Thai Grilled Chicken: Southern Curry-Basted Grilled Chicken (ไก่ย่างกอและ)

Thai Grilled Chicken
Several emails have come in since I made a remark about how ubiquitous and prominent grilled chicken is in Thailand and how, quite quizzically, the sauce that is made to go with it – its sidekick, if you will – has somehow become more well-known internationally than the grilled chicken itself. Quite a few have expressed agreement; they have noticed the same thing; they want to know why. And all I can offer is the only explanation that makes the most sense to me: 1. Thai grilled chicken is not recognized internationally because most Thai restaurants overseas, the de facto ambassadors of Thai cuisine, do not serve it [*], and 2. due to its versatility, Thai sweet chili sauce (aka the dipping sauce for chicken) is used extensively in several chicken- and non-chicken-related ways.

Good thing it’s easy to make your own Thai-style grilled chicken at home.

Thai grilled chicken by

Some of the paste ingredients: (L to R) dried red peppers, turmeric, shallot, ginger

Here’s another gem to add to your repertoire of Thai grilled chicken: curry-basted grilled chicken made according to the tradition of the predominantly Muslim part of southern Thailand. If you have never heard of or eaten this dish, know that this type of grilled chicken is somewhat foreign to a lot of non-southern Thais as well. Compared to the more prominent northeastern-style grilled chicken, this curry-basted grilled chicken is much harder to find in Bangkok and elsewhere outside the south.

What makes this southern grilled chicken special is the curry sauce that is used as both the marinade and the basting sauce. The marinated chicken is either threaded onto bamboo skewers or secured with partially-split bamboo sticks and grilled. In the process of grilling, the chicken is dipped into a sweet-sour curry sauce — 3 times, as they say — so that the flavor of the sauce is grilled into it. Some of the curry sauce is often reserved to drizzle over or brush on the finished dish before serving.

Thai Grilled Chicken by
However, this whole dip-and-grill thing works best when you make large amounts of grilled chicken and enough curry sauce to fill a deep pot in which to dip your skewered chicken which is what the vendors do. At home, it’s far more practical to brush the sauce onto the chicken as it’s grilled (if there is indeed something mystically sacred or inviolable about dipping the chicken in the sauce 3 times, its effects are lost on me).

Also, I think chicken thigh meat is the best. It’s up to you whether to leave the skin on or not. I like the taste of grilled chicken skin, so I keep the skin on. I cut my boneless chicken thighs into 2-inch cubes, because I like to use my cast-iron skewers which transfer heat very well to the center of the meat. But if you use regular bamboo skewers, I would cut the meat into one-inch cubes (and soak my bamboo skewers for about an hour as well). Regardless of the size and type of your skewers, the chicken pieces should be squeezed tightly together as explained and illustrated in my post on Thai grilled pork on skewers.

Thai Grilled Chicken by
For the curry paste, it’s best if you can make your own. Like many dishes that come out of the Muslim communities, this curry sauce is influenced by South Asian cuisine (notice the ginger; you don’t see that in red or green curry pastes) and calls for ingredients that are fairly easy to find. The only thing which you may have a hard time finding is fresh turmeric, but the good news is that ground turmeric can be used in its place without any perceptible difference.

This grilled chicken is delicious. It may look spicy, but it’s only mildly so. If you like chicken satay with peanut sauce, you will like this dish. The sauce doesn’t contain peanuts, but there’s something about the way it’s seasoned that will vaguely remind you of Thai-style peanut sauce. Try it and let me know if you agree.

As opposed to northeastern-style grilled chicken which goes spectacularly with steamed sticky rice, southern-style curry-basted grilled chicken (or anything from the south, for that matter) is usually not served with sticky rice. Plain jasmine rice is a better choice. Better yet: coconut rice.

[*] Not owning a restaurant, I won’t pretend to know why that is the case. However, with grilled chicken requiring not only a special expertise and special equipment but also special attention to the cooking process and holding temperature, I can see how costly the set-up and impractical the entire process must be. I can see how it’s easier to just deep-fry the chicken instead of grilling it when an order comes in. I can see how it’s safer to just focus on the tried-and-true canon of Thai restaurant menu items many of which already require a special expertise all their own. But these are just hypotheses based on imagination as opposed to any first-hand experience.


