10 Tips for Perfect Grilled Chicken
- Pick the right cut of chicken: Remember that the larger the cut of chicken (whole birds, bone-in chicken breasts, whole legs), the longer it will take to cook. Stick with boneless or even consider cutting a boneless chicken into small pieces and threading it onto skewers if the cooking needs to happen quickly.
- Pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts first: The uneven shape of boneless, skinless chicken breasts makes them tricky to grill, but by just spending a few minutes pounding the thicker end thinner, you’ll both reduce cooking time and end up with more evenly cooked meat.
- Butterfly whole chickens: 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 grilling time, but the chicken also cooks more evenly and is easier to carve.
- Add flavor before you grill: The best part of grilling is the ritual of throwing it onto the grill and relaxing with a drink while it cooks. Take a little extra time to inject flavor into the chicken before grilling so you can skip basting and don’t have to do much work as it grills, and you know the end flavor will be amazing.
- 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 cooking so the chicken doesn’t stick.
- Stay away from high heat: Chicken is not steak or burgers, where you want a fairly high heat to get a good sear on the outside. Since chicken needs to cook thoroughly but you don’t want the skin to burn, it’s wise to cook it over medium, indirect heat for most of the cooking time. For a charcoal grill, this may mean building a two-level fire or only having coals on half of the grill, and for a gas grill, a medium heat works best.
- Cover the grill: One of the biggest mistakes I see with novice grillers is that they don’t cover food as it’s grilling. A covered grill creates a sealed, oven-like environment that surrounds your food on all sides, which is especially important when you’re trying to thoroughly cook chicken.
- 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. When brushing chicken with sauce, reserve some of the sauce for serving and place it in a separate bowl.
- Sauce or baste often and at the end: I love how sauce glazes chicken and caramelizes onto it, but 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 all over, turning the chicken a few times, so that each layer has time to cook and stick to the chicken.
- Use a thermometer: Finally, the chicken needs to be cooked to a safe temperature of 165°F, so you should use a meat or instant-read thermometer to check that the chicken is done. If you forgot or don’t have a thermometer, 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.