Lemon-Barbecue Chicken

The crispy skin and bold flavor of this grilled chicken are enough reason to party.

Lemon-Barbecue Chicken
Photo: Antonis Achilleos; Food Styling: Ruth Blackburn; Prop Styling: Kay E. Clarke
Active Time:
45 mins
Chill Time:
3 hrs
Rest Time:
10 mins
Total Time:
3 hrs 55 mins

This Lemon-Barbecue Chicken is lemony and bright thanks to a quick and easy marinade that can be mixed up to two days in advance. Crispy charred skin from the grill makes this chicken stand out; starting the chicken skin-side up on the grill allows the skin to dry out, making it less likely to stick once flipped.

Dried herbs add lots of flavor into the marinade—and you don't have to worry about them burning on the grill. The marinade has a high percentage of acid to tenderize the meat, but this also means you'll want to wait to add the chicken until about four hours before cooking. If left to marinate for too long, the acid in the marinade will break down the proteins in the chicken and change the texture.

Our recipe for Lemon-Barbecue Chicken comes from the Southern Living Party Cookbook, which was originally published in 1972. Author Celia Marks, a food writer from Chattanooga who passed in 2005, created it as a handbook for the Southern host who wants to entertain well and still enjoy the party. She provides menus for holiday celebrations, casual and fancy dinners, and brunches of all types. We've modernized her Lemon-Barbecue Chicken recipe a bit, but the bold flavor of the original is still there. Simple and versatile, this barbecue chicken recipe will be a fantastic addition to your summer cookouts. Serve with Sidney's Potato Salad, Mrs. R's Coleslaw, and Janie May's Baked Beans.


  • 1 cup olive oil

  • ½ cup fresh lemon juice (from 3 lemons)

  • 2 teaspoons dried basil

  • 2 teaspoons onion powder

  • ½ teaspoon dried thyme leaves

  • 1 garlic clove, smashed

  • 1 tablespoon plus 1½ tsp. kosher salt, divided

  • 2 (3½- to 4-lb.) whole chickens, cut lengthwise in half, backbones removed 

  • Lemon halves, for garnish (optional)

  • Fresh basil, for garnish (optional) 


  1. Whisk together olive oil, lemon juice, basil, onion powder, thyme, garlic, and 1 tablespoon of the salt in a large bowl. Add chicken halves; toss to coat. Cover; chill for 3 to 5 hours, turning chicken halves occasionally.

  2. Preheat grill to medium (350°F to 400°F). Remove chicken from marinade; discard marinade. Sprinkle evenly with remaining 1½ teaspoons salt. Place skin side up, on oiled grates, and grill, covered, turning occasionally, until a meat thermometer inserted into thickest portion registers 165°F, 35 to 45 minutes.

  3. Transfer chicken to a platter; rest for 10 minutes before serving. Garnish with lemon halves and basil, if desired.

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