Thai-Style Grilled Chicken (Gai Yang)

By Lee Jackson ↣ Published on: March 26, 2021

Last Updated: February 27th, 20230 Comments on Thai-Style Grilled Chicken (Gai Yang)

Juicy, fragrant chicken with all the flavours of South East Asia, this Thai Gai Yang (ไก่ย่าง), is a perfect way to enjoy Thai-style grilled chicken chicken. Learn how to create this classic street-food treasure at home.

A bowl of cha-style chicken grilled over hot coals. Thai-Style Grilled Chicken (Gai Yang)

Thailand is one of the World's great culinary destinations. Every corner of the country is a filled with amazing dishes to sample. Hawker stalls serve a cornucopia of fragrance, flavour and colour - coconut curries, deep fried delights, hot and fast stir fries, it's overwhelmingly delicious. One delight on offer is hot-coal grilled chicken like you've never tasted before.

Gai Yang is a simple marinated chicken offering that is a life-changing discovery! Packed with aroma from Lemongrass, fish sauce, chilli and lots of garlic.

What is Gai Yang (ไก่ย่าง)?

Gai yang (ไก่ย่าง) is a simple Thai street-food of marinated chicken that has been charred over hot coals to juicy, fragrant perfection. Throughout Thailand, there are countless variations on the dish but most feature the same core ingredients. Lemongrass, fish sauce, chilli, cilantro and lots of garlic for that authentic fragrance and salty umami flavours quintessential of Thai cuisine.

Typically Gai yang is served with a delicious dipping sauce "Nam Jim Jaew", which adds a new level of sweet, sour and spice to proceedings... as if there wasn't already a happy attack on the tastebuds!

Why it works

Flavour flavour flavour - Gai yang has a mind boggling amount of flavour. There's a reason Thai food is one of the World's treasures. They KNOW how to set your taste buds alight with fragrance. Sweet, sour, salt and spice is working overtime.

Juicy chicken - chicken cooked on the grill (BBQ) creates a perfect balance of char while locking in all the tasty juices. Best cuts to use are the thighs, legs and wings for the most mouthwatering results.

Stuff you'll need

The bulk of your time will be spent on the marinade. All fresh, all flavour. Then it's a matter of time - a good 12-24 hours marinate is an essential step in creating the best, most flavourful results.

  • Lemongrass - Light floral notes that are an essential Thai flavour. Tip: buy your lemongrass in bulk and pound until completely broken up then freeze.
  • Cilantro - Use the roots and stems, that's where all the flavour is.
  • Galangal - like lemongrass, you can pre grind and then freeze for later use. It has the unmistakeable fragrance and flavour of South East Asia.
  • Fresh Turmeric - Colour and flavour, are you starting to see a pattern here? Use ground if you can't get fresh.
  • Fish Sauce - It wouldn't be Thai if it didn't include umami fish sauce.
  • Chillies - Thai chillies bring a welcome hit of spice, add as many as you can handle.
  • Soy Sauce - a Chinese note will add a little more umami saltiness.
  • Shallots - A base to the flavour that also helps with the tenderising process
  • Garlic - lots of garlic, just because.
  • Palm sugar - all that flavour needs a little rounding off, so to balance we add some sweetness. TIP: Use brown sugar if you can't get palm sugar.
The ingredients for Thai-Style Grilled Chicken (Gai Yang) including Lemongrass, galangal, fish sauce and palm sugar.

Step by Step

Making your own Thai-style grilled chicken is easy. See for yourself...

  1. Step 1 - Make the marinade.

    You have two options here: pestle & mortar or food processor. Arguably, a pestle & mortar will give the best results, but I mostly use an immersion blender because life's too short etc. TIP: If you're using a pestle & mortar, start with the toughest ingredients first and add one by one until smooth. My order would be lemongrass, galangal, cilantro, chillies, turmeric, shallots then garlic. Then stir in the sugar, fish sauce, some white pepper and soy sauce.

