Grilled Chicken Thighs With Honey Sesame Glaze

Grilled Chicken Thighs recipe with Honey Sesame Glaze is savory-sweet, juicy and utterly delicious with just minutes of hands-on prep!

These Grilled Chicken Thighs are finger lickin’ good and one of my husband’s all-time favorites!  They’re a little sweet, a little sticky, a little spicy, a little tangy and a whole lot of YUM!  The sensational honey sesame glaze is made with pantry friendly ingredients of honey, soy sauce, ketchup, sesame oil and rice wine punctuated by zesty ginger, garlic and chili sauce.   Best of all, the glaze doubles as the marinade for effortlessly flavorful chicken in minutes without double the work!  Come dinner time, just pop the chicken on the grill (oven and skillet instructions included) and serve with your favorite sides like coconut rice, grilled vegetables and  fruit salad.

We love grilled chicken!  Grilling chicken makes dinnertime a breeze with hardly any cleanup!  Some of our favorite grilled chicken recipes include: Greek chicken, cilantro chicken,  chili lime chickenHawaiian chicken ,buffalo chicken and now you can add these grilled chicken thighs to the list!

HOW TO MAKE grilled chicken thighs VIDEo

top view of grilled chicken thighs on a platter
serving boneless grilled chicken thighs on a plate garnished by green onions

Grilled Chicken Thigh Marinade ingredients

The marinade ingredient list may look lengthy, but you are just whisking the sauce ingredients together which takes minutes. Let’s take a closer look at what you’ll need (full measurements in the printable recipe card at the bottom of the post):

  • Soy sauce: grounds the marinade with its salty depth. Use low sodium so your chicken isn’t too salty.
  • Oyster sauce:  this adds that extra punch of flavor that cannot be replicated with other ingredients/sauces.  Oyster sauce is a thick, brown sauce with a balance between sweet and salty with an earthy undertone, due to the oyster extracts.  You can find oyster sauce in the Asian aisle of any supermarket for only a few dollars.  Please use QUALITY oyster sauce such as Lee Kum Kee or Kikkoman.  You truly can taste the difference and will be sorely disappointed with less quality brands.
  • Honey and sugar:  honey sesame is a favorite combination because it beautifully balance the umami of the soy and oyster sauce. You may substitute with additional granulated sugar or honey. 
  • Asian sweet chili sauceis a secret ingredient I like to use instead of just adding additional sugar AKA it’s sugar with flavor.  It is made with red chilies, onion, garlic, brown sugar and fish sauce for a one stop complex flavor stop.  It can be found in the Asian section of your grocery store.  It is sometimes labeled “Thai Sweet Chili Sauce.” Please do not confuse it with Asian Chili sauce/paste without the “sweet” – or your mouth will be on fire! 
  • Asian chili sauce:  is needed to balance the sweetness of the honey and add a depth of flavor.  I use Sambal Oelek with the green lid but you can also use your favorite chili sauce.
  • Ketchup: adds a rich tanginess but I promise it won’t make your grilled chicken thighs taste like ketchup!
  • Rice wine:  adds a sweetness and depth of flavor to the marinade.  I use “Kikkoman Aji-Mirin: Sweet Cooking Rice Seasoning” which is commonly found in the Asian section of most grocery stores or you can Amazon it. I highly suggest you google image before you head off to the grocery store so you know exactly what you are looking for.  The best substitute for rice wine is pale dry sherry. Do NOT substitute rice wine with rice vinegar, they are NOT the same.  Rice vinegar will add an acidic flavor without the sweetness.
  • Aromatics: ginger, and garlic add warm spicy, almost peppery notes. I use ground instead of fresh because I find them more pleasing in the glaze portion – but you may use fresh if you prefer.
serving marinated grilled chicken thighs

How to Grill Chicken Thighs 

The important elements to really juicy grilled chicken thighs is a fabulous marinade, trimmed fat, a hot grill and a meat thermometer. Here’s an overview of how to make them (full printable recipe in at the bottom of the post)

