10 Tips for Perfect Grilled Chicken
06.01.2020 Meat Tip Monday
There are burgers and hot dogs, but no meaty entrée proves a griller’s true grilling skills quite like perfectly grilled chicken breast! Marked by the grill and turned a beautiful caramel color, the very best grilled chicken breast promises to be juicy and tender.
Grilled chicken is a rite of passage for summer cooking; it works for both a big barbecue blowout and a simple weeknight dinner. While you can simply throw some pieces onto the grill, there are ten tips to keep in mind that will yield perfectly grilled chicken every time!
1. Pick the Right Cut of Chicken
The first thing to consider when grilling chicken is which cut to choose. Do you have a lot of time to kick back and grill or is this a fast weeknight dinner that has to happen in 30 minutes? Remember that the larger the cut of chicken (like whole birds, bone-in chicken breasts, and whole legs), the longer it will take to grill. Stick with boneless or even cut boneless chicken into small pieces and threading them onto skewers if you’re short on time.
2. Pound Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breasts First
The uneven shape of boneless, skinless chicken breasts makes them tricky to grill. By spending just a few minutes pounding the thicker end thinner, you will both reduce the grilling time and end up with more evenly grilled meat.
3. Butterfly Whole Chickens
Grilling whole chickens is certainly impressive and it’s great way to appease both white and dark-meat eaters. However, whole chickens do take a long time to grill and it takes some practice to carve one up nicely. Butterfly a whole chicken instead (also known as spatchcocking), which means cutting out the backbone so the chicken now lies flat. Not only does this speed up your grilling time, but the chicken also grills more evenly and it’s easier to carve.
4. Add Flavor Before You Grill
The best part of grilling is throwing the meat on the grill and relaxing with a drink while it cooks, so take a little extra time to inject flavor into the chicken before grilling it. This way you can skip basting and don’t have to do much work while the chicken grills — and you know the end flavor will be amazing! Try a brine, rub, or marinade; it doesn’t have to be fancy.
5. Prep Your Grill Properly
Like any other kitchen appliance, a grill needs to be maintained, cleaned, and prepped to work properly and efficiently. If you want great grilled chicken, make sure you have enough fuel and rub a little oil onto the (clean and preheated) grates right before grilling so the chicken doesn’t stick.
6. Stay Away from High Heat
Chicken is not like steak or burgers where you want a fairly high heat to get a good sear on the outside. Because chicken needs to cook thoroughly without the skin burning, it’s wise to cook it over medium, indirect heat for most of the grilling time. For a charcoal grill, this may mean building a two-level fire or having coals on only half of the grill and for a gas grill, a medium heat works best.
7. Cover the Grill
One of the biggest mistakes novice grillers make is not covering their meat as it grills. You not only loose a lot of heat and waste fuel, but the meat just takes longer to cook with an uncovered grill. A covered grill creates a sealed, oven-like environment that surrounds your meat on all sides, which is especially important when you’re trying to thoroughly cook chicken. If your grill doesn’t happen to have a lid, an upside-down disposable foil pan does the trick.
8. Avoid Cross-Contamination
When handling raw chicken, it’s important to be very careful to avoid cross-contamination. Once the raw chicken is on the grill, thoroughly wash anything it touched (especially your hands) in hot, soapy water. Never ever just wipe off the platter you took the chicken out to the grill with and put the cooked chicken back on it!
When brushing chicken with sauce, reserve some of the sauce for serving and place it in a separate bowl. Brush the chicken with the rest of the sauce and if you have some brushing sauce left after the chicken is cooked, bring it to a full boil before serving it.
9. Sauce or Baste Often & At the End
Although sauce glazes chicken and caramelizes on it in a lovely way, you don’t need to brush the sauce on until the end because it can burn. Start basting about 15 minutes before the chicken is done and baste it all over, turning the chicken a few times, so that each layer has time to cook and stick to the chicken.
10. Use a Thermometer
Finally, chicken needs to be grilled to a safe temperature of 165°F. In order to do so, use a meat or instant-read thermometer to see if the chicken is done. Insert it into the thickest part of the thickest piece and make sure the tip of thermometer isn’t touching bone which can give you a false reading.
If you forgot to use a thermometer or don’t have one, don’t be afraid to cut into a thick piece to make sure the juices run clear and that the meat is no longer translucent but opaque.