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Phyllis Diller’s Overnight Barbecued Chicken

My family has been making this chicken since 1977! The recipe is taken from the June 1977 Bon Appetit Magazine.  It really is finger lickin’ good!

My adaptions are omitting the 2 tsp salt in the sauce and decreasing the poaching time of the chicken. I also prefer boneless chicken thighs to the whole broiler-fryers that you have to cut up. Buying ready to cook chicken saves time and the dark meat is juicier, as long as you don’t overcook it. This is a 2 stage cooking process; poaching and barbecuing.

Chicken Preparation

16 boneless skinless chicken thighs or 2 chickens, cut up

  • Place chicken in a large pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil and  either turn off the heat if using an electric stove, or turn your gas range to the lowest setting. 

  • Cover and let set 20 minutes.  Drain and place chicken in a large bowl. 

  • When the chicken has cooled pour the BBQ sauce over it. 

  • Cover and refrigerate overnight or at least 8 hours. If you need to save space in your frig, you can use a gallon Ziplock bag instead of a bowl.
  • Combine the marinade ingredients in a bowl and whisk together or use a stick blender.
  • Reserve 1 cup marinade for serving and pour the rest over the poached and drained chicken
  • Grill chicken over hot coals until slightly browned. Really you only have to heat the chicken through on the grill. The degree of crispyness is a personal choice since the chicken is already cooked. I prefer the chicken heated through over a smokey fire, others prefer blackened chicken. 
  • Heat the reserved sauce and serve at the table. 
  • Additions to the menu could be fresh sweet corn, Illini Sweet is a Michigan favorite, a light cole slaw and marinated 3 bean salad. This is classic Midwest summer cooking. Bon Appetit!

Marinade Ingredients

1/2 cup red wine vinegar

4 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

1/2 cup water

1 1/2 cups brown sugar, not packed

1 1/2 cups ketchup

1 1/2 teaspoons black pepper

2 1/2 tablespoons dry mustard

2 teaspoons paprika

2 teaspoons salt, optional

Hot pepper sauce, the more the better; the original recipe is 2 dashes; I prefer 1 teaspoon

Marinade Directions

  1. Combine all ingredients in a bowl
  1. Whisk together a few minutes with an immersion blender or a hand whisk
  2. Another option is to grill chicken as desired, raw or poached, and serve the bbq sauce on the side at the table. It’s a great overall bbq sauce!
  3. Voila!

You may ask who is Phyllis Diller? She is a very famous comediennne and actress of the mid-century who also raised a family. Many of her comedy routines centered around her husband, Fang. Poor guy. She is an older version of Joan Rivers, but glamorous only in a funny way.

Bon Appetit/June 1977

10 responses »

  1. Dave - a close associate of Nina

    from a very experienced PD Chix guy: a couple of comments:

    1. I like gallon Ziploc bags to marinate the chix….squeeze out all the air…this provides more uniform sauce coverage.
    2. boneless thighs are tasty but they tend to fall apart on the grill…not too hard to manage but be prepared for a pre-dinner snack for the cook
    3. build a 2 level fire (coals on 1/2 the grill)…start on the hot side and move to the cooler side as the chix browns and finishes cooking. Because of the poaching it does not take long. Also, because of all the sugar in the sauce it will burn/blacken quickly…so keep a close eye on it and move to the cooler side as needed.
    4. Use the sauce remaining from the marinade to baste the chix as it cooks but make sure to give it enough time on the grill to heat through.

  2. Dave - a close associate of Nina

    forgot one thing…after years of prying apart the pieces of chix (and sometimes tearing them up) just before putting them on the BBQ, I realized that the chix needs to cool thoroughly AFTER poaching and before the sauce is added for the overnight marinade. If put in the fridge hot, the fat will solidify as the chix cools and glue the pieces together. When the latter happened I called it Fang’s revenge! 🙂

  3. Emily - also a close associate of Nin

    I love this dish! Although I would prefer you guys make it and I just eat it:)

  4. Thank you for posting this~ Back in 1977 I subscribed to Bon Appitite magazine and made this recipe for a family picnic…..It was HUGE hit!! For several years I would occassionly make this due to the requests, however at some point I lost the recipe…….DISASTER!
    I won’t loose it again~

  5. Hello all, here every one is sharing such knowledge, thus it’s good to read this website, and I used to
    pay a visit this web site every day.


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