Step 1: Make the Marinade  

  • Whisk together all of the grilled chicken thigh marinade/glaze ingredients together in a large freezer bag or shallow dish (whatever you are going to marinate the chicken in).  
  • Remove ¼ cup of the marinade to use later as the glaze. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Step 2: Marinate the Chicken  

  • Add the boneless chicken thighs to the remaining ¾ of the marinade in the bag/bowl and turn to coat. Seal and refrigerate for 2 hours, or up to overnight.  
  • When you’re ready to grill the chicken thighs, remove them from the fridge and let rest at room temperature for 20-30 minutes. 
showing how to to make grilled chicken thighs recipe by marinating the chicken in a glass bowl

Step 3: Grill the Chicken Thighs 

  • Grease and preheat the grill to medium high heat, 375°F.
  • Grill chicken, covered, for 5-7 minutes per side, or until chicken is cooked through and an internal temperature reaches 170 degrees F.
  • Transfer chicken to a cutting board and let rest 5 minutes before slicing.
showing how to make grilled chicken thighs by grilling on the grill until seared and golden

How to Cook chicken thighs in the oven or stove

You may also bake or cook the chicken on the stovetop, although we love the added smoky char and easy cleanup of the grill!

top view of grilled chicken thighs on a platter
  • Use chicken thighs. For the juiciest, most flavorful chicken without becoming overly charred, use chicken thighs. If you choose chicken breasts, use filets.
  • Marinate the chicken: You can get away with marinating the chicken for as little as 60 minutes, but the longer you marinate the chicken, the more flavorful it will become. I recommend at least 4 hours.
  • Bring chicken to room temperature before cooking. You always want any protein to sit at room temperature for 15-30 minutes before cooking (and larger cuts even longer). Room temperature chicken will cook faster if started at a higher temperature which means the outside is less likely to overcook and there is less time for moisture to be released while cooking.
  • Grease the grill or pan very well. The honey in the marinade makes the chicken prone to sticking, so make sure you grease your grill or pan very well. If using a grill pan, use paper towels or a brush to coat it in oil; if using a skillet, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil before adding chicken.
  • Use a meat thermometer to check for doneness. Always use a meat thermometer so you don’t undercook or overcook your chicken. A meat thermometer means perfectly grilled tender, juicy chicken thighs ever time.
  • Allow for carryover. I recommend removing the boneless chicken thighs from the grill at 170 degrees F. This is 5 degrees under the final desired temperature of 175 degrees F. This allows for carryover, meaning the temperature will continue to rise 5 degrees once the chicken is removed from the heat.
  • Let the chicken rest. After the chicken is finished cooking, transfer it to a cutting board and let rest for 5-10 minutes before slicing so it has time to reabsorb the juices that have pushed towards the outside of the chicken. If you cut into the chicken immediately after cooking, valuable, moisture-giving juices will run out.
  • Customize the heat. You can customize the heat of the grilled chicken thigh marinade by adding more or less chili sauce. 
up close of boneless grilled chicken thighs showing how juicy they are

FAQs About Marinating Chicken thighs

HOW LONG SHOULD CHICKEN BE MARINATED? 

Chicken thighs are best if the marinade is allowed to work its magic for at least 4-6 hours. However, the chicken can be refrigerated in the marinade for as long as 24 hours! 

IS IT POSSIBLE TO MARINATE CHICKEN FOR TOO LONG?

Yep! You can marinate the chicken for up to 24 hours, but don’t push it too much longer than that otherwise the acid in the marinade can break down the muscle fibers too much and make your chicken mushy.   

SHOULD YOU POKE HOLES IN THE CHICKEN BEFORE MARINATING IT? 

No, you should NOT poke holes in the chicken before marinating. This actually drains out the valuable juices and will result in less juicy marinated chicken thighs. You can cut slits in thick pieces of chicken like chicken legs to reach deeper into the protein, but never poke holes.

WHAT ARE THE BEST CONTAINERS FOR MARINATING CHICKEN? 

I prefer food-safe sealable plastic bags such as freezer Ziploc bags. They really allow the marinade to envelop the chicken vs. a dish in which the marinade might not cover all of it.  When using a plastic bag, make sure to squeeze out excess air before sealing then roll up the bag so the chicken is nice and snug. Sealable bags are also great for easy cleanup – just toss them!

