Greek
Grilled Chicken Drumsticks

The secret to the juiciest, most flavorful grilled chicken thighs is this next-level harissa marinade: garlicky, smoky, perfectly spicy, and delicious! Warming nutmeg and lots of fresh citrus juice give these easy grilled chicken thighs a distinctly Mediterranean twist.

Marinated chicken thighs grilled on a gas grill.
Photo credits: Suzy Karadsheh

The humble chicken thigh, in my opinion, doesn't get enough credit. The meat is packed with flavor and its proximity to the bone keeps it from drying out during cooking. You can leave grilled chicken thighs on the stove for 5 minutes longer and they will still be juicy and tender. They are practically foolproof!

The trick to the BEST grilled chicken thighs, though? Two things. First, lock in those juices by cooking them a little slower than you would with grilled chicken breasts or boneless, skinless grilled chicken thighs. Second, don’t be shy with your marinade. I’d say this one is restaurant-level, but I’ve yet to find a restaurant near me that does such bold, delicious Mediterranean flavors!

I layer a layer of spicy, smoky harissa paste with lots of garlic, fresh citrus juice, and warming, aromatic spices. The meat soaks up the marinade, ideally overnight, but even 30 minutes while the grill heats up will make a big difference. You’re in for a feast of flavor before you start cooking!

Summary
  1. Ingredients and Substitutions for Grilled Chicken Thighs
  2. Featured Ingredient
  3. How to Grill Chicken Thighs
  4. How long to grill chicken legs
  5. What to serve with grilled chicken thighs
  6. Leftovers and conservation
  7. More Grilled Chicken Recipes
  8. Next Level Grilled Chicken Thighs Recipe (Best Marinade)
  9. Try our all-natural sumac!
Top view photo of grilled chicken thighs, garnished with parsley and served on a platter.Top view photo of grilled chicken thighs, garnished with parsley and served on a platter.

Ingredients and Substitutions for Grilled Chicken Thighs

Whenever you have the opportunity to marinate chicken ahead of time for 2-4 hours, or even just 30 minutes, do it! It makes all the difference in infusing the chicken with flavor and tenderizing it delicately. Here's what you'll need to make this chicken thigh recipe:

  • Garlic: The marinade isn't shy about garlic! You'll use about 1 whole head of garlic to infuse the meat with a decidedly garlicky flavor.
  • Red onion adds another layer of sweet, savory flavor to the marinade. Red onion is a little more delicate, but you can use any color of onion you have.
  • Harissa Paste: Adds a smoky, bright, spicy depth (see “Featured Ingredient” below for more information).
  • Spices: Nutmeg AND thyme add an aromatic and warming touch. Sumac adds a hint of tart, tannic flavor (see more below, or replace with citrus zest). salt and the pepper enhance its flavor.
  • Citrus fruits: You need a fresh touch to balance the savory and smoky flavors. Lime or lemon juice both work well.
  • Olive oil helps the flavor creators penetrate the meat during marinating. Use a high quality extra virgin variety for the best flavor. See our shop for my favorites.
  • Chopsticks: Skinless, bone-in chicken thighs cook slowly and remain very juicy, but you can choose the cut you prefer. Just adjust the cooking time: skinless, boneless thighs take about 10 minutes, chicken breasts about 6 minutes.
close-up of the spice sumac.close-up of the spice sumac.
Sumac Spices from Mediterranean food shop.

Featured Ingredient

I love the combination of harissa and sumac, two Mediterranean pantry staples that will take the flavor of simple foods to new heights. Harissa, a North African chili paste, brings a deep complexity of smoky, citrusy, warming, and spicy flavor in just one spoonful. Sumac is often compared to lemon zest, but it’s actually so much more: tannic, slightly earthy, and super tart.

Together, they transform food into an experience: the heat of the harissa is balanced by the acidity of the sumac, and all the tasting notes come out to play. And I have so many more ways to use this dynamic duo!

Top view photo of grilled chicken thighs, garnished with parsley and served on a platter.Top view photo of grilled chicken thighs, garnished with parsley and served on a platter.

How to Grill Chicken Thighs

The trick to grilling chicken thighs is to cook them a little lower and slower, turning them regularly, almost like spit-grilled shawarma but without the spit. Here's how to grill chicken thighs in 4 easy steps:

  • Prepare the garlic and harissa marinade. In a food processor, puree 15 minced garlic cloves, 6 tablespoons harissa paste, 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg, 1 ½ teaspoons sumac, 1 teaspoon thyme, the juice of 2 limes (or lemons), and enough olive oil to make a smooth, runny sauce (about ¼ cup).
  • Season the chicken. Pat 20 large chicken thighs dry with paper towels and season lightly with salt and pepper. Transfer to a large bowl and pour the marinade over the chicken. Rub the marinade into the chicken, especially under the skin.
  • Marinate the chicken. Add 1 sliced ​​red onion and cover the bowl with plastic wrap (or transfer to a large zip-lock bag). Refrigerate for 4 hours or overnight (if you’re short on time, leave the chicken in the marinade at room temperature for 30 minutes).Marinated chicken thighs in a large ziplock plastic bag.Marinated chicken thighs in a large ziplock plastic bag.
  • Get ready to grill. Heat an outdoor grill over medium heat. When the grill is hot, add the chicken thighs in one layer, shaking off any excess marinade, and cover. Grill, turning every 8 minutes or so, until cooked through, 35 to 40 minutes total. Marinated chicken thighs grilled on a gas grill.Marinated chicken thighs grilled on a gas grill.

