Cocoa-Chili Rubbed Chicken Thighs

Cocoa-Chili Rub

Cocoa-Chili Rub

I have seen people use cocoa powder before in savory recipes and it always interested me.  However, I’ve never been inspired enough nor had that spark of creativity to come up with a use for it till now.  I was watching some Food TV one Sunday morning and at the same time thinking about what I can make for dinner that evening.  I like to create sort of traditional Sunday Suppers for us and when the warm weather arrives, both of us love when Sunday Supper includes grilling.

I started going through the inventory sheet in my mind of things I had on hand that I could use with cocoa powder.  One of my favorite combinations is dark chocolate and dried cranberries.  Normally I’m not much of a fruit + chocolate person but there is just something about the slight bitterness of dark chocolate paired with the sweet tartness of cranberry that makes me sigh with delight.

I decided to work with this combo and create a grilled chicken dish around those flavors.  I knew this would be perfect to try out on some chicken thighs and bringing out poultry means making a brine.  That’s where the cranberry comes in.  Ready to cook with chocolate?

Andrea’s Cocoa-Chili Rubbed Chicken Thighs

For the Brine:

  • 1.5C Unsweetened cranberry juice
  • 2C Water
  • 1/3C Kosher salt
  • 3TBSP Packed brown sugar
  • 1/4-1/2 Medium onion, chunked
  • 2 stalks celery, chunked
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 2tsp Ground Black pepper
  • 1tsp Garlic powder
  • 2tsp Chili Powder
  • 1tsp Smoked paprika
  • Pinch Cayenne pepper
  • Pinch Red pepper flakes
  • 5-6 Bone-in chicken thighs

For the Rub:

  • 1tsp Dark Cocoa powder
  • 2tsp Chili powder
  • 1/2tsp Garlic powder
  • 1tsp Grill Seasoning (salt free)

The brine gets created first.  In a large deep bowl combine the cranberry juice, salt, sugar, and water.  Stir everything together until the salt and sugar are dissolved.  Then add in the onions, celery, and remaining seasonings, stir to combine.  Add in the chicken, and then add more water so that the chicken is completely covered and submerged in the brine.  Place bowl in the fridge and allow the chicken to brine for at least 6 hours.

About an hour before you are going to grill the chicken, remove the chicken from the brine.  Give a quick rinse and pat dry, placing chicken on a plate.  Combine all the ingredients for the rub in a small bowl.  Then rub down the chicken with the cocoa chili rub making sure that the entire thigh is covered.  Allow the chicken thighs to sit in the rub for at least 1/2 an hour.

Heat grill and cook the thighs until cooked through, about five minutes each side.  Remove from grill, allow thighs to rest for about 2 minutes and then serve.

This recipe turned out so much better than I expected.  Admittedly I was a little nervous working with cocoa powder in a savory dish because I had never done that before.  We’re always afraid of the unknown, right?  As it was grilling, the chicken smelled amazing.  Which made Scott and I both very excited to try this new dish!  We kept pacing around the deck watching the clock so we could eat already.

The thing that stood out the most was the visual presentation, the chicken having a nice dark color from the rub.  Chili powder is a deep color on it’s own, by adding the cocoa powder, not only does it add another depth to the flavor but it also brings more richness to the color of the chicken as it cooks.

Grilled Chicken Thighs

Grilled Chicken Thighs

The flavor of the chicken was beyond what I was expecting.  Chili powder has a spicy heat to it which is enhanced by the sweet yet slightly bitterness of the cocoa powder.  It provides a rich deep flavor that I wasn’t quite expecting and ended up loving.

I don’t eat meat all that much and when I make something like chicken, I prefer bone-in skin on pieces.  The chicken is more moist as it cooks because of the skin and usually bone-in pieces are larger providing you with more for your money because they are also cheaper cuts of meat.  I don’t eat the skin, I take it off.  It’s purpose is to provide flavor and keep the chicken from drying out.  However, this does not mean you have to do the same.  If you prefer boneless, skinless, by all means use that.

I used unsweetened cranberry juice because it was going into a brine and I wanted to control the sugar amount.  Plus unsweetened juice is much better for you and there’s no worry of fake or chemical additives.

Cocoa-Chili Rubbed Grilled Chicken Thighs

Cocoa-Chili Rubbed Grilled Chicken Thighs

I started with 1tsp of cocoa powder since this was my first attempt using it in a savory dish.  Next time I make this, I’m going to try adding a bit more cocoa and see what happens.  I’ll probably go up to 1.5tsp.  If you make this and want to pump up the cocoa amount, go for it!

This was a great intro recipe for using cocoa powder in savory dishes.  I can’t wait to start experimenting more and seeing what I can do!

Enjoy guys! And remember, always play with your food!

8 thoughts on “Cocoa-Chili Rubbed Chicken Thighs

  1. That sounds pretty good, I never tried using cocoa before but’ve been meaning to. Can I ask, what kind of grill seasoning are you using – it is a particular brand or just any one that is salt free?

    • Bryan, The one I use is by Spice Islands in one of those disposable grinder things. It’s pretty tasty. I think Mrs. Dash also has some grill seasonings as well.

  2. This looks really great! I love the cocoa-chili combo and while I have never thought about putting it on chickent, I bet it works really well. Thanks for sharing!

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