Grilled Chicken with Traverse City Cherry Barbecue Sauce

It is cherry season in Michigan which is one of our best fruit crops that we all look forward to every year. The season is short and this year I planned ahead and I  froze a bunch of pitted sweet cherries to use for pies and such at a later time.

Place the pitted cherries on wax paper lined baking sheets and freeze until frozen. Package in freezer bags.

I love to grill many different things such as veggies, beef, fish, pork and chicken. Did you know there is a difference between grilling and barbecuing? I’ve always used the terms interchangeably not really thinking about a difference.

Barbecuing is cooking meat such as ribs, pork shoulder or brisket long and slow resulting in tender juicy meat. For these type of meats to be tender they need to cook at a very low temperature. The cooking time is often 2 hours or up to 20 hours which allows the smoke and heat produced from the burning of wood or coal to penetrate the meat which tends to be tougher because of the fat and connective tissue in them.

Grilling is a hot and fast technique used when cooking hamburgers, fish, boneless chicken breasts or even vegetables. It’s usually the direct method and the cooking time is usually an hour or less. This is my preferred way to cook outdoors now.  There was a time when we had a smoker and we enjoyed barbecuing a big piece of meat, usually for a crowd.

Now that you know the difference, let’s get onto the recipe.

Grilled Chicken with Traverse City Cherry Barbecue Sauce

Grilled Chicken:

  • boneless, skinless chicken breasts pounded thin
  • olive oil
  • 2-3 tbsp. garlic, finely minced per 6 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 tbsp. soy sauce
  • 1-1/2 tsp. kosher salt

Combine the above ingredients and marinate for 30-60 minutes, turning once. Remove, dab the chicken with scott towels and brush on cherry barbecue sauce. Heat your grill to high, reduce the heat and cook chicken on medium high for 5-10 minutes per side depending on the thickness of the chicken. The internal temperature should reach 165°F.

Serve with the following Cherry Barbecue Sauce or use your favorite recipe.

Traverse City Barbecue Sauce by Mario Batali:

This is an excellent sauce, not too sweet or spicy and  very simple. I did not change any ingredients…

  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 tbsp. chili powder
  • 2 cups canned crushed tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup orange juice, freshly squeezed
  • 1/2 cup ketchup
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar, packed (use dark if you want more of a molasses taste)
  • 1 cup fresh sweet cherries, pitted

Cook the onion in a medium saucepan until they soften, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and chili powder and cook another minute. Add the tomatoes, orange juice, ketchup, brown sugar and cherries and cook an additional 10 minutes, stirring frequently.

Once the mixture has cooled, transfer to a food processor and blend until smooth. Store in the refrigerator for up to a week or freeze.

Mario particularly likes his sauce with pork but we enjoyed it with chicken as well. Did you know he has a lakefront summer home in Traverse City?

Recipe by

A cherry pitter is a must when pitting a bunch of cherries. The one below is by Oxo Good Grips and has a splatter shield which is really a nice feature. You know how messy fresh cherries can be! Another tidbit; wear gloves if you do not like stained fingers! Also, occasionally a pit will get stuck, just poke it out with a knife. Be sure the nuts have come out and you can easily tell by squeezing the cherries.

You can use a sharp knife but this gadget makes a clean hole in each cherry. With a knife it’s very easy to destroy the cherries as you cut each nut out or cut your finger(s).

Linking to Fiesta Friday.

Ingredients for the sauce, and the sauce is cooking…

After blending in my food processor…

Marinating in a simple olive oil/garlic mixture and grilling…

Perfectly cooked and tasty chicken along with Grilled Parmesan Potatoes.

Served this delicious chicken with a side of Radish and Cucumber Salad.

18 thoughts on “Grilled Chicken with Traverse City Cherry Barbecue Sauce

  1. Hi Judi! This looks delicious! I’ve always wanted to do something savory with cherries, but I keep eating them all before I have a chance…lol! Hope you had a wonderful 4th!


  2. Oh love cherries, and what a beautiful combination of flavors it had to have been when cooking it with chicken. Love that cherry pitter, I don’t believe I’ve ever seen one before 🙂 Very clever!


    • Thank you Loretta – the cherry pitter is a must if you are pitting a lot of cherries. I’m not sure how many pounds I pitted recently to make this sauce and I also froze a bunch for later use. Cherries and chicken do pair well together 🙂


    • Thanks Liz – I fix fruit in some form with a lot of grilled meats. Never thought about the terms until I read an article recently. Grilling is my preferred way of cooking – fast and not the long, slow cooking method of barbecuing 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Love the idea of the cherry sauce Aunt Juju and one for me to try in December when Australia’s best (but equally short) cherry season comes around. Thanks for sharing at this week’s Fiesta Friday! I’m lucky enough to be co-hosting this week.


  4. Missed my annual cherry picking this year, but they were selling for 99c at the store! So I still got a lot. Froze them without pitting first! Not sure what’ll happen 🤔 This sauce sounds perfect fo my baby back ribs, yum!


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