4.7 from 6 reviews
Thai Grilled Chicken: Southern Curry-Basted Grilled Chicken (ไก่ย่างกอและ)
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Recipe type: Main Dish
Cuisine: Thai
Serves: 4-6
  • 7 large dried red long peppers (guajillo)
  • 2-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled
  • 4 large cloves garlic, peeled
  • One teaspoon ground coriander
  • One teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 2-inch piece fresh turmeric, peeled, or one tablespoon ground turmeric
  • 1 shallot, weighing one ounce, peeled and sliced
  • 2.5 pounds boneless chicken thighs cut into 2-inch or one-inch cubes (see post for explanation)
  • 2½ cups coconut milk, divided
  • 2 teaspoons salt, divided
  • ⅔ cup, packed, grated palm sugar or light brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons coconut or vegetable oil
  • 2 tablespoons prepared tamarind paste
  1. Stem, deseed, and cut the peppers into quarters crosswise. Soak the peppers in warm water for 30 minutes. Drain off the water and squeeze the peppers dry.
  2. Put the peppers, ginger, garlic, ground coriander, cinnamon, turmeric, and shallot in a granite mortar or mini-chopper; grind until smooth.
  3. Put the chicken in a mixing bowl along with half of the prepared paste, ½ cup of the coconut milk, and one teaspoon salt; mix well, cover, and chill 30 minutes up to overnight.
  4. Make the basting liquid. Put the remaining curry paste in a one-quart pot along with the coconut or vegetable oil; set it over medium heat and fry until the paste become fragrant, about 2 minutes. Stir in the remaining 2 cups coconut milk, the remaining one teaspoon salt, sugar, and tamarind. Bring the sauce to a gentle boil and let it simmer about 3 minutes; remove from heat. Split the sauce into two equal portions. Use one portion to baste the chicken as it’s grilled; reserve the other portion to drizzle over the chicken once it’s done.
  5. Thread the chicken onto the skewers (see post for instructions). Grill the chicken over moderate heat, basting it with one portion of the sauce. When the chicken is done, drizzle the reserved sauce over it and serve immediately.



30 Responses to Thai Grilled Chicken: Southern Curry-Basted Grilled Chicken (ไก่ย่างกอและ)

  1. Food for Feast June 6, 2013 at 2:01 am #

    Thanks so much for yet another detailed explanation. After licking my lips just looking at the photos, I’ll be making this recipe very soon.

  2. Uma June 6, 2013 at 10:42 am #

    I’ve been waiting for this recipe since you posted about it on Facebook and can’t wait to try it! Thank you!

  3. Bill Davis June 6, 2013 at 11:53 am #

    Oh. My. Goodness.

    This is the way to amp up the flavor of chicken skewers (which I already love, anyway)!

    We’re definfitely making this one on the grill soon (well, as soon as we make your pad thai, which we already bought the ingredients for *smile*)

  4. Pey-Lih June 6, 2013 at 12:45 pm #

    This looks amazing, seriously!

  5. Titus June 6, 2013 at 12:46 pm #

    Hot Damn! Here I am just getting ready to dip my feet into the making of Thai Salads at home and now I gotta go postpone those to make these, the first pic was all it took to sell me. Looking forward to trying these, thanks!

  6. Al June 8, 2013 at 7:29 am #

    Looking forward to this recipe. I read your post on Thai grilled pork on skewers, would this method work for satay instead of the way one usually threads the meat on to the skewers?

    • Leela June 8, 2013 at 9:39 am #

      Al – The way Chinese-style satay (the typical satay you find in Bangkok) is served, i.e. to be dipped in the sauce in a small, flat plate is one reason why the meat is threaded on to the skewers the way you see it. The amount of meat on each skewer is so little that you can eat all of it in one bite and 10-20 skewers in one sitting. This alllows the vendors to grill a large number of skewers in very little amount of time and diners to eat each one with ease. When you make it at home, you can choose any threading technique that works best for you.

  7. Al June 8, 2013 at 9:15 pm #

    I made the Thai grilled chicken tonight and it was incredible, thank you. I used my mulcajete to make the paste but I’ll probably use food processor next time because the chili peppers were very hard to mash into the paste. Also, my basting sauce was much browner than your picture, kind of like satay dipping sauce. Maybe my coconut milk? I used Whole Foods 365 brand. I think it was a great first time however, my wife and I loved it, especially with a couple of Ichibans. Thanks again, Al.

    • Leela June 9, 2013 at 1:37 pm #

      Al – Thanks, Al. Have you considered a Thai granite mortar? The molcajete isn’t meant for pounding Thai curry paste; it’s not deep enough for pounding. (Wrong way to grind versus right way to grind)

      Regarding the color, I think it’s the peppers. Some batches of guajillo chiles are very dark.

      • Al June 9, 2013 at 4:13 pm #

        Thanks for the advice. I’m ordering one today. Maybe that’s why my sauce was so brown, I didn’t completely mash up the peppers. Still, the chicken was great and even better today. Al

  8. Rick June 9, 2013 at 1:22 pm #

    Thanks for doing a grill chicken series, great work girl…

  9. Chilewheel June 12, 2013 at 4:51 pm #

    Nicely done recipe. Made it yesterday and let it sit in the paste overnight. A way to ensure the chiles get well incorporated is to soften them in just boiled water for the 30 minutes or so. A mini Cuis or blender will pulverize them adequately. Was the cinnamon a personal taste choice or a replacement for a more commonly used, but perhaps not readily available to most, ingredient?

