Melissa Elsmo

I spent my formative years in a teeny-tiny Midwestern town and every 4th of July my family would enjoy a good old fashioned back yard cook-out. While the traditional hot dogs, burgers, potato salad were undeniably delicious, our festive back yard soiree had nothing on the spicy show our town had in store.

As night fell, our red, white, and blue clad community would come out in droves to witness the local fire department launch a few dozen fireworks.The town was so small that we were a little pressed for space and we’d form a tight huddle around baseball diamond with the launcher situated on the pitcher’s mound. The annual display was always stunning by our small town standards. We’d ooh and aah our way through the spectacle until, inevitably, the launcher would malfunction and send a rogue firework for a long, low flight. As the giant streaking sparkler shot toward the dug-out, folks would duck and cover like they were being attacked by a patriotic missile and at least one picnic blanket would burst into flames every year.

 I’ve enjoyed more than my fair share of more elaborate and tantalizing 4th of July displays over the years, but none of them could hold a fire cracker to the slightly dangerous firework shows of my childhood. These days my family watches the 4th of July fireworks from a logical distance with little to no threat of a fire-related hullabaloo, but that doesn’t mean I can’t bring the heat to my 4th of July cook-out.

Serving up a spicy grilled chicken entrée with a bevy of red white and blue garnishes is an ideal way to add a little color and spice to Independence Day. My recipe puts chicken thighs to good use, but wings, breasts and drumsticks could be used in this dish with ease.

No matter what cut of chicken you choose, the balance of sweet and spicy in the simple marinade give the finished chicken a peppery personality without being overwhelming on the palate. Frank’s Red Hot has long been prized for its sophisticated Cayenne heat and was used in the original Buffalo wings recipe making it my first choice for my Firecracker Chicken. Although the hot sauce is used in the both the marinade and the red pepper coulis, true hot heads would do well to brush the finished chicken with some extra sauce or even use some as dipping sauce.

Blue corn chips and white goat cheese marry with the red sauce and spicy chicken to bring a genuine patriotic flair to your upcoming Fourth of July cook-out. Grill up a batch of Firecracker chicken and wait to hear nothing but oohs and aahs.

Firecracker Chicken with Red Pepper Coulis and Goat Cheese

To round out the red, white and blue theme serve this adaptable chicken with a side of blue corn tortilla chips. The red pepper coulis tastes divine as a dip for the chips!

For the Chicken:

  • 6-8 Chicken Thighs (bone-in/skin-on)
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1/3 Cup of Frank’s Red Hot
  • 3 Tablespoons of honey
  • 2 Tablespoons canola oil
  • 2 Tablespoons minced red onion
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • ½ teaspoon coarse black pepper

For the Red Pepper Coulis:

  • 3 Red peppers, washed
  • 2 Tablespoon Frank’s Red Hot (more to taste)
  • 1 Tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • Salt and pepper

To Serve:

  • 1 Red pepper, diced
  • 6-8 ounces fresh goat cheese, crumbled
  • Blue corn tortilla chips

Season the chicken thighs liberally with salt and pepper and place in a resealable plastic bag. Combine the Red Hot, honey, canola oil, red onion, chili powder and black pepper in a small bowl. Whisk to combine and pour over the chicken thighs. Turn the chicken in the bag to coat well, seal and refrigerate for several hours or overnight turning the bag occasionally. 

Prepare a charcoal grill for indirect grilling, allowing it to cool down for at least 40 minutes or until the coals are ash covered, but still glowing in spots. Place three red peppers directly over the coals and allow to cook, turning frequently until blistered and evenly charred. Transfer the peppers to a paper bag, seal and allow them to rest for 20 minutes. 

Meanwhile, place the marinated chicken on the portion of the grill away from the coals (discard any remaining marinade) . Partially hood the grill and allow the chicken to cook, turning occasionally, for 45 minutes or until internal temperature reaches 165 degrees.

While the chicken is grilling, prepare the red pepper coulis. Remove the peppers from the bag and peel away the charred skins. Remove the seeds from the peppers and place the peppers in a blender. Add the Red Hot, vinegar, salt and pepper. Process until nearly smooth (add up to ¼ Cup of water if needed) and set aside until ready to serve.

Remove the chicken from the grill and transfer to serving platter. Brush with additional hot sauce if desired and serve the chicken with the red pepper coulis garnished with the diced red pepper and a sprinkling of goat cheese.

Serves 6 (recipe can be doubled with ease to feed a crowd or cut in half for a more intimate celebration)

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