool off. How long you can hold your hand 5 inches above the grill rack directly over the coals determines the heat of your grill, as follows:
    • Hot: 1 to 2 seconds
    • Medium Hot: 3 to 4 seconds
    • Low: 5 to 6 seconds

Gas Grilling Instructions:

  • Preheat all burners on high covered, 10 minutes, then adjust heat according to recipe. Turn off one burner (the middle one, if there are three).
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