Thai Barbecue Chicken, Gai Yang

Thai Barbecue Chicken - Gai Yang by The High Heel Gourmet 1

It’s taken me so long to write about this.  One of the reasons why I hesitate to post about Thai Barbecue Chicken is there are countless number of recipes for this dish. Every region has at least a few, not just one, and I seriously didn’t want to make this another series. Also, I don’t know which one is my favorite because I like fried chicken more than barbecue chicken.

If you ask me what is my family recipe, I don’t have one. Barbecue chicken is considered a “street food” in my household. It is either a street or train station food item. If we wanted it, we bought it from a vendor nearby, so we never really made it at home.

When I was young, at the train station you would see vendors carrying trays of food and other necessities such as monkey balm (for mosquito bites), inhaler for train motion sickness and of course several food items. Barbecue chicken is the most desirable because they would cook it at a stall not so far from the train station.

The smell of the grilled chicken traveled so far out we could smell it as we approached the station. The sweet, pungent aroma would make your mouth water! The quartered or half chickens would be spread out and sandwiched in between bamboo holders, bright with yellow color, and the smell of garlic, turmeric and fish sauce would engulf the whole train station.

Later in life (still young, haha…a few decades ago) I encountered a very famous “new” method to grill the chicken, “Gai Ob Fang”, which grills the chicken using hay instead of charcoal. (Gai=Chicken, Ob=roasted or bake, Fang=Straw) The principle was almost like “beer can chicken” except that the heat source was burning straw. As some of you already know, straw gives out higher heat than charcoal, but also burns very quickly.

Here is the method: sit a chicken on a bottle containing some random liquid for stability and also flavor from the vapor (not recommended to use a high alcohol content liquid like most hard liquor, unless you want to do “explosive chicken”), then cover the chicken with a fire-resistant container (like a clean plant pot), then the whole container is covered with a lot of straw. The straw is lit and burned until the fire dies down. When the container cools off, theoretically, the chicken should be perfectly cooked inside.

I hope you don’t expect my dad or me to ever try this at home. We lived in a Third World country, by Western standards, but our city home was the same as you guys’ city homes here, and less open area surrounding it compared to you folks who live the suburbs or countryside. We couldn’t do that at home unless we wanted to burn our house down to claim the fire insurance!

So, assuming that my experience with roasted chicken is more as a buyer than a chef, you might forgive me for this not-so-knowledgable post.  At least I can make a mean dipping sauce, which is equally as important as the chicken (especially to the Thai).

The requisite of any barbecue chicken is the marinade as much as the method of cooking. My typical marinade is very simple: garlic, pepper, cilantro root or stem (no leaves), salt, sugar and, optionally, turmeric, lemongrass, shallots, soy sauce, fish sauce, oyster sauce, chili sauce, honey, galangal and paprika or chili.

This time my method of cooking is oven-roasted. I actually got the tip from my designer, a Mr.Go. He not only designed my new logo but is also an excellent cook. He roasts the chicken using high heat, 400ºF, continuously for an hour and a half. (My usual is 350ºF for 40 minutes, rest outside covered with foil for 15 minutes, and put back in again at 400ºF for another 15 minutes.) His method yield a nicely-roasted chicken with crispy skin, which I love.

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Okay, let’s see what the ingredients are for the marinade.


One whole chicken about 3.4 – 4 lb.

Garlic 1/4 cup

Pepper 1-2 tablespoons (either white or black–I used white)

Cilantro stem, chopped about 1/2 cup

Turmeric 1-2 tablespoons (depends on the strength of your turmeric; you can use turmeric powder if you can’t find fresh, 2 teaspoons)

Salt 1 teaspoon (If you are not going to use fish sauce or oyster sauce, add more salt)

Sugar 1-2 tablespoons

(Optional) Fish sauce or soy sauce 2 tablespoons

(Optional) Oyster sauce 2 tablespoons


1) You need to clean the chicken and the first messy part is to stick your hands underneath the chicken skin and separate the skin from the flesh. Please, do not take the skin entirely off at this point.

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I taught my friend about how to marinate a chicken and he thought, “What’s the point of keeping the skin on when you don’t eat it? Plus you need to marinate the flesh, not the skin.” Then he ripped ALL the skin off, proudly announced that he found the solution for the “messy process”. The result was a dried-up roasted chicken!

2) Put all the ingredients (EXCEPT the chicken!) in the food processor or blender and puree them. I used a mortar and pestle this time (so time consuming, and I got an herbal facial spa as a result!)

3) Carefully put the marinade inside the chicken, underneath the chicken skin and over the skin. Then let the chicken sit there for at least 3 hours or more.

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4) You can either do it like I did, using an upright chicken roaster or just put the chicken on a rack. The upright tends to work better on a barbecue grill. I used it in the oven, resulting in a darker top (but also crispier skin). I think using a rack and laying the chicken on its side and flipping it would work better for the oven.

Warm up the oven to 400ºF.

Put the chicken in (I used convection as well) for 55 minutes. Brush or spray the skin with vegetable oil about half way through, about 25-30 minutes after the chicken went in.

After you pull it out, poke the thigh and see if the juice runs out clear. If it is, then you are done. If you use a thermometer, insert it into the breast part and thigh part like I did (LOL–my kitchen experimental lab; I just wanted to know how long I needed to cook the chicken this way), the thermometer should read 155ºF in the breast part and 140 in the thigh  Pull the chicken out of the oven and let it rest. Amazingly, the temperature in the breast will continue to go higher to 160ºF, and the thigh will go up to 155ºF.

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I let it rest until the temperature drops a little and cut the thighs and legs off to put back in the oven for another 5-10 minutes.

5) Cut and serve with “Nam Jim Gai”, or sweet chili sauce, and “Nam Jim Jaew”, or spicy and sour dipping sauce. Please visit my post here for Nam Jim recipe.

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I actually like to eat Gai Yang with plain sticky rice (this is the link how to make perfect sticky rice), Som Tam and Larb. This time I made SomTam with uni

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and Larb with raw salmon.

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31 thoughts on “Thai Barbecue Chicken, Gai Yang

  1. Great marinade! I understand now why my chicken roasts are so tasteless sometimes, I guess the trick is to get messy and separate the skin to let the marinade get into the flesh… Will try it soon, thanks! 😉

  2. This looks great. I’ll have to try it.

    The Gai Ob Fang method is similar to how I cook chicken when camping. Only I use coals from the campfire for the heat. Just put the chicken on an old baking tray or some heavy aluminum foil. Cover it with a large clay flower pot or large popcorn tin and cover that with hot coals. The popcorn tin transmits heat faster and gives a crispier skin.

    BTW, we’d call the fuel in the Gai Ob Fang method straw, not hay. Hay is greener and wet. It won’t burn well.

    • Aiya…Thank you ten times for this. I’m going to change the word. I actually was wondering about which word to be used and I can’t find any explanation so I just guessed. I soooo appreciate your explanation.

      That’s sounded like you had fun cooking at the campground. I usually don’t know what to cook during camping and end up eating just barbecue corn and hot dog!

  3. I don’t believe I’ve ever savored this chicken before so I’m glad you wrote about it. It looks pretty easy, too! And once again, you are to be complimented on your superb photography. The lighting, setup and composition are just stellar! I loved the first vertical shot!

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