The intoxicating scents that emanate from NYC’s many Middle Eastern shawarma carts drove me to create this recipe for boneless chicken thighs on the grill. I’ve always dreamt of somehow jerry-rigging a shawarma spit setup in my home kitchen. I mean, how amazing would it be to shave juicy shards of meat off a rotating spit for your guests when you entertain?! Sadly, in a Brooklyn apartment kitchen, that is far from realistic.
When the shawarma craving hits, I take things outdoors and make a version of these spiced and grilled chicken thighs, swaddle them in charred pitas with piles of fresh herbs and pickled onions, and forget for a second just how far I am from realizing that dream.–Molly Baz
Spiced Grilled Boneless Chicken Thighs FAQs
You’ll need a sharp knife (boning, paring, or chef’s knives will work fine) and a cutting board. Place your chicken thigh on the board skin-side down and find the bone that runs along the length of the piece. Run your knife along the length of it to expose the bone underneath the meat. Using your fingers, separate the meat from the bone as best as you can. Angle your knife towards the bone and slice down both sides in an effort to dig the bone out a bit more, trying to scrape along the bone so no meat remains attached. Then, slice around and below one end of the bone to release it completely from the meat and pull the bone up, making a few more cuts to release the other end. Remember to save your bones in a freezer bag for homemade chicken stock later!
This is a perfect warm-weather dish, and when we think of warmer weather, we think about cool salads – like tomato and feta or a simple chopped cucumber, onion, mint, and tomato dish (which could also be spectacularly plopped atop your pita alongside the other toppings!). A light lemon couscous would be lovely, too. If you don’t have pita bread, feel free to substitute with naan, or as one of our testers did, use tortillas.
Spiced Grilled Boneless Chicken Thighs
For the pickled red onions
- 1 cup distilled white vinegar
- 1 1/2 cups water
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- 2 medium (12 oz) red onions, peeled and sliced crosswise into 1/8-inch thick rings (3 mm)
For the garlic yogurt
- 1 garlic clove, peeled
- 1 cup plain whole-milk yogurt
- Kosher salt
For the grilled chicken thighs
- 4 garlic cloves, peeled
- 3/4 cup plain whole-milk yogurt
- 2 lemons, divided
- 1 tablespoon mild vegetable oil, plus more for the grill
- 1 tablespoon sweet smoked paprika
- 1 tablespoon ground cumin
- 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 2 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 2 pounds (about 6 small thighs) boneless, skinless chicken thighs
- 4 store-bought or homemade pitas, for serving
- 1 bunch fresh mint or fresh cilantro
Make the pickled red onions
- In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine the white vinegar, water, sugar, and salt, stirring often to dissolve. Once the mixture comes to a simmer, remove from the heat and immediately add the onions. Let cool to room temperature. (The onions can be made up to several days in advance; they only get better with time.)
Make the garlic yogurt
- Finely grate 1 garlic clove into a small bowl and stir in the yogurt. Season to taste with salt.
Make the grilled chicken thighs
- Grate the garlic cloves into a large bowl. Add the yogurt, the juice of 1 lemon, and the vegetable oil and stir to combine. Sprinkle in the smoked paprika, cumin, cinnamon, and cayenne pepper and season the mixture with 2 1/2 teaspoons salt. Whisk well to combine.
- Add the chicken thighs to the marinade and turn to coat. Let sit at room temperature for at least 30 minutes while you prepare a grill for medium heat, or heat a cast-iron grill pan over medium heat. (If you’re going to marinate them longer – which you should; they only improve with time, cover and keep chilled in the refrigerator for up to 6 hours and pull them out 30 minutes before cooking.)
- Once the grill is preheated to medium (you should be able to hold your hand over the grate for about 5 seconds before it gets too hot), lightly oil the grill grates.
- Using tongs, remove the chicken from the marinade, letting any excess drip back into the bowl, and transfer it to the grill. Cook, undisturbed, until it’s nicely charred underneath and naturally releases from the grates, 5 to 6 minutes.
- Flip the thighs and cook until just cooked through, 4 to 7 minutes more. (An instant-read thermometer should register 165°F (74°C) in the thickest part of the thigh.) Let the chicken thighs rest on a plate while you grill the pitas.
- Warm the pitas on the grill while the chicken rests, about 1 minute per side.
- Cut the remaining lemon into 4 wedges and pick the leaves from 1 bunch of mint or cilantro.
- Slice the chicken against the grain into 1/2-inch thick (12 mm) strips and serve on a big platter alongside the pitas, pickled onions, garlic yogurt, lemon wedges, and mint or cilantro for a build-your-own kinda sitch.
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Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.
Recipe Testers’ Reviews
As my grandson often says, these grilled chicken thighs are “so tasty.” Juicy chicken thighs with a Middle Eastern vibe, served in pita with a yogurt sauce and other fixings was an easy weeknight dinner.
On this December evening, I cooked them stovetop, on my grill pan. I can only imagine (but will find out) how delicious they are cooked on a grill….next summer. For me, the star of it all was the pickled onions which provided a sweet and sour accent. Prep was easy to do and I was able to fit it in earlier in the day (the night before would also work). Actual cooking was quick. I highly recommend this recipe.
We had these spiced grilled boneless skinless chicken thighs for lunch. They were simple to prepare and quite tasty. The pickled onion recipe makes a large amount. Probably three times more than we used. I’m not complaining though; I use pickled onions often so they won’t go to waste. The marinade is very flavourful so you can get away with a quick soak. I marinated mine for 2 hours but I can see if I was in a hurry that 30 minutes would probably work.
Why choose between cilantro and mint? The two together were delicious. I could have sworn I had pitas in the freezer but they turned out to be tortillas. Not quite the same but I think it worked nicely.
I absolutely loved this recipe for boneless chicken thighs on the grill. The yogurt marinade made for an exciting new change to my normal chicken thigh repertoire. The pickled onions, mint, and garlic yogurt sauce paired very nicely with the chicken… and I’m not a huge onion fan. I followed the recipe exactly and it turned out great. I will definitely be adding this to my list of weeknight meals.