Grilled Chicken Thighs with Herbed Spice Rub

Herb-crusted chicken thighs on a rimmed sheet pan after grilling.

Just between the two of us, this is The Best Chicken Seasoning I’ve ever had and its unlike any other. This dry rub blends fresh herbs and aromatics with a blend of spices  creating a unique and tempting flavor for grilled chicken thighs, legs, breasts (I’ve even put it on pork tenderloin). The longer it marinates, the deeper the flavor from the spice rub. This chicken rub recipe will make you a hero at your next cookout.

pink peppercorns and fennel seed being crushed in a mortar and pestle for the chicken rub recipe.

When I say this is the best chicken seasoning, I’m not saying that it’s the best in the world, however, for the sum of its parts I think it could be in the top 10.  Especially on grilled chicken thighs. With a limited number of ingredients and easy preparation, this chicken rub recipe is a flavor bomb that should be on your dinner table every week. Want to try it? Let’s start with the herbed spice rub.

Unusual Ingredients For Chicken Rub Recipe

My chicken rub doesn’t contain “the usual suspects” like cumin or paprika. Instead it uses whole red peppercorns (can also use pink peppercorns) and whole fennel seed.

  • Red Peppercorns
  • Whole Fennel Seed
  • Kosher Salt
  • Black Pepper
  • Fresh Rosemary
  • Fresh Thyme
  • Garlic
  • Brown Sugar

Prep The Ingredients For The Dry Rub

  1. Crush the fennel and peppercorns together in a mortar and pestle or in your favorite spice grinder.  The combination doesn’t need to be completely pulverized, but you do want to break them up to release their essential oils and flavors.
  2. Finely chop the fresh rosemary, thyme and garlic.
Mixing herbs with the spice rub seasonings for the chicken rub recipe.

Blending The Grilled Chicken Seasoning

In a small prep bowl, combine the crushed spices, kosher salt, black pepper, minced garlic, rosemary, thyme and brown sugar together until well blended. Yes, I said brown sugar. I know that might seem a bit “out there,” however, the brown sugar doesn’t really sweeten the chicken as much as bridge the gap between the fresh herbs and spices in the chicken rub. Trust me, one bite and your doubts will be erased. 

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sprinkling spice rub on chicken thighs.

How Long Can You Leave A Dry Rub On A Chicken?

  1. Sprinkle the chicken rub recipe evenly over the chicken pieces and use your fingers to pat them firmly into the skin and flesh.
  2. Cover with the chicken with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least two hours and up to eight. The longer spice rub rests on the chicken pieces, the deeper the flavor, therefore, I usually make the chicken seasoning in the morning and let the chicken marinate all day before grilling.

How Long Can I Store This Spice Rub?

Since this chicken seasoning contains fresh garlic and herbs, it needs to be used the day that you’re making the chicken and it shouldn’t be stored for later use.

chicken thighs with grilled chicken seasoning rubbed into them.

What Are The Best Chicken Pieces For Grilling?

This is really a personal preference, however, to me, the best pieces of chicken for grilling are usually bone-in and skin-on because they will maintain their juiciness through the grilling process better. I prefer the dark meat of the chicken thigh and legs, because they usually take less time to cook than the breast and they’re always tender and moist. However, chicken breasts are also great for this recipe. For boneless, skinless chicken breasts, I prefer a wet brine or marinade.

Grilled chicken thighs with spice rub on the grill.

Grilling Tips For Grilled Chicken Thighs & Pieces

Remove the chicken from the refrigerator and let it rest on the counter for about half an hour before cooking. You don’t want ice cold chicken hitting a scorching hot grill.

While the chicken rests, heat up the grill. He advises a hot grill (375°-400°), but not too hot. The reason is that the spice rub contains brown sugar, which can burn. We like a little char on our meat, but we definitely don’t want to send our chicken thighs to hell.  

For The Actual Grilling (and this is important):

The chicken goes on, skin side down and you wait.  Do not nudge, do not fidget and by GodDO NOT FLIP THE CHICKEN UNTIL IT’S READY TO BE FLIPPED.  The skin will release when it’s readyand not a moment sooner.  If you force it, you could rip the skin  – which isn’t a felony per se, but according to my grill-master, it should be. Flip the grilled chicken thighs and continue to cook until you reach the proper doneness.

Thermapen Instant Read Thermometer for measuring internal temperature of grilled chicken thighs.

Safe Internal Temperature For Chicken:

The safe internal temperature for chicken is 165° Fahrenheit and the best way to check for doneness is with an instant read thermometer, however, you don’t necessarily want the grilled chicken to reach 165° while you’re still grilling… because even after your remove it from the grill, the meat continues to cook. I usually take it off the heat about 5° shy of doneness.

What’s The Best Instant Read Thermometer?

