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How to Grill Perfect Chicken

Updated May 30, 2019
Whether you’re a newbie or just rusty from the long winter, this tutorial will give you the confidence to cook chicken over an open flame! MORE+ LESS-

Before you light up the grill, brush up on your technique. In this article, we’ll walk you through the steps to grilling up juicy-on-the-inside, crispy-on-the-outside chicken breast! Plus, learn how to grill all your other favorite cuts of chicken, how to season chicken, how to prepare your grill and answers to your most frequently asked grilled chicken questions.

How to Grill Chicken

Ready to get started learning how to grill chicken? This 5-ingredient recipe is a perfect place to begin. It feeds a family of four and is ready to eat in 35 minutes.

What you’ll need:

ingredients for easy grilled chicken breast

1. Heat gas or charcoal grill. In small bowl, mix thyme, lemon, garlic salt and pepper. Coat both sides of chicken with oil, then rub with thyme mixture.

Rubbing seasoning into easy grilled chicken breast

2. Place chicken on grill over medium heat. Cover grill; cook 12 to 17 minutes, turning once, until juice of chicken is clear when center of thickest part is cut (at least 165°F in center). Garnish with additional fresh thyme if desired.

Testing chicken for doneness by cutting open the thickest part of breast

How to Grill Chicken Thighs

Chicken thighs are one of our favorite cuts of meat, because they’re so tender and delicious, no less so when cooked on the grill. Here are the basic steps to grilling chicken thighs.

  1. Boneless, skinless chicken thighs are ready to marinate. If you use skin-on chicken thighs and season with a rub, be sure to apply rub both to the surface of the skin and directly to the meat itself—gently lift skin to get underneath. If you are able to season your chicken ahead of time, do it! Rubs and marinades are more effective over an extended period of time.
  2. Chicken thighs should be cooked over medium heat. A 4 to 8 oz chicken leg or thigh will need 10 to 15 minutes per side. Chicken is safe to eat at 165F, but as with other cuts of dark meat, we recommend cooking even longer, up to 180F, to maximize tenderness.

How to grill chicken wings

Grilling chicken wings is a perfect way to cook up a casual meal or delectable warm-weather appetizer. Here are the basic steps to grilling chicken wings.

1.  Trim your wings. To do this, cut wings at each of their two joints, so you end up with three pieces. Discard tips, which mostly consist of cartilage and one small bone. Freeze them and use for chicken stock later. Need more instruction? Get step-by-step instructions on how to cut up chicken wings. Alternately, if you want to skip the butchering, purchase chicken drummettes, which are already trimmed. and ready to marinate.

2.   Pick a rub or marinade of your choice—check out our recipes below. If possible, apply up to 24 hours in advance and allow chicken to soak up its seasoning in the refrigerator.

3.   Heat grill to medium—either gas or charcoal will do. The length of time needed to grill will depend on whether you’re using a grill basket, foil or grilling wings directly on the grill. While chicken wings are safe to eat 165F, we recommend cooking to 180F, for maximum tenderness. Give grilled chicken wings a try with the recipes below.

How to Grill a Whole Chicken

Our favorite way to grill a whole chicken on the grill requires one special ingredient: a beer (or soda) can. Find out how you can grill up the most succulent and tender chicken dinner with this unconventional roasting rack in Betty’s step-by-step article.

How to grill chicken foil-pack meals

Quick dinners are key in the summer when we’re all trying to maximize play time. So why not cook your main and sides all in one easy (and easy to clean up) foil-pack meal? Chicken is the perfect protein to cook in a foil pack, because unlike steak, it doesn’t need to be seared to turn out delicious. If you’re just learning to grill, making a chicken foil pack is the place to begin. Learn more in our article, Secrets to Making Foil-Pack Meals or just try it—we recommend the fan-favorite recipe below.

How to Season Grilled Chicken

Season grilled chicken with a marinade, rub or sauce. All three methods of seasoning are delicious, but some require more time in order to flavor chicken—think: marinades—while sauces can be applied to chicken as it cooks.

Marinades

  • Make a chicken marinade by combining oil (vegetable, peanut, canola or others with a high smoke point) acid (such as vinegar or citrus) and aromatics, (garlic, shallots, herbs). Combine chicken and marinade in a plastic zip-top bag and allow it to rest inside your refrigerator for the amount of time indicated in the recipe.
  • Yogurt and buttermilk also make great, quick marinades—just don’t let chicken rest for more than two hours, as these tenderizers are so effective meat will begin to break down.
  • Avoid marinating in metal pans, because acidic ingredients can react and give food an off flavor.
  • If you’d like to use some of the marinade as a sauce later, reserve a portion. Get started marinating your chicken with these five marinades easy enough to memorize.

Rubs

  • Make a chicken rub by mixing together seasonings, like herbs, salt and sugar, for a “dry” rub, or add a liquid, such as oil, mustard or wine, to dry seasonings for a “wet” rub. Sprinkle the rub onto the chicken and rub it in with your fingers.
  • For extra flavor, allow rub to absorb into chicken for 30 minutes to an hour—cover chicken and refrigerate during this time.
  • Ready for some delicious rub recipes? Check out: Easy Rubs That’ll Shake Up Summer Grilling

Sauces

  • Make sauce for your chicken—we recommend our Best Barbecue Sauce—or for a fast fix, use your favorite jarred barbecue, either way saucy grilled chicken can’t be beat.
  • Brush on sauce during the last 10 minutes and turn as necessary to prevent burning. Since many sauces—barbecue included—contain sugar, applying at the end helps avoid burning while also allowing for caramelization, which leads to even more flavor.

