If you’ve never grilled or barbecued quail, you really ought to give it a go. They are basically teeny chickens, with a delicate flavor and super tender meat. Even wild ones tend to be tender, although they are denser and more flavorful than domestic quail.
It’s classic outdoor party food: A pile of grilled quail, slathered in sauce, people gnawing away at them all over the yard, drinking beer, laughing. What’s not to love?
Start by spatchcocking your quail.
I know, that sounds dirty. But it’s really just a cooking term for flattening the birds. You use kitchen shears to cut out the backbones of the quail, then you flatten them with your hands so they cook evenly.
I take the extra step of removing the ribs with a sharp knife and shears. The fewer bones the better. If you are buying your quail, you can often buy them “tunnel boned,” which means the only bones left in the birds are those in the legs and wings.
When you are done, they should look like this. These are, obviously, wild quail, as they are a little bruised up from the hunt.
Grilling them this way is easy. Coat with oil, salt well and slap on a hot grill. Start with the breast side up so you can cook the whole bird well without incinerating the delicate breast meat. Once that side is good and browned — a little char is a good thing here — only then do you flip it. Paint with the sauce of your choice and you’re good to go.
Barbecuing will take longer, but it’s just as easy. Do the same thing as in grilling, only keep the quail away from direct heat. You will need to paint and flip several times, but you can get richly flavored barbecued quail in less than an hour. (My favorite slow-barbecued quail recipe uses a Southwestern style sauce.)
Sauce is your big choice here. You could go European and just use olive oil, lemon, some herbs, salt and pepper. I do this a lot.
Or you could go American BBQ and use your favorite sauce. I have several barbecue sauce recipes over at my friend Elise’s site Simply Recipes. But if you have to pin me down, my favorite way to grill quail is with a mustard-based, South Carolina-style barbecue sauce. It is the perfect match for the quail.
Break out more quail than you think you need when you make this. Normally two quail per person is a good portion, but I’ve eaten six at a sitting, and have seen otherwise demure young women gobble down four. And if they don’t all get eaten? No worries, as they are spectacular eaten the next day cold for lunch.
Grilled Quail with South Carolina Barbecue Sauce
- 8 to 16 quail, backbones removed and flattened
- 3 to 4 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 4 tablespoons butter
- 1/2 onion, grated
- 1/2 cup yellow mustard
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 1/2 cup cider vinegar
- 1 tablespoon dry mustard, like Coleman’s
- 1 teaspoon cayenne
- Salt to taste
- Make the sauce first. Heat the butter over medium heat, then add the onion and sauté until it turns translucent, about 3 or 4 minutes. Add everything else, stir well and simmer slowly for 20 minutes or more. You can buzz it in a blender for a smooth sauce.
- To flatten the quail, use kitchen shears to remove the backbones of the birds by cutting along either side. Put the quail breast side up on a cutting board and press to flatten. If you want to be fancy, carefully snip out the ribs and the curved saber bones near the wishbone. Salt the quail and toss them in the vegetable oil.
- Get your grill hot and lay your quail breast side up. Grill over high heat with the grill lid down for 5 minutes. As it cooks, paint the breast side with the sauce. Turn the quail over and paint the cooked side with sauce. Grill the breast side with the grill cover up for 2 minutes, then turn over again and paint with the sauce one more time. Cover the grill and cook another 2 to 4 minutes. Take off the grill and paint with sauce one more time.
Fantastic. Our quail were skinless so grilling was fast. This sauce behaves very well on the grill, forming a beautiful glaze without burning. I’m definitely repurposing this sauce for chicken thighs.
A. Texpat says
Absolutely fantastic. The sauce is incredible. Thank you!
Francis M. (Frank) Balestrieri says
Ever since my son and I attended one of your lecture dinners in Sacramento several years back (the one where you served duck tongues and other parts most people throw away), we have been devotees of your literature and recipes. It appears you love Latin American-cooked foods, which includes the numerous chiles and sauces they use in their cookery. There is one sauce recipe we’d love to get, but when we ask, most restaurants are reluctant to give it. It’s called Aji Amarillo Sauce. A Peruvian restaurant in San Francisco and Walnut Creek called ‘Limon’ serves this sauce with their empanadas. Another SF Restaurant, ‘Artesano’, also uses this sauce. It is absolutely fabulous! Now, we buy it from the restaurant in containers for our home-made empanadas, but also as a vegetable dip, marinade, and final brushed coating on both wild and domestic fowl. It’s good with fish too. Is there any way you can help us track this recipe down? I think it’s worthy of your monthly e-mails to us followers. Can you help me track this recipe down? It’s getting costly to buy it in small containers from the restaurants. Thank you!
Francis M. (Frank) Balestrieri
Ryan Knape says
Howdy! Can I use this on quail I shot yesterday and marinate overnight and grill tomorrow? Or don’t marinate overnight?
Hank Shaw says
Ryan: Yep, it will work fine.
Is this sauce storage friendly
Hank Shaw says
Sam: As in can you can it? Not unless you pressure can it. It is not acidic enough to water-bath can.
Should I alter the cook time or sequence st all if I’m using skinless quail?
Hank Shaw says
Stephen: I think it should be about the same, maybe a minute or two less.
Great for grilled black fish.
Marisa Franca @ All Our Way says
Hi, Hank!! Came over from your feral pig. Can you use grainy Poupon style mustard in the recipe instead of the plain mustard? We love spicy on our pulled pork but we’d love to try this on our chicken.
This sauce is amazing. Don’t be afraid to make extra! We usually start the weekend with it on duck (like in Duck, Duck Goose) and then do another meal with the extra a different day. It’s phenomenal on wings and works very well on grilled pork tenderloin and even plain old chicken breast. Great addition to a sandwich as well. Thanks Hank!
Tried this tonight with blue quail. Very moist! Thanks
Our first try at grilling “wild” game. Tried it on quail breasts. Delicious! We’ll try this Carolina sauce on other meats as well. Easy prep, maybe need to cook a bit longer but I confess I didn’t flatten the breasts….
Just made this! Best quail I’ve ever had. Absolutely delish! Thanks for sharing.
The sauce is to die for… Excellent! Everyone loved it. Will make this again…
Excelente, por aquí a “las africanas” las cocinamos a la plancha, gracias por utilizar en sus recetas “el oro líquido”.
Jeff @ Cheeseburger says
I actually haven’t tried to grill quail. With this recipe, I think I’ll give it a try.
William Lee says
Have lots of Gambel’s quail here in Tucson area. Can’t wait for the season. Love this site!!
Yummy – can’t wait to try the sauce. We have a ton of quail in our area but I’m not sure how to hunt them but maybe it’s time to learn.
Joe Navari says
That made me really hungry.