Food and Drink

‘Rhubarbecue’ chicken highlights the fresh flavors of summer

Tangy rhubarb lends subtle fruity notes to this barbecue sauce inspired by my friend, Joe, who also happens to be an enthusiastic cook and grill master. And since rhubarb and strawberry are reliable friends, a quick pico de gallo of ripe tomato and sweet summer strawberry adds a spicy, fresh kick. Usually foolproof, bone-in, skin-on thighs are my go-to for chicken pieces, but for high-heat grilling, boneless, skinless thighs are easy and quick and there’s no risk of the dreaded burned skin. If using bone-in, skin-on, make sure to adjust for a longer cooking time. Slather on the sauce after turning and serve with soft tortillas and extra limes. Consider doubling the sauce recipe if you’d like extra for serving. — Kim Sunée

Grilled chicken ‘rhubarbecue’

4 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs (bone-in, skin-on is fine but takes longer to cook; see note)

1 tablespoon ground cumin

1/2 tablespoon garlic powder

1/2 tablespoon smoked paprika

Zest and juice of 1 lime or lemon

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste


For the rhubarbecue sauce:

1 tablespoon olive oil or unsalted butter (or bacon grease)

2 tablespoons tomato paste

1 small shallot, diced (about 1/2 cup)

2 cups/12 ounces diced fresh rhubarb (about 3 large stalks)

1 tablespoon vinegar, such as apple cider, red wine or white

1/2 cup ketchup

1 to 2 tablespoons brown sugar, honey or maple syrup

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1 to 2 tablespoons hot sauce, such as Frank’s RedHot, Cholula, or Tabasco

1 teaspoon smoked paprika

1 to 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard (optional)

For the strawberry-tomato pico de gallo, toss together: 8 ounces ripe strawberries, diced; 8 ounces ripe tomatoes, diced; 1 small cucumber, diced; 1 clove garlic, minced; 3 green onions, thinly sliced or half of a small onion, diced; 1 serrano or jalapeño, stem (and seeds, if desired) removed, minced; juice of 1 lime; half cup packed chopped fresh cilantro; and salt and pepper, to taste.

• Place chicken thighs in a bowl and season with ground cumin, garlic powder, smoked paprika, zest and juice of lemon or lime, and salt and pepper. Let sit at least 30 minutes or, cover and refrigerate up to 4 hours — if longer then 4 hours, the acid in the citrus will create a mealy texture.

• For the sauce: In a medium saucepan, heat oil over medium-high heat and sauté shallot 1 minute. Add tomato paste and cook, stirring constantly another minute or two; lower heat to medium or medium-low; the longer you cook the tomato, the deeper the flavor but be careful not to burn. Add rhubarb and half cup water and stir to combine. Add vinegar, ketchup, brown sugar, Worcestershire sauce, garlic powder, hot sauce, paprika and mustard, if using. Let simmer, stirring occasionally, 10 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning and add more liquid, a little at a time, until thickened to desired consistency. Can be made up to three days ahead and stored, in an airtight container, in fridge.

• Toss together ingredients for pico de gallo just before cooking thighs.


• When ready to cook chicken, prepare a charcoal or gas grill at medium-high heat — 350-375 degrees — for direct grilling. Brush chicken pieces very lightly with vegetable oil — be careful not to saturate pieces as oil will drip and cause flare-ups. Place chicken pieces evenly, without overcrowding, on grill. Cook, turning once, 10 to 12 minutes; cooking time will depend on grill temp. Brush with sauce halfway through. Chicken is cooked when an instant-read thermometer inserted in thickest part registers 155-165 degrees. Remove to a platter and serve with strawberry-tomato pico de gallo.

If baking: Heat oven to 400 degrees. Line a sheet-pan with foil and lightly coat with cooking spray or oil. Place chicken thighs evenly without overcrowding; use two pans, if needed. Bake 15 minutes. Remove chicken from oven and carefully pour off any juices. Baste with rhubarbecue sauce. Turn over with kitchen tongs and baste other side. Reduce oven temp to 375 degrees and cook another 10 to 15 minutes or until cooked through and an instant-read thermometer inserted in center reaches 155-165 degrees.

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Kim Sunée

Kim Sunée is a bestselling author ("Trail of Crumbs: Hunger, Love, and the Search for Home," "A Mouthful of Stars," "Everyday Korean: Fresh, Modern Recipes for Home Cooks") and a former magazine food editor. She's based in Anchorage. For more food and travel, visit