How long to grill chicken legs

The short answer: 40 minutes on a hot grill with the lid on (rotate so they cook evenly). Longer than you think! If you’re worried about overcooking your chicken thighs when you ask yourself how long to cook chicken thighs, I have good news for you: You can stress less.

Chicken thighs are dark meat, which means they have a lot of connective tissue and muscle. This breaks down at higher temperatures, so chicken thighs actually become tender when grilled, rather than grilled chicken breasts that quickly become dry.

And, because most of the meat is on the bone, which absorbs and holds heat as you grill, grilling chicken thighs is essentially foolproof! Cook chicken thighs to an internal temperature of at least 165°F, but they can go 10-15 degrees higher before drying out.

Close-up of grilled chicken thighs, garnished with parsley, on a serving plate.Close-up of grilled chicken thighs, garnished with parsley, on a serving plate.

What to serve with grilled chicken thighs

I like to serve this chicken thigh recipe with a summer salad. You can't go wrong with classics like cucumber tomato salad or mustard potato salad, but the sweetness of this watermelon salad would really bring out all the sweet, spicy, smoky, citrusy, and fresh flavor notes in one dish. For dipping, something creamy-tart and refreshing is best, like tahini or tzatziki.

Close-up of grilled chicken thighs, garnished with parsley, on a serving plate.Close-up of grilled chicken thighs, garnished with parsley, on a serving plate.

Leftovers and conservation

Store leftover grilled chicken thighs in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days. Reheat in a skillet over medium heat (maybe with a little olive oil) until heated through. You can also give the meat a second life by shredding it and tossing it into salads for a healthy, hearty lunch, like this Easy Mediterranean Bean Salad.

More Grilled Chicken Recipes

Browse all Mediterranean recipes.

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  • Prepare the garlic and harissa marinade. In a food processor, puree the garlic, harissa paste, nutmeg, sumac, thyme, lime or lemon juice, and enough olive oil to make a smooth, runny sauce (about ¼ cup).

  • Season the chicken. Pat the chicken dry with paper towels and season lightly with salt and pepper. Transfer to a large bowl and pour the marinade over the top. Rub the marinade into the chicken drumsticks, especially under the skin.

  • Marinate the chicken. Mix the onions and cover the bowl with plastic wrap (or transfer everything to a large zip-lock bag). Refrigerate for four hours or overnight (if you’re short on time, let the chicken sit at room temperature in the marinade for 30 minutes).

  • Get ready to grill. Heat an outdoor grill over medium heat. When the grill is hot, add the chicken thighs in one layer, shaking off any excess marinade, and cover. Grill, turning every 8 minutes or so, until cooked through, 35 to 40 minutes total.

  • Serve. Discard the marinade and onions and serve the grilled chicken thighs with your favorite sides and sauces—and lots of napkins!

  • Buy this recipe: Visit our shop to discover quality Mediterranean ingredients including olive oil, sumacand harissa used in this recipe.
  • If you choose to substitute harissa with a different chili paste, choose one that doesn’t have sweet undertones. For this recipe, you want a spicy-sour one. And of course, if you prefer a less spicy chicken drumstick, reduce the amount of harissa or chili paste to your taste.
  • How to store leftovers: Leftover chicken legs can be stored in the refrigerator, in an airtight container, for up to 4 days. Heat in a pan over medium heat (perhaps with a drizzle of olive oil) until very hot.

Calories: 315kilocalorieCarbohydrates: 6GProtein: 27.4GFat: 19.8GSaturated fats: 4.6GPolyunsaturated fats: 3.6GMonounsaturated fat: 9.7GTrans Fats: 0.1GCholesterol: 139.3mgSodium: 396mgPotassium: 420.3mgFiber: 1GSugar: 2GVitamin A: 142.2IUC vitamin: 7.6mgSoccer: 34.4mgIron: 1.4mg

Try our all-natural sumac!

This spicy, smoky, and slightly acidic spice is just the thing to add a little kick to grilled chicken thighs.

a jar of sumac from the Mediterranean dish.a jar of sumac from the Mediterranean dish.

*This post originally appeared on The Mediterranean Dish in 2015 and has recently been updated with new information and multimedia for the benefit of our readers.

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