    If you're using technology (blender, immersion blender or food processor) then just put everything together and blend until semi smooth.

  2. Step 2 - Marinate

    Make deep slashes all over the chicken pieces then cover with the marinade. Refrigerate well covered for up to 24 hours.

  3. Step 4 - Grill the chicken

    Depending on your cut of chicken, cook on a grill/bbq, turning a few times, basting with a little leftover marinade half-way through cooking to keep the chicken moist. Cook until cooked through (around 165ºF/75ºC internet temp). Cover loosely afterwards and let your chicken rest for a few minutes to let the juices settle.

    Alternatively, you can roast (200ºc/400ºF) or broil (on a medium heat), turning frequently until it's done, around 20 minutes for thighs/legs or until the internal temperature reaches around 165ºF/75ºC. Test using a kitchen thermometer.

  4. Optional stage - Make a Nam Jim Jaew dipping sauce

    Near the time to eat, you can whip together a delicious Nam Jim Jaew spicy dipping sauce. Packed (and I mean packed) with flavour. You can make in advance, the ground rice in the dipping sauce will swell after time and change the texture a little, the flavour will stay the same, so you you decide how long you leave it.)

Blending the marinade ingredients using an immersion blender for Thai-Style Grilled Chicken (Gai Yang)
Chicken marinating in various Thai ingredients for Thai-Style Grilled Chicken (Gai Yang)
A bowl of cha-style chicken grilled over hot coals. Thai-Style Grilled Chicken (Gai Yang)

Pro Tips to make your life easier

  • Marinate your chicken in a plastic bag for less mess.
  • Make a dipping sauce the same time as your marinade and it'll be good to go when you're ready to eat. Get the Nam Jim Jaew recipe.
  • Save time and energy by using an immersion blender to grind up the marinade.
  • This marinade will work for other meats too, try with beef or pork steaks or skewers.
  • You can make Gai Yang using a whole butterflied chicken too.

Serving and storing suggestions

  • Serve Gai Yang hot or at room temperature alongside a simple Asian salad or some plain boiled jasmine rice or coconut rice with a portion of the Nam Jim Jaew dipping sauce alongside.
  • Fridge: You can keep leftovers in the fridge for 2-3 days and either eat cold or reheated in the oven for 5-10 minutes (200ºC/400ºF).
  • Freeze: You can freeze Gai yang at marinade stage and then defrost thoroughly before grilling.
  • Freeze leftovers: You can freeze leftovers for 2 months. Defrost thoroughly, then reheat in a 200ºC/400ºF oven for 8-10 minutes until hot throughout.


Nam Jim Jaew dipping sauce for Thai-Style Grilled Chicken (Gai Yang)

Ready to get cooking?

So, now all that's needed is to pop the chicken on a BBQ grill (or under a HOT oven broiler/grill and char it to perfection. The char and smoke from the grill is the last flavour that creates the most authentic Gai Yang flavour to the grilled chicken - what you're left with is an assault on the senses - an exotic marriage of flavour, texture and fragrance - it's MY favourite way to grill chicken - will it be yours?

Any Questions? (FAQ)

Have a question about Thai Style grilled chicken (Gai Yang)? Let me know in the comments.

What is Gai Yang?

Gai Yang is a simple Thai-style grilled chicken. Typically a home cooked or street-food dish in Thailand. Chicken pieces are marinated in a combination of aromatics including lemongrass, garlic and fish sauce then cooked over hot coals. Many variation on recipes exist from street vendor to street vendor, region to region or family to family.

Is Gai Yang spicy?

My recipe has a little spice which is common, but the chicken itself is not particularly spicy. The Nam Jim Jaew dipping sauce that accompanies the chicken IS spicy, but can be dialled up or down depending on your personal taste.


