Grilled chicken is a backyard classic. But it often turns out dry and bland instead of crisp and juicy—or inexplicably both burnt and raw. So how do you get it just right? Read on for all the info.
The Best Chicken for Grilling
For the juiciest, most flavorful grilled chicken, use bone-in, skin-on pieces including:
- Bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts as with Guy Fieri’s Caribbean Chicken
- Bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs as with these Honey Garlic Chicken Thighs
- Chicken wings as with Katie Lee’s Grilled Buffalo Wings
- Chicken drumsticks as with these Barbecue Chicken Drumsticks
- Whole chicken as with Food Network Kitchen’s The Best Grilled Chicken
Marinade for Grilled Chicken
Marinades are a fantastic way to ensure that chicken remains juicy even when cooked over a hot grill. They typically combine fat, acid, aromatics, seasonings and salt; for grilling chicken, we like including flavors that enhance smoky flavors such as Worcestershire sauce and paprika.
To marinate your chicken before grilling, combine all of your marinade ingredients and the chicken in a large resealable plastic bag. Close the bag and shake until it’s well-mixed. Refrigerate the chicken in the marinade for 2 hours before grilling.
How to Grill Chicken
Step 1: Dry the Chicken
Place the chicken on a paper towel-lined tray and pat it dry. This removes excess moisture, which prevents the skin from getting crispy. Remember to wash your hands and all equipment after handling raw chicken.
Step 2: Season the Chicken
Next, season both sides generously with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper and allow the chicken to come to room temperature for 15 minutes. This helps it cook evenly and gives the salt and pepper a chance to work their magic. Keep in mind that sweet sauces like glazes and barbecue sauce shouldn’t be applied until the chicken is finished cooking. They will burn before the chicken is fully cooked.
Step 3: Clean the Grill
Always start with a clean grill. Lightly coat a bunched-up paper towel with olive oil. It should be saturated but not dripping to avoid flare-ups. Using tongs, oil the grill grates.
Step 4: Preheat the Grill with Two Heat Zones
Next, create two cooking zones: For a charcoal grill, move the hot coals to one half of the grill. For gas grills, turn one set of burners to high and the other set to low. The hot zone is for charring and crisping the skin, while the cooler zone allows the chicken to gently cook through without burning. Cover the grill with the lid vents open and preheat for 15 minutes. The fire should be very hot–about 500 degrees F.
Step 5: Add the Chicken to the Grill
Place the chicken skin-side up on the cooler part of the grill. Position the thighs and drumsticks closer to the flames and put the wings and breasts further away. Wings and breasts cook faster and can dry out or burn. Close the lid and cook for about 15 minutes.
Step 6: Grill the Chicken, Flipping It
Check occasionally. If the exterior of the chicken is burning before it cooks all the way through, move it to a cooler area.
Flip the chicken with tongs. Cover and cook for about 15 minutes or until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center of a chicken breast without touching a bone registers 150 degrees F.
Step 7: Baste the Chicken In Sauce
If you like, now is the time to add sauce. Use a brush to baste both sides of the chicken, then transfer the pieces to the hot side of the grill to crisp up and finish cooking. Turn and move the chicken as needed to prevent burning. Baste a final time for the perfect coating of sauce.
Remove the pieces from the grill when they register 160 degrees F. The internal temperature will rise about 5 degrees while resting. Be sure to let the chicken rest at least 5 minutes before serving.
Grilling Chicken Breasts
If you’d like to grill boneless, skinless chicken breasts, you need to take some extra measures to ensure that it doesn’t dry out.
• Pound the chicken breast. Pound each chicken breast so it’s an even thickness all over.
• Marinate the chicken breast. You’ll want to marinate the chicken for at least 30 minutes but no more than 3 hours.
• Grill the chicken over medium. Grill, covered, flipping once halfway through, until a digital thermometer registers 165 degrees F
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