Sweet Tea Brined BBQ Chicken Recipe | Chef Virginia Willis

Eat | Sweet Tea Brined BBQ Chicken

Summer is warm weather, sunshine, and swimming. It also means gardening… one of my favorite summer pastimes. As a chef, there’s something deeply satisfying about growing my own fruits, vegetables, and herbs, and then cooking them.

Fresh from the farmer's market | Chef Virginia Willis

Around July 4th is when summer really hits its stride. I love summer food and the farmers markets are bursting with fresh produce. Watermelons are sweet and ripe, and fresh Georgia peaches are ready to be transformed into pie, cobbler, and ice cream.

Fresh from the farmer's market | Chef Virginia Willis

Food just tastes better when served outdoors on a beautiful evening. I love to grill throughout the year, but in the summer, it’s just plain practical to keep the heat out of the kitchen. Burgers and brats are brilliant, steaks and seafood are stupendous, but perhaps my absolute favorite summer grilling meal is the cheap and cheerful chicken served with grilled vegetables.

Fresh from the farmer's market | Chef Virginia Willis

Dining al fresco is one of the true joys of the season. I hope you enjoy this menu for dinner on the grill. Happy 4th of July! Everybody stay smart, be safe, and eat well!

Sweet Tea Brined BBQ Chicken

Sweet Tea Brined BBQ Chicken Recipe | Chef Virginia Willis


  • 4 quarts hot water
  • ¾ cup coarse kosher salt
  • 1/3 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
  • 1 family size tea bag
  • 2 cups ice cubes
  • 1 (4-pound) chicken, cut into 8 pieces, or 6 bone-in skin-on breasts or thighs
  • Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Mama’s Barbecue Sauce (see below), warmed

Combine the water, salt, brown sugar, and tea bag in a large plastic container. Stir to dissolve and let sit for a few minutes for the tea to steep. Add ice to chill, then add the chicken; cover and marinate in the refrigerator for 4 to 6 hours.

Prepare a charcoal fire using about 6 pounds of charcoal and burn until the coals are completely covered with a thin coating of light gray ash, 20 to 30 minutes. Spread the coals evenly over the grill bottom, position the grill rack above the coals, and heat until medium-hot (when you can hold your hand 5 inches above the grill surface for no longer than 3 or 4 seconds). Or, for a gas grill, turn on all burners to high, close the lid, and heat until very hot, 10 to 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, remove the chicken from the marinade. Pat dry with paper towels, season with pepper, and set aside.

Using a wad of paper towels or an old cloth and a pair of tongs, apply some canola oil to the grill grate. Place the chicken on the grill, leaving plenty of space between each piece. Grill until seared, 1 to 2 minutes per side for legs and thighs, and 3 or so minutes for breasts. Move the chicken to where the heat is medium-low or lower the heat in a gas grill to medium. Continue to grill, turning occasionally, until the juices run clear when pierced, 12 to 18 minutes.

During the last 5 to 7 minutes of cooking, brush the chicken with the barbecue sauce. (Any sooner and the sauce will burn.) Remove the chicken pieces from the grill as soon as they are done and transfer to a platter. Give them a final brush of sauce for flavor and serve immediately with additional sauce on the side.

Georgia Barbecue Sauce – makes about 6 ½ cups

Make a batch, then separate out a cup or so for brushing on the chicken. Don’t dip your brush in the big pot, then dab it on half-cooked chicken and then serve that same sauce on the side. Eew. That’s just bad food safety and asking for a tummy ache.


  • ½ cup canola oil
  • 1 sweet onion, very finely chopped
  • 2½ cups ketchup
  • 2 cups apple cider vinegar
  • ½ cup Worcestershire sauce
  • ¼ cup Dijon mustard
  • 2 tablespoons firmly packed dark brown sugar
  • Juice of 2 lemons
  • 2 tablespoons freshly ground black pepper, or to taste
  • Coarse salt

Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat; add the onion and simmer until soft and melted, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the ketchup, vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, mustard, brown sugar, lemon juice, and pepper.

Bring to a boil, decrease the heat to low, and simmer until the flavors have smoothed and mellowed, at least 10 and up to 30 minutes. Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator. It will last for months.

Herb Marinated Grilled Vegetables – Serves 6

Herb Marinated Grilled Vegetables | Chef Virginia Willis


  • ½ cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • Kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper
  • 2 zucchini
  • 2 yellow squash
  • 15 asparagus
  • 1 eggplant
  • 1 teaspoon fresh rosemary; chopped
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves, removed from stem and chopped
  • 1 teaspoon fresh basil, chiffonade
  • 1 teaspoon fresh oregano, removed from the stem and chopped

Whisk together olive oil, rosemary, thyme, basil, oregano and garlic. Slice the zucchini, squash, and eggplant about ¼” thick and arrange in a shallow dish. Add the asparagus. Pour the marinade over the vegetables and toss to coat. Season with salt and pepper.

Grill the vegetables 6 inches away from the heat source until they are tender, brushing them with the marinade as they cook and turning once or twice, until they are tender, 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and add chopped herbs. Toss to coat. Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper. Serve immediately.

Virginia Willis





For more information about Virginia, visit www.virginiawillis.com

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