Thai-Style Grilled Chicken (Gai Yang)

Sweet, savory, and intensely aromatic Thai-style grilled chicken. [Photographs: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt]

Thai-style grilled chicken coated in a marinade flavored with cilantro, white pepper, and fish sauce is one of the tastiest things you'll ever pull off of your grill. There's a reason you can't walk more than a few blocks in Bangkok without catching a whiff of its intense aroma. Here's how to make it in your own backyard.

Why this Recipe Works:

  • In place of hard-to-find traditional cilantro root, we use tough and powerfully-flavored cilantro stems.
  • Splitting the chicken in half and holding it steady with skewers makes it easy to flip and maneuver on the grill.
  • For the absolute juiciest chicken, we grill our chicken on the cool side of a two-zone grill until nearly cooked through, then finish it off on the hotter side to crisp up the skin.
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Thai-Style Grilled Chicken (Gai Yang)

About This Recipe

Yield:Serves 3 to 4
Active time:30 minutes
Total time:1 hour 15 minutes
Special equipment:Metal skewers, grill
This recipe appears in: The Food Lab: How to Make Thai-Style Grilled Chicken (Gai Yang)
Rated:

Ingredients

  • 6 medium cloves garlic
  • 12 sprigs cilantro, including thick stalks
  • 3 tablespoons palm or light brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons ground white pepper
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 2 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 2 teaspoons dark soy sauce
  • 2 (3-inch) segments lemongrass (optional)
  • 1 whole chicken, spine removed, split in half along the breast bone
  • 1 recipe Thai-Style Sweet Chili Dipping Sauce

Procedures

  1. 1

    Combine garlic, cilantro, sugar, white pepper, coriander, fish sauce, dark soy sauce, and lemongrass (if using) in the bowl of a food processor. Process until a rough paste is formed. Set aside.

  2. 2

    Place chicken halves flat on a cutting board. Insert two metal skewers into each chicken, running parallel through the legs and the breasts. Transfer chicken to a casserole dish that just fits them. Rub on all surfaces with marinade. Cover, transfer to refrigerator, and allow to marinate for at least 2 hours and up to over night.

  3. 3

    When ready to cook, light one chimney full of charcoal. When all the charcoal is lit and covered with gray ash, pour out and spread the coals evenly over half of coal grate. Alternatively, set half the burners of a gas grill to high heat. Set cooking grate in place, cover gill and allow to preheat for 5 minutes. Clean and oil the grilling grate.

  4. 4

    Place chicken skin-side up on cooler side of grill with legs facing towards hotter side. Cover grill with vents on lid open and aligned over the chicken. Open bottom vents of grill. Cook until instant read thermometer inserted into deepest part of breast registers 140°F, about 45 minutes. Carefully flip chicken and place skin-side-down on hotter side of grill with breasts pointed towards cooler side. Cover and cook until skin is crisp and instant read thermometer inserted into deepest part of breast registers 145 to 150°F, about 3 minutes longer (be careful, the skin is very prone to burning). If chicken threatens to burn before temperature is achieved, carefully slide to cooler side of grill, cover, and continue to cook until done. Do not leave the lid off for longer than it takes to check temperature or chicken will burn.

  5. 5

    Transfer chicken to a cutting board and allow to rest for 5 minutes. Carve and serve with dipping sauce.

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