For my money, it’s the Thermapen Mk4. I’ve had mine for several years and I love it because it’s simple, easy to use and accurate within a few seconds of checking the temperature. These are not the cheapest instant read thermometers on the market, but they are the best (I’m not the only one who thinks so). If you want one for yourself, check out my Thermapen affiliate link. You won’t pay any extra for your purchase and I get a few bucks for groceries.

Grilled chicken thighs with chicken rub recipe resting on a sheet pan.

It usually takes about 16-18 minutes for the chicken to be cooked through, but you can monitor doneness with your instant read or you can prick the chicken and see if the juices run clear (not my favorite method because it releases moisture, however, it works.) The flavors of the herbed dry rub soaks into the grilled chicken thighs and adds so much flavor and punch that it’s always a hit in our house. I think you’ll love it too.

Grilled chicken thighs on a platter.

What To Serve With Grilled Chicken:

Serving chicken on a platter.

More Simple Grilled Chicken Recipes: 

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A platter of herb-crusted chicken thighs.
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3.58 from 7 votes

Grilled Chicken Thighs with Herbed Spice Rub

This peppercorn and herb rub permeates the meat and flavors the chicken like no other!  
Author: Lisa Lotts
Course Main Course
Cuisine American
Keyword chicken thighs, grilled chicken, spice rub
Dietary Restrictions Dairy-Free, Gluten-Free, Low-Carb
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 28 minutes
Total Time 3 hours 18 minutes
Servings 4


  • 1 teaspoon red peppercorns
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper coarsely ground
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon fresh rosemary finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon fresh thyme finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic minced
  • tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 lb chicken thighs bone-in skin-on, you can use breasts, legs and wings too


  • In a small bowl combine first 8 ingredients.
  • Using a sharp knife, trim any excess fat from the chicken. Pat chicken dry with a paper towel. Liberally sprinkle rub onto both sides of chicken and press with your fingers so that it adheres to the bird. Place chicken on a platter and transfer to the refrigerator to marinate for at least two hours and up to 8.
  • Take chicken out of the fridge 15 minutes before cooking.
  • To Grill: Preheat grill to 375 degrees. Place thighs skin side down for 6 minutes. To prevent flare ups and maximize the flavor of the rub, do not leave grill unattended with skin side down as the drippings can trigger a flare up that may burn the skin. Check the chicken with a pair of grilling tongs after 6-7 minutes — and see if it’s ready to be flipped.  If the skin sticks, leave it on for another minute or two before trying to flip it again.   Turn the chicken over and continue to cook until the juices run clear — 10-12 minutes.
  • For Roasting In An Oven: preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Set a rack over a rimmed baking sheet. Place chicken on rack. Roast for 25-30 minutes, until skin is crispy and browned and flesh is cooked through, but still juicy.
  • Tent the chicken and let it rest for 5-7 minutes to redistribute the juices in the meat.  Serve.


This recipe can easily be doubled or tripled.
You can use drumsticks, wings, breasts, or spatchcock chicken — adjust the cook time accordingly.


Calories: 275kcal | Carbohydrates: 7g | Protein: 18g | Fat: 19g | Saturated Fat: 5g | Cholesterol: 111mg | Sodium: 671mg | Potassium: 257mg | Sugar: 4g | Vitamin A: 185IU | Vitamin C: 3.3mg | Calcium: 33mg | Iron: 1.3mg

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  1. Do you close the grill while cooking the chicken or leave it open?

    1. Close the grill! The only time you open it is to check it and flip.

  2. 5 stars
    Hi Lisa:

    I found this recipe and wanted to try a whole chicken on the grill rotisserie. Can I leave the rub on longer then 8 hours? The chickens about 4 1/2 pounds. Looking forward to it. Thanks!


    1. Hi Gregg! I think you’ll be fine with more than eight hours — especially if you’re doing a whole chicken. Let me know how you like it!

  3. Janice Alpern says:

    Hi Lisa – Do you think this recipe would work on skinless chicken breasts???

    1. I don’t think it will be the same because the skin keeps it moist — however, if you rubbed your chicken breasts with a little olive oil and sprinkled the rub on top, I think it would be good. You could also try seasoning the chicken with the rub and searing them in a cast iron skillet — then finishing them off in the oven to roast — You could cover them in the oven with tin foil so they don’t dry out. Hope that helps!

  4. Denise I. says:

    5 stars
    I came across this shortly before I was going to grill some chicken breasts. I threw the ingredients together quick and put them on the chicken. It turned out delicious!!! I think the secret ingredient is the small amount of brown sugar. It doesn’t make it sweet but just marries all of the flavors together. I highly recommend this recipe. Enjoy!

  5. 5 stars
    Wow, these look fabulous! I love a good herbed grilled chicken. Perfect every time!