How to Prepare Your Grill

  • Oil the rack using either a spray or an oil-doused cloth. If you spray, remove the rack before coating. If you use a rag, remember to use one that can be tossed afterwards. Roll it up so the ends don’t fall out and soak it in vegetable oil before rubbing the rack. Note, you might want to repeat this cleaning step after cooking when the grill has cooled.
  • Create zones, or an area of higher heat and an area of lower heat. To create zones on a three-burner gas grill, turn only the outside burners on low to medium heat. Cover your grill for five to 10 minutes before cooking. To create zones on a charcoal grill, create mounds on opposite sides of the grill. Light the piles. They’re ready when they’ve finished flaming and have turned gray.
  • Set up your grilling station by loading up a tray or a rimmed sheet pan with all the tools you’ll need, including tongs and spatulas. Avoid wooden tools and opt for metal or high-heat safe silicone tools. You’ll also want to have kitchen towels at the ready for wiping up spills and using as pot holders. And don’t forget, a clean metal pan for holding cooked food as it comes off the grill.
  • When the coals are ready, place your chicken on the center of the grill. If it’s skin-on, place the chicken skin-side down first.

Timetable for Grilling Chicken

  • A thermometer is your best friend when grilling. It allows you to cook meat to perfection—even if you’re a novice. Chicken is done cooking when its internal temperature reaches 165F. When grilling a chicken foil pack meal, all ingredients must reach this temperature for food safety reasons. Wings, thighs and legs contain more fat, so cooking these cuts to a temperature of 180F, will ensure they turn out extra tender.
  • If you don’t have a thermometer, cut into the thickest part of the chicken and check the color of the juices. If juices are clear, chicken is done.
  • The chart below gives approximate amount of time for grilling various cuts of chicken over medium heat. Note, chicken breasts and thighs should be turned once, halfway through grilling time to ensure they cook through. Smaller cuts of chicken, like wings, might need to be turned two or three times to prevent them from burning before they’ve cooked through. Although wings are smaller than chicken breasts, it takes time for heat to reach the bone, which means wings take more total time to cook than breasts.

Timetable for Grilling Poultry (over medium heat)*

Cut

Weight

Grilling Time in Minutes

Whole Broiler-Fryer

3 to 4 lb

60 to 75

Bone-in Split Breasts (i.e. halved breasts)

6 to 8 oz

20 to 30

Boneless Breasts

4 oz

12 to 16

Chicken Legs or Thighs

4 to 8 oz

20 to 30 minutes

Chicken Wings or wingettes

2 to 3 oz

16 to 24 minutes


This information comes from the USDA’s website

** Keep in mind the chart above is approximate. The time required to grill chicken will vary by grill, thickness of meat, whether chicken contains bones or skin and even the weather.

Frequently Asked Questions About Grilling Chicken

Should I season chicken before or after grilling?

The decision to season chicken before or after grilling should be based on the amount of time you have before grilling and the cut of chicken.

  • Marinades and rubs will add flavor to any cut of chicken. If you want to boost flavor further, set aside a portion of your marinade, so it doesn’t get contaminated, and serve that portion as a sauce. For bone-in, skin-on and whole birds, marinades and rubs work best over an extended period of time—many recipes advise marinating or adding rubs up to 24 hours ahead.
  • Rubs are great for seasoning whole chickens because when done ahead they tenderize the meat, in addition to adding seasoning. The salt in the rubs breaks down the tissue of the chicken, so it cooks up juicy, which is important because cooking a whole bird can be a challenge. Rubs also tenderize the meat ensuring all parts of the chicken turn out tender.
  • Sauces are great for adding flavor to chicken as it cooks, so they’re perfect when you don’t have time to plan ahead. Additionally, many sauces contain sugar or sugar-based ingredients, which can burn easily on the grill. So, seasonings high in sugar are best reserved for quick-cooking cuts, such as skinless, boneless chicken breasts.

How do I get chicken that’s crispy skinned and still juicy?

Resist fidgeting with your chicken! Instead, try to keep the grill closed. This will let the chicken cook evenly. As your chicken approaches doneness, move it to the hotter outer edges of the grill for a few minutes. Let your chicken rest for at least five minutes before cutting into it, so juices don’t escape.

What grilling tools do I actually need?

  • Tongs are high on the list, especially when you want to grill up juicy chicken. While a fork might puncture the flesh and let out juices, a pair of tongs will allow you to easily turn the meat while leaving it intact.
  • A thermometer is ideal to have because it allows you to grill chicken to perfection every time.
  • Brushes are nearly indispensable for adding sauce to your grilling chicken.
  • A bristle brush will help you to keep your grill clean, which in turn helps you avoid flareups. It will also ensure your meat ends up with beautiful char marks and not the telltale ashy coating of a dirty grill.



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