Why don’t people get as excited about chicken on the grill as they do about steak? The truth is, chicken from the grill can be scrumptious—when it is perfectly cooked. That means it is browned and crisp but not black on the outside and juicy but not mushy (or pink!) on the inside. Most people don’t know how to achieve that grilled chicken perfection—but you can. Here’s the Bottom Line way to make perfect grilled chicken every time…
Tips for Great Results
Make sure the grill grates are very clean. Chicken grilled on grates that aren’t clean will pick up the charred residue from previous grilling. This will spoil the flavor. One way to get your grates ready for perfect chicken is to heat the grill to a high temperature to burn away grease and other residue…then brush the grates with a piece of crumpled aluminum foil held with tongs. When the grates are clean, oil them with vegetable oil–soaked paper towels to help prevent sticking. This is best done using tongs to hold the paper towels.
Trim visible fat from chicken to minimize flare-ups. Many people think that flames licking at chicken are a good thing—but that’s not so. Flames easily can burn the food and destroy the flavor. If a flare-up occurs even though you’ve trimmed the fat, move the chicken to another section of the grill until the flare is out. You also can close the cover of the grill to reduce oxygen and starve the flame.
When using a barbecue sauce or glaze, don’t put it on when the chicken is raw. Instead, add it four to five minutes before the chicken is done cooking to keep the sugar in the sauce from burning. Or warm the sauce, and brush the chicken with it after it comes off the grill. (This precaution does not refer to most marinades, which tend to contain far less sugar than sauces and glazes.)
Chicken should be at room temperature before placing it on the grill. If it has been marinating in the fridge, remove it about one hour before grilling.
Use an instant-read thermometer to know when the chicken is done. For white meat (breasts) and the upper part of the wing where there is white meat, a thermometer should read 165°F. For dark meat (legs and thighs), a thermometer should read 170°F.
How to Prep and Grill Different Cuts of Chicken
Grilling and turning times will vary according to your grill’s heat, the size of your chicken pieces, how you’ve prepared the meat and other factors, but here are the essential instructions for grilling great chicken—try these out and adjust according to your results…
Boneless, skinless chicken breasts: Your goal with skinless breasts is crisp on the exterior and juicy on the interior. But having no skin or visible fat can lead to dry, chewy results. Here’s how to grill the perfect boneless breast…
Even out the meat. A boneless, skinless chicken breast is uneven with a thicker center and thinner end. Flatten the breast so that it has an almost-even thickness. The best way to do this is to put it in a sealable plastic bag and flatten it with a rolling pin or meat bat. The breast should end up about three-quarters-inch thick.
Marinate the flattened chicken or brine it for about 20 minutes in the refrigerator. A basic brine is one-quarter cup salt to four cups water. Or use a marinade of your choice (but not a sugary glaze). This helps keep the chicken moist. Pat the chicken dry with a paper towel before grilling.
Place the chicken on the grill over indirect heat. Cook for five minutes, turn, then cook three minutes more. These breasts without the bone cook quickly.
Boneless, skinless chicken thighs: Open chicken thighs to form a flat surface. Since the bone has been removed, the thigh can easily be spread apart and opened flat. Remove visible fat. Spray both sides with olive oil. Place the thighs on the grill over direct heat. Cook for five minutes. Move them to indirect heat, and turn the chicken. Continue to cook for three to four minutes more. Without the bone, these will cook quickly.
Chicken breasts, legs and thighs with skin and bones: The object is to have a crisp skin with the meat cooked through but not overcooked. For chicken breasts, start by placing them, skin-side down, for 10 minutes over direct heat (400°F to 450°F). Then turn the chicken breasts over and move them to indirect heat (375°F to 400°F), for 10 to 15 minutes. Check the meat temperature after 10 minutes to see if it has reached 165°F. Continue to cook for the final five minutes if needed. For the chicken legs and thighs, start them over direct heat for five minutes. Turn them over, and continue to cook them over direct heat for five minutes more. Then move the meat to indirect heat for 10 to 15 minutes to finish cooking. Check the temperature of the meat after 10 minutes to see if it has reached 170°F. Continue to cook for five minutes, more if needed, to reach 170°F.
Chicken wings: These have a lot of skin that drips fat that can create flare-ups. Watch the wings carefully, and move them to new spots when flare-ups happen. Place them over direct heat for four to five minutes, turning once during that time. Then move them over indirect heat, and grill 12 minutes more, turning them once.
Deliciously Simple Grilled Chicken Recipes
Korean Grilled Chicken Breasts
4 Tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
4 Tablespoons rice vinegar
4 crushed garlic cloves
4 teaspoons sesame oil
4 Tablespoons honey
3 teaspoons ground ginger
¾ pound boneless, skinless breasts
Mix the soy sauce, rice vinegar, garlic, sesame oil, honey and ginger in a bowl. Place the chicken in a sealable plastic bag, and flatten it with a rolling pin so that it is an even thickness. Add half the mixed sauce to the bag, and seal it. Refrigerate about 20 minutes, turning the bag over once during that time. Add the remaining marinade to a saucepan, and set aside. To get ready for cooking, remove the chicken from the refrigerator and set it out to bring it to room temperature, about one hour. Remove the chicken from the bag, and discard the bagged marinade. Pat the chicken dry with a paper towel. Grill as described above for boneless breasts.* While the chicken grills, bring the marinade in the saucepan to a simmer. Cook for two minutes to warm and thicken the sauce. Remove the chicken to two dinner plates, and spoon the reserved sauce on top. Serves two.
Barbecued Chicken Sliders
½ cup low-sugar barbecue sauce
2 medium crushed garlic cloves
½ teaspoon hot pepper sauce
¾ pound boneless, skinless thighs
Olive oil spray
6 slider rolls
Preheat the grill. Mix the barbecue sauce, garlic and hot pepper sauce in a bowl. Set aside. Grill as described above for boneless thighs, and after cooking for five minutes and moving the chicken to indirect heat, turn it and spoon a little of the sauce mixture over the cooked side.
While the chicken grills, open the slider rolls and put them on the grill, cut-side down, to toast, about two minutes.
Remove the chicken from the grill once it has finished cooking, and cut it into one-quarter-to-one-half-inch slices. Divide among the slider rolls. Spoon the remaining sauce over the chicken, and close the rolls. Serves two.
Sweet and Spicy Grilled Wings
½ cup balsamic vinegar
½ cup honey
3 crushed garlic cloves
Several drops hot pepper sauce
8 chicken wings
2 Tablespoons sesame seeds
Mix the balsamic vinegar, honey, garlic and hot pepper sauce in a bowl, and set aside. If the wings are in the refrigerator, remove about one hour before grilling so that they come to room temperature. Grill as described for wings, and brush their top sides with the sauce about three to four minutes before they are done.
Meanwhile, heat the remaining marinade in a saucepan until thick, about four to five minutes. When the wings are done grilling, divide them between two plates and spoon the sauce over the wings. Sprinkle on the sesame seeds. Serves two.