Pitmaster Matt Horn Spent Years Perfecting This Crowd-Pleaser Barbecue Chicken Recipe

The cookbook author and restaurateur says this Burn Barrel Chicken recipe is his own person go-to because of how easy and flavorful it is. The whole dish takes under an hour to make.


Matt Horn, chef-owner of Horn Barbecue in Oakland, California, has a deep and familial love for his craft. He told The Messenger that when he grills at home, his go-to dish is a simple yet flavorful one he's dubbed 'Burn Barrel' Chicken.

A photo of a ribeye steak appears beside the words 'Burn Barrel Chicken by Chef Matt Horn'
The Messenger; Dish: Matt Horn

He calls this recipe — which is in the Horn Barbecue Cookbook published in 2022 by Harvard Common Press and Quarto Publishing Group USA Inc. — "simple, comforting, authentic cooking."

By Horn's estimation, this entire dish takes around 45 minutes to make.

"People are always looking for those more ambitious meals that 'wow,'" Horn said. "But sometimes a simple recipe with the right balance of seasoning and flavors can be a crowd pleaser."

The flavor, he says, comes mostly from the marinade. His goal for the marinade was to create one that would help make chicken both juicy and flavorful while keeping it from drying out on the grill.

Matt Horn Smoker Night
Matt Horn Smoker Night: Person pictured - Matt Horn Credit - Andrew Thomas Lee

"I love the Maillard reaction that occurs with the sugar in the marinade and the grill," Horn said, referring to the browning that happens as the heat interacts with the marinated meat. "The brown sugar speeds up caramelization and deepens the flavor."

He said there's a certain char that develops as the chicken skin renders, resulting in a "crispy chicken skin that you can only get from a grill."

The recipe Horn shares below was developed in his home over the course of many years, he told The Messenger.

Burn Barrel Chicken
Burn Barrel Chicken Chef name - Matt Horn Restaurant - Horn Barbecue Photo credit - Andrew Thomas Lee


  • 3 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 Tbsp (30 g) brown sugar
  • 1 Tbsp (10 g) minced garlic
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 tsp dried rosemary
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs
  • Chopped fresh parsley (for garnish)


  1. In a medium bowl, whisk the olive oil, brown sugar, garlic, thyme and rosemary to blend. Generously season the mixture with salt and pepper and whisk to combine. Reserve 1/4 cup of the marinade.
  2. Add the chicken thighs to the bowl and toss to coat. Refrigerate the chicken to marinate for at least 20 minutes, and up to overnight.
  3. Preheat the grill to medium-high.
  4. Place the chicken on the grill and cook for about six minutes per side, basting with the reserved marinade, until cooked through and the juices run clear.
  5. Garnish with parsley before serving.

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