There’s nothing like the juicy, flavor-filled taste of chicken straight from the grill. Achieving this poultry perfection doesn’t require expert grilling knowledge; simply read on for easy chicken grilling tips that you can start applying in time for tonight’s dinner.
Chicken Cuts Determine Length of Time on the Grill
You can grill just about any cut of chicken on your grill. However, it’s important to consider that some cuts will need longer grilling times than others. For example, chicken breasts on the grill respond better to high temperatures and shorter amounts of time than chicken thighs and legs, which require slower and longer cooking times.
In either case, by ensuring your chicken is cooked to an internal temperature of 165 degrees F at its thickest point, you can know that it’s safe to consume.
Grill, or Barbecue?
There is a difference between grilling and barbecuing. Grilling occurs at high temperatures and typically doesn’t take nearly as long as barbecuing, which can require a minimum of one hour.
Boneless and skinless chicken pieces should be grilled at high heat, as this will lock in moisture.
Preparing Your Outdoor Grill and Chicken Pieces
Cooking chicken on your grill requires having two temperature zones: high heat at one side and a cooler temperature on the other. Whether using coal or wood, this fuel will have to be moved to one side. It’s also a good idea to ensure your grill is free of debris from your last meal. You can use a grill scrubber to remove any stuck-on food.
The pieces of chicken you plan to cook on the grill should be coated with olive oil and sprinkled with salt on all sides before starting to cook them.
Before you begin cooking your chicken, make sure you have an instant read thermometer or meat thermometer and your favorite homemade or store-bought barbeque sauce ready.
Preheating your outdoor grill is an absolute must. If you’re cooking with a gas grill, wait 10 minutes before placing your chicken to avoid sticking. You’ll need to preheat for about 30 minutes with a charcoal grill.
Sear your chicken pieces on the hot side of the grill. Skin should be seared well (leave grill marks), and searing should be done by grilling chicken with the lid open for between 5 and 10 minutes. Ensure your chicken doesn’t burn.
As soon as your chicken is seared well on the hot grill grates, move it to the cool side. Then turn your temperature down to medium-low or low, being sure not to exceed 300 degrees F. Close your grill lid and allow chicken to cook in indirect heat for between 20 and 30 minutes.
Next, turn your chicken over. Baste with barbecue or homemade sauce before closing the lid a second time. Allow to cook for between 10 and 30 minutes.
The above time estimates will depend on how large or small your pieces of chicken are, their temperature when you placed them on the grill, and the type and set-up of your grill.
Pro Tips to Help You Achieve the Perfect Grilled Chicken Every Time
Grilling or barbecuing your chicken perfectly requires the right temperatures and length of time, but there are also some tips and tricks that grilling experts use to really get it right.
Leave the Skin On
If skinless is healthier, why leave the skin on when grilling your chicken? Insulation. The skin will prevent overcooking, protecting the meat underneath from drying out. Also, as your chicken cooks, the skin will both infuse the meat with flavor and lock it in. Who knew?
Go for Pasture-Raised
If you want better-tasting chicken and wish to support sustainable farming practices, a great way to go is to choose pasture-raised chicken from a heritage breed. Some examples of heritage breeds are:
Heritage breeds can be found at local farmers’ markets, as well as many local grocers.
Tenderize and Marinade Before You Grill
Grilling chicken breasts can be more of a challenge, simply because they’re not of even thickness. This can lead to the drying out of thinner areas before thicker parts of the chicken have finished cooking. You can level this playing field by tenderizing your chicken breasts.
To do this, cut your breasts in half and wrap portions in plastic wrap to avoid juice from running out or splashing. Use a meat tenderizer’s flat side or a rolling pin to concentrate on the thickest parts. Hit these thicker areas until you’ve achieved uniform thickness across the chicken breast.
After tenderizing is complete, place portions into a bowl or zippered bag and add your desired marinade. It’s a good idea to make or buy marinade with no sweeteners, which can cause your chicken to stick on the grill. Instead, ensure that it has a high oil content.
Leave tenderized chicken portions in the refrigerator for one hour maximum before grilling to infuse them with flavor.
Don’t have any marinade on hand or simply don’t have the time to make it? Use some pickle juice, which, when mixed with oil, is a perfectly acceptable cheat. You can also raid your stash of vinaigrette salad dressings and use those for your chicken.
Fine-Tuning Internal Cooking Temperatures
Earlier, we advised cooking chicken to an internal temperature of 165 degrees F for safe eating. However, grilling it to this temperature will dry it out. The right way to reach this safe temperature is to leave it on the grill only until its internal temperature has reached between 155 and 160 degrees F, and then remove it.
Although it may seem counterintuitive, “resting” your chicken in this way won’t reduce its internal temperature. In fact, as your chicken sits, it will not only continue cooking, but its internal temperature will continue to rise as much as 10 degrees, giving you chicken that’s perfectly cooked, not overdone.
Glazing Instead of Marinating Chicken? Try This Tip
If you prefer a sweet and sticky taste, a glaze can be just the thing. To get that caramelized consistency, wait two or three minutes before taking your chicken off the grill to apply barbecue sauce with a brush. This will prevent burning of the glaze.
Don’t have glaze? Check your fridge for ketchup and a sweet jam like apricot. Mix the jam with a squirt or two of ketchup. Then, add some bourbon, cayenne, and lemon juice, and voila! You’ve got a delicious homemade glaze.
Understand How Your Grill Works
Whether it’s a gas, charcoal, or wood-fired grill, it’s important to understand that they all work in essentially the same way. Cooking with the lid open, your grill’s heat will be most concentrated at its bottom. When the lid is closed, heat is trapped and circulates around whatever you’re cooking, just as with an oven.
With these two things in mind, grilling with the lid open is best for charring thin chicken breasts and preventing the tops from overcooking. When you want to cook bone-in or larger portions that haven’t been tenderized, close the lid as much as possible during cooking for the best results.