It’s the sign of good weather, good times and an impending good meal: The scent of BBQ chicken wafting from the grill. Follow these easy tips to ensure your grilled chicken’s taste lives up to its tantalizing aroma.
Rinse chicken in cold water, then pat it dry. Bone-in or boneless, skin-on or skinless—go with your preference. Just remember: Skin and bones both mean a longer cook-time.
Select your seasoning, whether simply a good coat of olive oil sprinkled with salt and pepper, or a more complex sauce, marinade or rub (see below). Ideas include Grilled Raspberry-Glazed Chicken, Grilled Firecracker Chicken Wings and Grilled Taco-Spiced Chicken. Note that sugar and sugar-based ingredients tend to burn easily on the grill, so they’re best reserved for thinner, quick-cooking cuts, such as a skinless, boneless breast.
Marinades - Make a chicken marinade by soaking your chicken in a mixture of cooking liquids and spices in a bowl in the refrigerator for three or more hours. Oils add juiciness, vinegars and citrus tenderize by kick-starting the cooking process, and both, along with spices, herbs, onion, garlic, Worcestershire and other ingredients, add flavor. Remember: Never use re-use marinade in which raw meat has sat. Reserve some for dipping or basting before marinating.
Rubs - Make a chicken rub by coating your chicken in a mix of spices, whether dry or wet, like a paste. Either refrigerate your rubbed chicken for an hour or longer, or head directly for the grill.
Sauces - Brush on barbecue and other sauces during the last ten minutes of the grilling process. Many barbecue sauces have sugar, so turn your coated pieces of BBQ chicken as often as necessary to prevent charring.
Oil the Rack
Coat your clean grill rack in cooking oil, using either a spray or an oil-doused cloth. If you use a spray, remove the rack to coat it.
Using charcoal or wood? Create mounds on opposite sides of the grill. Light the piles—they’re ready when they’ve finished flaming and have turned to hot coals. On a three-burner gas grill, turn only the outside burners on low to medium heat. Cover your grill for 5 to 10 minutes before cooking.
Place your chicken on the center of the grill. If it’s skin-on, place the skin-side down first.
For the juiciest end result, resist fidgeting with your poultry. Instead, try to keep the grill closed, to cook chicken evenly, and flip each piece over just once during your main cook time. That time varies by grill; chicken bones, skin and thickness; and even weather; but could run from 5 up to 25 minutes per side.
Crucial Times & Temperature
Trust your meat thermometer—a griller’s best friend. The Partnership for Food Safety and Education says the safe internal temperature for chicken ranges from 165 to 180 degrees, depending on the cut. As your chicken approaches its safe temperature, move it to the hotter, outer edges of the grill for a few minutes, flipping each piece several times, to get it nice and brown. When you cut into the thickest part of the chicken and the juices run clear, remove from grill. Let your grilled chicken rest at least 5 minutes before cutting or serving.
Try, Try Again
Remember: Practice makes perfect, and in this case, luckily, practice also tastes delicious. Try a variety of recipes for grilled chicken—Grilled Ranch Chicken Fillet Sandwiches, Grilled Asian Chicken Drumsticks, Grilled Cheddar-Stuffed Chicken Breasts or Grilled Chile-Lime Chicken perhaps—to get used to your grill and perfect your personal BBQ chicken technique.