You may also use food grade plastic, stainless steel, or glass containers and cover with plastic wrap if they don’t have a lid. If you marinate the boneless chicken thighs in a shallow dish, make sure to flip the chicken over occasionally so it marinates evenly.

SHOULD I MARINATE CHICKEN IN THE FRIDGE? 

Always marinate chicken for a prolonged period of time covered in the refrigerator and not at room temperature to avoid food-born illness. Only remove the chicken thighs from the fridge to the counter 30 minutes before you’re ready to grill to help bring it to room temperature so it cooks more evenly. 

CAN CHICKEN BE FROZEN IN A MARINADE? 

Yes! If you can’t get to cooking your marinating grilled chicken thighs within 12 hours, just pop it in the freezer – another perk of using sealable plastic bags. When it’s time to cook, just thaw and cook immediately. You don’t want the chicken to marinate again or it can become mushy.

  • Use a different cut of chicken: I typically make this recipe with boneless chicken thighs because the rich flavor holds its own against the strong marinade, but the marinade works with any cut of chicken.  Just note that you’ll need to slice chicken breasts thinly and cook them just until they reach an internal temperature of 165F. 
  • Customize the marinade: The marinade is perfect for us, but you may find you like it sweeter, tangier, or spicier.  Taste the marinade before adding the chicken.  Sweeten it up with sugar or add sweet heat with Asian Sweet Chili Sauce, make it tangier with rice wine or spicier with additional chili sauce. Just keep a note of your adjustments then whip out the perfect marinade for next time.  
  • Make it spicy: Increase the amount of sambal oelek in the marinade, or add a pinch of red pepper flakes. 
  • Make it gluten-free. Use gluten free soy sauce or tamari, gluten free oyster sauce and double check that your Asian sweet chili sauce and ketchup are gluten free.
showing how to serve marinated grilled boneless chicken thighs with rice and vegetables

 

  • Kabobs: Instead of grilling the chicken thighs whole, chop it into chunks and skewer along with pineapple, bell peppers and onions. 
  • Salad: Load up your favorite greens with grilled chicken and vegetables such as bell peppers, cucumbers and carrots. Throw in some nuts, like cashews, for crunch and some mango, pineapple or papaya for sweetness. Toss in some cilantro, green onions and drizzle with Peanut Sriracha Dressing.
  • Wraps: Serve the chicken in a flatbread with lettuce, veggies and any desired toppings.
  • Lettuce wraps:  Go low carb and load bib lettuce leaves with grilled boneless chicken thighs and veggies and top with avocado crema. 
  • Tacos:  Add leftover grilled chicken thighs to a charred tortilla along with black beans, and desired toppings such pineapple slaw, avocado crema and sriracha aioli. I particularly love it with mango salsa, pineapple salsa or corn salsa.
  • Grain Bowls:  Pile chicken on hot steamed rice, coconut rice or grains of choice, top with greens of choice, grilled or roasted vegetables (roasted sweet potatoes are amazing), fresh vegetables such as tomatoes and cucumbers and tasty toppings such as pickled red onions, pineapple, mango, avocado, cashews/almonds or peanuts, etc. Drizzle it all with Thai Peanut Dressing.
  • Stir fry: Stir fry the marinated, chopped chicken in a hot skillet, remove, then stir fry some veggies.
showing how to serve chicken thighs recipe by adding a bowl with vegetables

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top view of grilled chicken thighs on a platter

Grilled Chicken Thighs with Honey Sesame Glaze

These Grilled Chicken Thighs are finger lickin’ good and one of my husband’s all-time favorites!  They’re a little sweet, a little sticky, a little spicy, a little tangy and a whole lot of YUM!  The sensational honey sesame glaze is made with pantry friendly ingredients of honey, soy sauce, ketchup, sesame oil and rice wine punctuated by zesty ginger, garlic and chili sauce.   Best of all, the glaze doubles as the marinade so you can create effortlessly flavorful chicken in minutes without double the work!  Come dinner time, just pop the chicken on the grill and serve with your favorite sides like coconut rice, grilled vegetables and  fruit salad.
Servings: 6 servings
Total Time: 4 hrs 20 mins
Prep Time: 10 mins
Cook Time: 10 mins