    • Leela June 12, 2013 at 5:11 pm #

      Chilewheel – Cinnamon is not uncommon in a South Asian- or Middle Eastern-inspired dish such as this, though, strictly speaking, cassia bark would be a more common choice of “cinnamon” in Thailand.

  10. Chilewheel June 12, 2013 at 8:15 pm #

    You are absolutely correct. I apparently suffered a temporary cognitive lapse and had forgotten you mentioning the dishe’s geographic inspiration earlier in the post. As befitting a scholar of your caliber, your information is impeccable. And it makes for good taste as well.

  11. Anne June 13, 2013 at 8:18 am #

    I made this yesterday for dinner and it was really fantastic. There are only two of us, so I froze half the chicken with the paste already on it, and put the other half of the sauce in a jar (I imagine it’ll keep for at least a week or two). I really recommend it — if you had enough skewers, this would also make a great party dish, since everything except the grilling can be done in advance.

  12. Brent June 16, 2013 at 2:07 pm #

    I’m making these for my Father’s Day dinner tonight with some sticky rice and green papaya salad. I, like some of the others, skipped the mortar & pestle. I used my trust blender and was able to pulverize everything up easily with the additional of bit of coconut milk to keep things moving.

    Tasting the sauce, prior to cooking, it is indeed reminiscent of peanut sauce. I’m looking forward to dinner tonight!

  13. Elizabeth June 22, 2013 at 5:46 pm #

    This looks amazing! Definitely bookmarking this for when I get a grill.

    PS the scientist in my is so excited that you used the word hypothesis correctly!

  14. Little Cooking Tips July 9, 2013 at 4:49 am #

    Still drooling after reading this post…:) Thank you for sharing!

    • Charlie July 26, 2013 at 10:54 am #

      In the picture you show a basting brush made of . . not sure. Leek tops? Google failed to find anything. Can you say how you make that? I’m trying leek tops with this recipe tomorrow. I’ve made it before and it is lovely. Thanks for the great cooking.

      • Leela July 26, 2013 at 11:21 am #

        Charlie – Oh, that’s just rolled up banana leaves — an old-fashioned brushing tool which vendors in the old days used before some of them discovered paint brushes at the hardware store. It doesn’t impart any flavor or add anything special to the dish. Your regular barbecue brush would do the job just fine.

        • Charlie July 26, 2013 at 12:12 pm #

          Oh, but it is biodegradable and ever so pleasing. Buying banana leaves for this purpose would miss the point. I’m going to try some stuff. Just for fun. Will let you know. And thanks again for the outstanding blog that adds so much pleasure to cooking good food.

  15. Arnaud August 24, 2013 at 6:57 am #

    Hi Leela,
    Can we consider serving this grilled chicken with both the satay sauce of the recipe and an homemade peanut sauce?

  16. Francesca August 27, 2013 at 11:16 am #

    Amazing recipe, thank you. Just made this last night along with the mu ping and a lemongrass beef recipe from rasamalaysia. We made taster size skewers since we had multiple types and they were gone in no time. Sadly, no leftovers.

    A note on skewers: many Asian stores stock shorter ones than are commonly found in grocery stores. This is useful if you have to manage a crowded grill.

  17. Sadia Mohamed February 24, 2014 at 2:37 pm #

    Helloo leela! I am soo in love with your blog and your recipes. I made this grilled chicken today and it was amazing. My husband and bro in law loved it. Seeing them eat as if they never saw food before made me soo soo happy. ;) All thanks to you. Keep it coming! :)

  18. shruthi June 13, 2014 at 10:44 am #

    Hi Leela,
    The chicken looks great! Can’t wait to try it. Will be having friends over for dinner, and this would be perfect. Just one question, can regular dried red chillies be substituted for tje guajillos? Thanks!

    • Leela June 13, 2014 at 11:15 am #

      shruti – Yes. Just be mindful of the differences in heat level between different types of chile. Guajillos are pretty mild.

      • SilvertonSusan July 7, 2014 at 9:14 am #

        So I made this last night, OMG! I decided not to skewer the chicken and just marinated and BBQ’d boneless, skinless chicken thighs. Worked super good. The flavor of the sauce is amazing. They BBQ’d nicely and the sauce has enough texture that it sticks to the chicken while you cook so when they finish they are nicely coated. I had enough sauce that I can BBQ another batch next weekend! I can’t wait. I feel this sauce being expanded to other meats and uses. Thank you for sharing!

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