A bowl of cha-style chicken grilled over hot coals. Thai-Style Grilled Chicken (Gai Yang)

Thai-Style Grilled Chicken (Gai Yang)

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5 from 3 votes
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Recipe by Lee
Course Appetizer, Main Course
Cuisine Thai
Prep Time15 minutes
Cook Time20 minutes
Marination1 day
Total Time1 day 35 minutes
Servings (adjustable) 4
Calories (per serving) | 475


  • 3 lb Chicken drumsticks (or thighs, left whole)
  • 1 lemongrass stalk (white parts only, thinly sliced)
  • 3 slices galangal
  • 1 inch fresh turmeric (2cm)
  • ¼ cup cilantro (stems & leaves (chopped)
  • ½ cup shallots (peeled & chopped)
  • 3 thai chillies
  • 8 garlic cloves
  • 2 tbsp light soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp fish sauce
  • 1 tbsp palm sugar (or brown sugar)
  • ½ tsp white pepper (or black pepper)
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil


  • Put all the marinade ingredients (except the chicken!) into a food processor and blend into a paste.
    Alternatively, grind in a pestle & mortar until smooth. Start with the toughest ingredient first and add one at a time. i.e. lemongrass then galangal, cilantro, chillies, turmeric, shallots then garlic. Then stir in the sugar, fish sauce, pepper and soy sauce
  • Using a sharp knife, make 2-3 deep slashes into each chicken drumstick. This will help the marinade permeate and create better flavour.
    Either in a bowl or a plastic resealable bag mix together the marinade and chicken. Make sure all the chicken gets a good coating. Cover the bowl or seal the bag and refrigerate for as long as you can. 4-5 hours minimum or 24 hours for the tastiest results.
  • Remove from the fridge about 1 hour before you plan to cook. Heat your BBQ grill or a hot oven grill.
    Grill the chicken for about 15-20 minutes, turning regularly - baste the chicken with some of the leftover marinade for added flavour and to keep the meat juicy (ensure this marinade cooks as it's had raw chicken in it). You want a nice char on the outside - it's all flavour!
  • Let the chicken rest for 5 minutes, then serve. I like to serve mine with a spicy dipping sauce like nam jim jaew (details and recipe for that below in the notes).


Dipping Sauce
A great dipping sauce for Gai Yang is a Nam Jim Jaew dipping sauce - spicy, sour, sweet and salty... everything you need with a Thai dipping sauce - visit for the recipe.
Alternative meats
This marinade will work not only with chicken. Try marinating pork or beef too. thin cut pork chops or steaks work excellently. Beef steaks work excellently too. You can also make Thai Style satay skewers using thin pieces of marinated pork or beef threaded onto skewers. Cook on the BBQ grill.
Fridge: You can keep leftover cooked Gai yang for 2-3 days in the fridge (covered). Eat cold or warmed in a 200ºc/400ºF oven for 8-10 minutes or until hot.
Freeze: You can freeze the chicken at marinade stage for 2-3 month. Defrost thoroughly (in the fridge) before cooking as stated in the recipe.
Freeze leftovers: You can freeze any leftovers for 1-2 months. Defrost thoroughly before reheating in a 200ºc/400ºf over for 8-10 minutes or until hot throughout.
Leftover serving suggestion
Flake leftover chicken into a bowl and mix with a little Nam Jim Jaew dipping sauce (see above for link). Then toss with some cooked and cooled rice noodles, crispy shredded lettuce, chopped cilantro or mint, shredded carrot, chopped cucumber and tomato for a delicious Thai noodle salad. Sprinkle with more Nam Jim Jaew and some chopped peanuts.


Calories: 475kcal (24%) | Carbohydrates: 11g (4%) | Protein: 43g (86%) | Fat: 28g (43%) | Saturated Fat: 11g (69%) | Trans Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 210mg (70%) | Sodium: 1458mg (63%) | Potassium: 699mg (20%) | Fiber: 1g (4%) | Sugar: 5g (6%) | Vitamin A: 202IU (4%) | Vitamin C: 10mg (12%) | Calcium: 52mg (5%) | Iron: 2mg (11%)
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