By Vida Gustafson

Contributing Writer

This recipe has become a regular on my dinner menu since I discovered I could make grilled chicken as good as any street food out there, without competing with crowds and standing in line. It is richly savory and juicy with amazing layers of aromatic flavor from the fish sauce, garlic and cilantro, letting you know it’s not any normal cookout chicken. The chile dipping sauce, simple to throw together, complements the deep flavor of the chicken with some sweet vinegar heat.

I happen to grill boneless skinless chicken thighs most often, but bone-in, skin-on thighs  work really well with this recipe too, the cooking time will just be slightly longer.


  • 2.5 lbs boneless skinless chicken thighs 
  • 1 head of garlic (approx. 10 cloves)
  • 2.5 tbsp raw sugar
  • 2 tbsp fish sauce
  • 1 tsp soy sauce
  • 1 bunch of cilantro (with stems)* 
  • 1.5 tsp black peppercorns

* traditionally Gai Yang marinade is made with cilantro roots, if you can find them, use them! For the dipping sauce:

  • 3-5 finely minced bird’s eye chiles (they are quite spicy, opt for 1 or 2 if you’re spice sensitive)
  • 2 cloves of minced garlic
  • 1/3 c raw sugar
  • 1/4 c water
  • 1/4 c rice vinegar

I like to save time by putting the cilantro, garlic, peppercorns, fish sauce and sugar in my mini food processor and briefly blitzing it to form a rough paste. You can do the same with a mortar and pestle (although there you would add the fish sauce last). Marinade the chicken thighs overnight or at least a couple of hours if you can. Combine all the ingredients for the dipping sauce and let sit to allow the flavors to develop.

To grill the chicken, put your lit coals (I use one fire starter chimney full) on one side of the grill. Put the thighs on the opposite side and cover. Leave the vents on the bottom and in the lid open. Set a timer for 20 minutes. After that time, move the thighs to the side of the grill with the lit coals and brown on both sides to get some color and char on them. Because the coals will be a little spent and the chicken nearly cooked your risk of flare-ups (aka burnt skin or sooty chicken) is reduced. I usually leave the chicken over the coals for 5-10 minutes a side at this point, depending on how hot your coals still are.  Check for doneness with a thermometer. Chicken is cooked through at 165 °F. Serve this with some sticky rice and cucumber salad.