- As a chef, I’ve learned the best tricks to grill perfectly cooked, juicy chicken every time.
- Read the labels on your chicken when you buy it and be sure to add flavor through a rub or brine.
- Adding your sauce too early in the grilling process can char your chicken, so wait until the end.
Whether you’re having people over or bringing a meal to a potluck, grilled chicken is always a crowd pleaser.
As a restaurant chef, I’ve broken down so many whole birds that I could probably do it blindfolded, so I have a few tricks up my sleeve when it comes to making the tastiest grilled chicken around.
Buy high-quality chicken from a trusted source
First and foremost, buy a good chicken from a trusted source. Terms like “organic” and “free range” are often vague and don’t always indicate what you think they do, so look for the USDA-grade label first and foremost.
An A grade means there’s a good fat-to-skin ratio and no discolorations and B and C grades are usually used for ground meat.
From there, look for cage-free, antibiotics-free, and Kosher, which all refer to how the chickens are raised and processed. Those factors, separately or combined, make for a chicken that is consistently tasty.
Determine if you want your chicken on the bone
Bone-in, skin-on meat tastes better because this extra layer of fat infuses the chicken with flavor and moisture while cooking.
Experiment with grilling a whole bird spatchcock style — without the spinal cord. This way, the bird stays flush with the grill so it will cooks evenly over the heat and everyone can still have their favorite cuts.
Grilled wings are a great way to feed a crowd and their small size means they’ll cook quickly. Chicken breast is also popular for a reason but has an uneven thickness so slice those cutlets in half or pound flat for even cooking results.
Don’t underestimate the power of marinades, cures, and brines
The whole point of marinating meat is to break down tissue and bring in flavor with acid and salt. Your acids could be lemons, limes, oranges, vinegar, and even wine or beer. You can even mix a marinade with some leftover salad dressing or pickle juice.
Brining isn’t just for turkeys and an overnight bath in a salt and seasoning mixture can do wonders for flavor and texture. The salt breaks down the proteins and pulls in the seasonings, essentially curing the meat.
You can also experiment with curing with dry rubs and salt seasoning mixtures, which don’t use water. The salt will pull the moisture out of the meat and then reabsorb. Just sprinkle a thin layer all over your meat and plan to brine or cure at least one day before cooking.
For best results, marinate for a few hours or the night before cooking.
There are several methods of telling if a chicken is cooked
A fully cooked piece of chicken is 165 degrees Fahrenheit at the thickest part. Though this may seem intimidating, there are also tons of signs that show when a bird is cooked.
If there are bones, they should wiggle easily in their sockets. If boneless, pierce with a knife and any juices — there should always be juices — should run clear.
If you undercook your chicken, you can easily put the bird back on the grill for a few more minutes with the cover on to let the residual heat cook it through.
Don’t add your sauce too early
Similar to roasted marshmallows, a sauce made with sugar will burn over an open flame and can turn into a black char if too close to the fire.
Instead, slather on your sauce when the meat is mostly cooked through. BBQ sauce is best used as a basting tool right before serving so you can get all of that flavor without turning your chicken into a hockey puck.
Grill over indirect or direct heat but keep the lid closed
Most grills have a large grate directly over the flame and a smaller elevated one with indirect heat. If you’re cooking a larger or thicker piece of chicken breast, grill over indirect heat before or after charring, especially if you want to be sure that it’s cooked all the way through.
You can add some wood chips to your gas or charcoal grill for extra flavor but keep the lid closed — any grill will stay hotter when the cover is on.
It’s OK to check on the meat every few minutes, but try to lift the grill lid sparingly to keep the heat inside.