North Alabama Chicken with White BBQ Sauce

Photo: Christina Holmes

Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q in Decatur, Alabama, is dubbed “home of white barbecue sauce”—a tangy concoction based on mayonnaise and cider vinegar with a healthy dose of black pepper. Here’s my take with a cut-up chicken, so there are plenty of nooks and crannies for the sauce to season. If you’re using charcoal, you can throw a couple of chunks of hickory wood on the fire when you put the chicken on the grill, but it’s not necessary for delicious results.

Makes: 4 servings
Time: 40 to 70 minutes, largely unattended


  • 1 whole chicken (3–4 pounds), cut into 8 pieces

  • Salt and pepper

  • 1 ⁄ 2 cup mayonnaise

  • 1 ⁄ 4 cup cider vinegar

  • 2 tablespoons apple juice


1. Start the coals or heat a gas grill for medium-high indirect cooking (see below for more detail). Make sure the grates are clean. If using charcoal, put a drip pan under the indirect side of the grill; for gas, empty, clean, and replace the fat trap.

2. Trim excess fat and skin from the chicken without exposing the meat. Pat the chicken dry with paper towels, then season on all sides with salt and pepper.

3. Whisk the mayonnaise, vinegar, apple juice, a sprinkle of salt, and a generous pinch of pepper together in a large bowl until smooth. Let sit at room temperature while the chicken cooks.

4. Put the chicken on the indirect side of the grill skin side up, so the dark meat is as close to the fire as possible without any danger of fat dripping onto the flames or pilot lights. Put the breasts farther away from the fire. Close the lid and cook, turning the pieces and rotating them 180 degrees for even browning after 15 to 20 minutes for breasts, 20 to 30 minutes for dark meat. Cook until the meat is no longer pink at the bone; depending on the size of the pieces, this can take 25 to 40 minutes total for the breasts and 40 to 50 minutes for dark meat. (Nick with a small knife and peek inside.)

5 Fit a rimmed baking sheet with a wire rack. Move the chicken directly over the fire, skin side down, to crisp up for 1 to 3 minutes; if using gas, first turn the heat down to medium. Whisk the sauce briefly, and as the pieces of chicken finish, add them to the sauce and turn to coat. Transfer the pieces to the rack to let any excess sauce drip of, then serve.

Chicken with Horseradish White BBQ Sauce

Horseradish adds even more kick: Decrease the cider vinegar to 2 tablespoons; substitute 4 teaspoons prepared horseradish for the apple juice. You can omit the black pepper from the sauce if you like.

Chicken with Chipotle White BBQ Sauce

Actually, it’s pinkish, and delivers deep, smoky heat: Substitute 2 tablespoons rice vinegar for the cider vinegar and lime juice for the apple juice, and add 1 teaspoon ground chipotle chile powder, or to taste. Omit the black pepper from the sauce.

Chicken with Dijon White BBQ Sauce

The mellowest of these variations: Substitute 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar for the cider vinegar and 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard for the apple juice. Omit the black pepper from the sauce if you like.

Cooking Poultry Over Indirect Heat

Easy to remember: Bone-in thighs, drumsticks, and wings, as well as whole chickens, turkeys, ducks, and geese, should all be cooked over in- direct heat. Using indirect heat, bone-in poultry will cook evenly all the way through and develop crisp and golden skin on the outside, even on a gas grill. You can always get even more browning by moving whole birds and parts over the hotter part of the grill for short periods at the end of cooking.

Bone-in Poultry Parts

When I have a lot of chicken parts to cook, I often use three-zone indirect heat to apply the heat equally from both sides of the grill at the same time. For gas, heat the grill with all the burners set on high for 15 minutes, then turn of the inner burner (or burners), leaving the ones on the outside on high or medium-high, depending on how fast you want to cook. For a charcoal grill, after you dump in the lit coals and the flames die down, push them into two roughly equal piles flanking the sides of the drip pan.

If your gas or charcoal grill doesn’t have enough room for three-zone cooking without flare-ups, or you have a ton of chicken to cook, set up for two-zone indirect cooking (where one side has coals or burners on underneath, and the other side doesn’t).

With gas or charcoal—in either a two- or three- zone configuration—start the poultry pieces skin side up on the indirect zone, as close to the fire as possible. Make sure any dripping fat is away from the flames, including any pilot lights—otherwise you’ll have flare-ups and burn the meat. If you’re cooking an entire cut-up chicken, position the dark meat pieces closest to the fire and the breast pieces further away. About halfway through cooking, turn them over and rotate the pieces 180 degrees for even cooking and move them as necessary so they’re done at approximately the same time.

Recipe from How to Grill Everything (Photo: Christina Holmes)