Food & Drink

How Chef Tandy Wilson Does Barbecue Chicken

“This is not smoked chicken from a pit master. This is back-yard, sticky-fingers, delicious barbecue chicken”

Photo: Courtesy of Mop/Broom Mess Hall

Barbecue chicken is one of those dishes that seems deceptively easy. Yardbird, charcoal fire, barbecue sauce… what could go wrong? Namely, the sugar in the sauce can blacken long before the meat is done, leaving hapless grillers with something that looks like it fell from space.

Tandy Wilson has spent a lifetime getting barbecue chicken right. Several lifetimes, actually.

“I’m sure it started with my granddad, but my dad always cooked barbecue chicken, and it got better and better over the years,” says the chef of Nashville’s lauded City House and brand-new Mop/Broom Mess Hall. “I started with it when I was in college. Now, I’m still cooking that chicken, trying to make a little bit better each time.”

Photo: Andrea Behrends

Chef Tandy Wilson at home in his kitchen.

The dish is one of the centerpieces of the menu for Mop/Broom, set to open in early September just around the corner from City House in Nashville’s Germantown neighborhood. If City House was the restaurant of an ambitious young chef building his name, Mop/Broom projects the more relaxed vibe of a seasoned pro. “We’re cooking with ingredients from now—all these fun things we have access to,” Wilson says. “I’m really having a blast.” You can easily tell from the menu, which is heavy on foods diners can eat with their hands—hushpuppy battered fried catfish, chili cheese chickpea fries, and that chicken.

Andrea Behrends

So how does he do it? “A charcoal fire is important—the coals have to have burned off to a good orange,” he says. “Then, get the chicken a little above the heat. Take it slow—get some caramelization, don’t be afraid of that.” As the meat is finishing up, that’s when you should start saucing. “I brush the sauce on, flip it, then brush it again. I give it a few coats.” The idea is to cook the sauce onto the chicken—similar to how Wilson’s tomato sauce finishes cooking on pizzas in City House’s ovens. It only takes a few minutes right at the end.

“This is not smoked chicken from a pit master,” Wilson says. “This is back-yard, sticky-fingers, delicious barbecue chicken.” See for yourself with his recipe below.


    • 1 whole chicken, cut into parts

    • Kosher salt, to taste

  • Herb Oil Rub

    • 1 cup olive oil

    • 1 tbsp. dried oregano

    • 2 cloves garlic

  • Barbecue Sauce

    • 2 cups ketchup

    • ¼ cup tomato paste

    • 1 cup distilled vinegar

    • ¼ cup sugar

    • 1 tbsp. black pepper

    • 2 cloves garlic

    • ¼ cup umeboshi paste (available from Asian markets or via mail-order)

    • 1 tbsp. Sriracha


  1. Note: “Skin-on bone-in chicken will produce the best results,” Wilson says, “so I use whole chickens for this.” The herb oil rub and barbecue sauce recipes make enough for two birds.

  2. To make the herb oil rub and barbecue sauce, put all ingredients for each recipe into a blender and blend until smooth. Set aside while you prep the chicken.

  3. Cut the chicken into breast, leg, thigh, and whole wing pieces. (You can have your butcher do this for you if you like.) Season the chicken liberally with salt on all sides. Gently rub 1 tbsp. of the herb oil on each piece of chicken. (“At this point,” Wilson says, “I like to refrigerate overnight but a few hours will do.”)

  4. Remove the chicken from the fridge and light a charcoal grill.

  5. “I like to work near the heat but not directly over the coals,” Wilson says. When the coals are ready, place the chicken on lightly oiled grates and grill, turning frequently, for 15-20 minutes or until chicken reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees. (“Use the lid, it will help keep flames down and cook the chicken evenly.”) The skin should become crisp and golden brown. Right as the chicken is finishing up, brush the sauce on each piece then flip and brush more sauce on the other side. Repeat to cook the sauce onto the chicken. “Just be careful not to burn it, the sugar will go fast.”

  6. Rest the chicken for 5 to 10 minutes—“if you can keep your guests out of it,” Wilson says. “Or yourself for that matter.”