Ping Gai is the Lao BBQ chicken that hails from Laos but has found its way into the hearts and plates of people all across Thailand and beyond. It is often going by the names Kai Yang / Gai Yang (aka Thai BBQ Chicken).
What’s even more exciting is that the marinade for this dish is absolutely incredible! It’s a breeze to whip up, making it the ideal choice for your next BBQ bash or a delightful family dinner.
PING GAI / KAI YANG
The chicken delight from Lao and Isaan cuisines
I’m pretty sure many of you have a soft spot for Thai BBQ Chicken (or Gai Yang / Kai Yang) , that wonderful street food classic in Thailand. But here’s a little tidbit you might find interesting – this dish actually traces its roots back to Laos and was introduced to the Isaan region in Thailand by the Lao community.
Even though it’s now widely cherished as Thai BBQ Chicken, I personally believe that Lao cuisine deserves recognition for its contribution to the dish’s origin. In Laos, it goes by the name Ping Gai / Ping Kai and is primarily known as Lao BBQ Chicken.
🍗 The Secret Ingredient for Ping Gai / Kai Yang
In my opinion, Ping Gai / Kai Yang gives a bolder flavor compared to Vietnamese Lemongrass chicken . It’s a flavor explosion thanks to the vibrant mix of tropical elements like lemongrass and fish sauce. But, the real star of the show in this recipe is cilantro root.
Cilantro root is a cornerstone in Thai cuisine (and occasionally found in Vietnamese dishes). It plays a crucial role in creating a flavorful meat marinade and elevates the aromatic essence of broths.
Moreover, you’ll also need soy sauce, dark soy sauce, palm sugar, garlic, cooking oil, and white peppercorns to achieve the full flavor. (Don’t forget to read my notes at the end of the post for substitutes.)
For the chicken, Thai and Lao cuisines commonly use chicken legs, chicken thighs, or even the entire chicken for this recipe. Additionally, chicken wings are a perfect choice. Chicken breast also works if you prefer a high-protein dish.
In this recipe, I use deboned chicken thighs because they’re my favorite part. They’re easy to handle and less likely to become dry.
There are some fantastic Asian recipes featuring chicken thighs that are definitely worth trying:
📝 Instructions for Lao / Thai BBQ Chicken
CRUSH ALL HERBS & SPICES:
- Use a pestle and mortar to crush all the herbs and spices, including lemongrass, cilantro root, palm sugar (if you’re using solid palm sugar), garlic, and white peppercorns.
- Or you can use a food processor to blend all the ingredients together.
MARINATE THE CHICKEN:
- Combine the mixture mentioned above with fish sauce, soy sauce, and dark soy sauce. Mix everything thoroughly with the chicken. Finally, add some cooking oil.
- The cooking oil will create a layer that retains moisture and sauce on the chicken, making it flavorful and juicy. Let the chicken marinate for at least 3 hours or overnight for the best flavor.
GRILL THE CHICKEN:
Before cooking the chicken, allow it to sit at room temperature for 30 minutes. To cook the chicken, you have some options: grilling provides the best smoky flavor, but using the oven or an air fryer will also yield decent results.
- If using an air fryer, place the chicken upside down in the air fryer and cook for 15 minutes at 356°F (180°C). Then, increase the temperature to 400°F (200°C), flip the chicken, and air fry for an additional 5 minutes or until golden brown.
- If using the oven, preheat it to 400°F (200°C) for 15 minutes. Place the chicken on a grill rack with the drip tray underneath, and bake the chicken for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown.
🍽️ How to enjoy Ping Gai / Kai Yang
In Thai and Lao cuisine, BBQ chicken is best enjoyed with sticky rice (Khao Niao / Khao Niew). If you’re looking for a quick and easy recipe, I’ve got one for Instant Pot Sticky Rice.
And, make sure not to overlook the essential companions for your BBQ chicken: Thai BBQ dipping sauce (Nam Jim Jaew) or Lao Chili Sauce (Jaew Som).
🌟 Helpful Tips
- If you can’t get cilantro root, you can replace it with cilantro stems. The cilantro’s fragrance is not significant and is reduced considerably by the presence of garlic and peppercorns. This dish is suitable even for those who are not fond of cilantro.
- In addition to sticky rice, jasmine rice or Vietnamese Banh Mi also pair wonderfully with this BBQ Chicken (it’s the Vietnamese style, by the way). You might want to try my quick and easy recipe for cooking jasmine rice in a microwave or my guide on assembling Banh Mi like a true Vietnamese.
- Dark soy sauce is primarily used for its appealing color. You can skip it or substitute it with honey, molasses, or Vietnamese caramel sauce (nước màu).
- Brown or black sugar makes a great substitute for palm sugar, and white sugar works just fine as well.
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Ping Gai / Kai Yang (Lao / Thai Grilled Chicken)
- 1.1 lb deboned chicken thighs (500g)
- 1½ tbsp fish sauce
- ½ tbsp dark soy sauce
- 1 oz palm sugar (30g)
- 1 stalk lemongrass
- 3 cilantro roots
- 2 garlic cloves
- ½ tsp white peppercorns
- 1 tbsp cooking oil
- ¼ cup water (60ml)
Marinate the chicken:
- Use a pestle and mortar or a food processor to crush all the herbs and spices, including lemongrass, cilantro root, palm sugar (if you're using solid palm sugar), garlic, and white peppercorns.
- Combine the mixture mentioned above with fish sauce, soy sauce, and dark soy sauce. Mix everything thoroughly with the chicken. Finally, add some cooking oil. Mix well.
Grill the chicken:
- Before cooking the chicken, allow it to sit at room temperature for 30 minutes.
- When using an air fryer, start by placing the chicken upside down in the air fryer and cooking it for 15 minutes at 356°F (180°C). Afterward, raise the temperature to 400°F (200°C), flip the chicken, and air fry for an additional 5 minutes or until golden brown.
- When using the oven, preheat it to 400°F (200°C) for 15 minutes. Put the chicken on a grill rack with the drip tray below and bake for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown.
Enjoy the grilled chicken:
- Enjoy Ping Gai / Kai Yang with sticky rice like a Thai / Lao. (try my recipe for quick & easy Instant Pot Sticky Rice)
- If cilantro root isn’t available, cilantro stems make a suitable replacement. The fragrance won’t be overpowering, making this dish suitable for those not fond of cilantro.
- Serve this BBQ Chicken with sticky rice, jasmine rice, or Vietnamese Banh Mi. You can explore my quick microwave jasmine rice recipe or a guide on assembling Banh Mi.
- Dark soy sauce adds color; feel free to skip it or use honey, molasses, or Vietnamese caramel sauce (nước màu).
- Substitute brown or black sugar for palm sugar, or simply use white sugar.