Grilled Lemon Pepper Chicken Thighs
At the start of this past spring, both oregano and thyme were exploding in my garden and I had to find uses for these two herbs as I harvested large quantities of each. That led to them being featured in a number of recipes at my first Meatwave of 2022, but none as much as these lemon pepper chicken thighs. To be honest, this recipe was kind of an afterthought—something tossed into the mix merely to add another meaty offering, which the menu was lacking—so it was a bit of a surprise when this dish actually became my favorite thing I cooked that day.
Having the need to use up a lot of oregano and thyme, the marinade was built around those ingredients and took some queues from Greek souvlaki with a base of olive oil, lemon juice, and garlic to pair with the herbs and impart a fitting spring flavor. To give the marinade a bit more depth though, I used Dijon mustard, light brown sugar, and a lot of freshly ground black pepper.
When I can, I always opt for thighs for the grill because their fat content makes them quite the forgiving cut compared to breasts, which dry out quickly if overcooked. Thighs, like legs, are also pretty easy to eat with one hand and without cutlery, which are always positive traits for cookouts. To prep the few pounds of thighs I purchased, I merely trimmed away any loose fat and skin, which was quick and easy work.
I then transferred all the chicken to the marinade and tossed to evenly coat. The whole bag of soaked thighs then went into the fridge for just a few hours prior to grilling—the high acid content of this marinade means that shorter soaking times are key to prevent the meat from developing a mushy quality.
To grill these up, I started them skin-side up on the cool side of a two-zone fire—that's when all the coals are arranged on one side of the charcoal grate. I let them cook like that, covered, until they just started to brown, at which time I flipped them skin-side down and rearranged the thighs that were furthest from the fire to be closest, and vice versa.
After another ten minutes of cooking, I began checking for doneness and moving the thighs around so they were evenly browning. Since you get a lot of leeway with thighs, I was looking for a final internal temperature of between 175-185°F, but wasn't all that worried if they went a tad over that too. I was expecting to give the thighs a final browning over direct heat, but as they began to reach their final temperature, they were all beautifully browned with some attractive charring and didn't need any extra time over direct heat.
They certainly had good looks, but compared to the other more complex recipes I had going on that day, I was expecting rather lukewarm response from myself. Instead, what I got in that first bite had me singing the praises of these little bundles of chicken joy to all of my guests. The meat was super juicy with an amazing bright citrus tang the was embedded throughout. A peppery kick heightened the flavor a lot with the mustard adding just the slightest bit of sharpness after being balanced by the sugars. The herbs were also accounted for, but more as little bits of char that didn't taste burnt, but concentrated specs of flavor. Of course I try out all my recipes at each Meatwave, and since I tend to do a number of recipes at once, I often just sample enough to allow me to judge, fix, and write about each one. In the case of these thighs though, I went back for two more after taste testing all of my recipe that day because I couldn't get enough of them!
Grilled Lemon Pepper Chicken Thighs
- Yield 4-6 servings
- Prep 10 Minutes
- Inactive 2 Hours
- Cook 35 Minutes
- Total 2 Hours 45 Minutes
- 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
- 2 tablespoons freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon lemon zest
- 1 tablespoon finely minced fresh garlic (about 3 medium cloves)
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh oregano
- 1 tablespoons finely chopped fresh thyme
- 1 tablespoon light brown sugar
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 2 lbs skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs, trimmed of excess skin and fat
- In a large bowl, whisk together olive oil, lemon juice, mustard, black pepper, lemon zest, garlic, oregano, thyme, brown sugar, and salt. Place chicken thighs in bowl and toss to evenly coat chicken in marinade. Cover bowl and place in refrigerator for 2 to 4 hours.
- Light one chimney full of charcoal. When all the charcoal is lit and covered with gray ash, pour out and arrange the coals on one side of the charcoal grate. Set cooking grate in place, cover grill and allow to preheat for 5 minutes. Clean and oil the grilling grate. Place chicken thighs, skin side up, on cool side of grill, cover, and cook for 15 minutes.
- Flip chicken skin side down and rearrange thighs that were closest to the fire to be further away and the ones that were furthest away to be closer to the coals. Cover and continue to cook until thighs register between 175 and 185°F in the thickest part of the meat, about 15 to 20 minutes more. Transfer thighs to serving platter, let rest for 5 minutes, then serve.