Barbecued Chicken Kebabs

I only had to say two words to get Shane on board with this recipe: bacon paste. I know, right? There was no way he wasn’t going to be excited about these kebabs once I told him the secret ingredient. I’d never heard of bacon paste, much less made it myself, but it’s as simple as pulsing a slice of bacon in your food processor until it forms a paste. Admittedly, it’s not the prettiest thing, but when it transforms ordinary chicken kebabs into something so delicious, who cares? The bacon paste is used to coat the chicken, and keeps it moist, even on a really hot grill; you won’t notice the flavor of the bacon in the finished dish, it just lends some smokiness.

Barbecued Chicken Kebabs

We’ve made this recipe several times already this summer, it’s definitely a favorite. I always halve it for the two of us and use chicken breasts, though thighs would work as well. Some of the barbecue sauce is brushed on the kebabs while they cook, and the rest is reserved to serve with the chicken. The meat is so flavorful we never end up using the reserved sauce so in the future I’d quarter the sauce recipe for us. There is a bit of prep work involved with the recipe, but the chicken cooks so quickly it all evens out in the end for me. One note about the bacon paste – don’t be afraid to get in there with your hands to coat the chicken with it. I tried a rubber spatula the first time I made the recipe and not only was it more difficult, but the chicken wasn’t as thoroughly coated. Yes, it’s messy but the end result is worth it!

Barbecued Chicken Kebabs
from Cook’s Illustrated, May/June 2011

(You can also make the recipe with chicken thighs, you may need to cook them an extra few minutes but otherwise, no changes.)

Barbecue Sauce
1/2 cup ketchup
1/4 cup molasses
2 tablespoons grated onion
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1 tablespoon light brown sugar

Kebabs
2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch cubes (see note)
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 tablespoons sweet paprika
4 teaspoons sugar
2 teaspoons smoked paprika
2 slices bacon, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
4 12-inch metal skewers

Add the chicken and salt to a large bowl and stir to combine. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes to 1 hour.

Meanwhile, make the barbecue sauce: Combine all of the ingredients in a small saucepan. Set over medium heat and bring to a simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 5-7 minutes, or until the sauce thickens and reduces to about 1 cup. Set aside 1/2 cup of the sauce to serve with the cooked chicken, the other 1/2 cup is for brushing the kebabs.

Preheat your grill – turn the burners to high, close the lid and let heat for at least 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, use paper towels to pat chicken dry. Mix the sweet paprika, sugar and smoked paprika together in a small bowl. Add the bacon to your food processor and pulse until the bacon becomes a smooth paste, about 30-45 seconds, scraping down the sides of the bowl once or twice. Combine the chicken, spice mixture and bacon paste in a large bowl and use your hands to mix and coat the chicken evenly. Thread the chicken onto the skewers.

Leave one burner of your grill on high and turn the others off. Place the kebabs over the hot burner, and grill (covered), giving them a quarter turn every 2 minutes, until browned and slightly charred on all sides, about 8 minutes. If a flare-up occurs, just move the kebabs to the cool side of the grill temporarily (I’ve never had this problem).

Brush one side of the kebabs with about 1/4 cup sauce then flip and cook until the sauce browns a bit, about 1 minute. Brush the other side with the remaining 1/4 cup sauce, flip and cook until brown, about 1 more minute. The chicken should register 160 F on an instant read thermometer. Transfer the kebabs to a platter and let rest for 5 minutes before serving with 1/2 cup reserved sauce.