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Ingredients

CHICKEN

  • 2 pounds boneless skinless chicken thighs, trimmed

Honey Sesame Marinade/Glaze

Instructions

  • Whisk all of the marinade/glaze ingredients together in a large freezer bag or shallow dish (whatever you are going to marinate the chicken in). Remove ¼ cup to use later as the Glaze. Add the chicken thighs to the remaining marinade in the bag/bowl and turn to coat. Seal/cover and refrigerate for 2 hours, up to overnight.
  • When ready to cook, remove the chicken from the fridge and let rest at room temperature for 20-30 minutes.

GRILL DIRECTIONS

  • Preheat the grill to 375 degrees F with the lid closed. Clean, and generously grease the grill with vegetable oil.
  • Grill chicken, covered, for 5-7 minutes per side, or until chicken is cooked through. (An inserted thermometer should read 170 degrees F for thighs, 160 F for breasts.) Brush chicken with reserved Glaze (that never touched the raw chicken) and let rest 5 minutes before slicing.

OVEN DIRECTIONS

  • Line a baking sheet with foil and spray with cooking spray. Add the chicken thighs so they aren’t touching.
  • Bake at 375 degrees F for 20-30 minutes (depending on size), until the internal temperature reaches 170 degrees F for thighs, 160 F for breasts. Brush chicken with reserved Glaze (that never touched the raw chicken) and let rest 5 minutes before slicing.

SKILLET DIRECTIONS

  • The chicken will char more due to the honey so I recommend using an indoor grill pan. Grease an indoor grill pan and heat to medium-high heat. If using a nonstick skillet, heat 1 tablespoon oil over MEDIUM heat.
  • Working in batches, remove chicken from the marinade and let excess drip off. Add chicken and cook, undisturbed, for 3-4 minutes, or until nicely browned on one side.
  • Flip chicken over, cover, and reduce heat to medium-low. Cook approximately 3-5 more minutes (depending on thickness of chicken), or until the internal temperature reaches 170 degrees F for thighs, 160 F for breasts. Transfer chicken to a plate/cutting board. Brush chicken with reserved Glaze (that never touched the raw chicken) and let rest 5 minutes before slicing.

Video

Notes

 
  • Aromatics:  I use ground instead of fresh because I find them more pleasing in the glaze portion – but you may use fresh if you prefer.
  • Use a meat thermometer:  Always use a meat thermometer (my fav!) so you don’t undercook or overcook your chicken. A meat thermometer means perfectly grilled tender, juicy chicken thighs ever time.
  • Prep ahead:  The marinade can be refrigerated WITHOUT the chicken for up to 2 days ahead of time.  You can also trim the chicken 48 hours ahead of time. 
  • Serving suggestions:  See post for tasty side serving suggestions and fun ways to serve the chicken. 

How to Store and Reheat

  • Storage: Store cooked chicken in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 3-4 days.
  • Freeze chicken in marinade: Add the chicken to the marinade in a freezer-safe bag, squeeze out excess air and freeze for up to 3 months. When you’re ready to use, the chicken will marinate as you thaw the chicken in the refrigerator.
  • Freeze cooked chicken thighs: Let the grilled chicken cool completely then transfer it to an airtight container or plastic freezer bag and squeeze out any excess air. If you want access to individual pieces of chicken without having to thaw all of the chicken, wrap each chicken thigh in plastic wrap before adding it to the freezer bag. Freeze for 2 to 3 months.  Thaw in the refrigerator overnight.
  • To reheat in the microwave: Chop or slice the chicken so it reheats more evenly; heat for 30 seconds, then at 15-second intervals as needed. 
  • To reheat in the oven: Transfer chicken to an oven-proof dish.  Cover with foil and reheat at 350 degrees F for 8-10 minutes or just until warmed through.

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