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Grilled Chicken 101

From the heat of jerk chicken to the smokiness of classic barbecue chicken, grilled chicken is a summertime classic and a crowd pleaser. But while grilling chicken over a fire might seem straightforward, chicken is prone to drying out and sauces can be cloying. Over the years we’ve come up with the best grilled chicken recipes and all the techniques you’ll need for perfect grilled chicken.

Types of Fires

The biggest grilling mistake most people make happens before the food even hits the cooking grate: they set up the wrong type of fire. Here are the four grill setups we use in our grilled chicken recipes.

SINGLE-LEVEL FIRE

A single-level fire delivers an even level of heat and is often used for small, quick-cooking pieces of chicken, usually boneless kebabs. It is made by arranging the hot coals in an even layer across the bottom of the grill.

TWO-LEVEL FIRE

A two-level fire creates two cooking zones—a hotter area for searing and a slightly cooler area to cook the food through more gently. This type of fire is often used for bone-in chicken pieces. It is made by arranging two-thirds of the hot coals in an even layer across the bottom of the grill and pouring the remaining coals over just half of the grill.

HALF-GRILL FIRE

A half-grill fire, much like a two-level fire, creates two cooking zones, but here the difference in heat level between the two zones is much more dramatic: one side is intensely hot since it has all the coals, and the other side is very cool because it has none. This type of fire if used for two reasons: to make a concentrated, super-hot fire for fast and vigorous searing; and to make the cooler cooking zone more controlled for very lean and easily overcooked chicken pieces. It is made by arranging the hot coals over half of the grill and leaving the other half of the grill empty.

DOUBLE-BANKED FIRE

The double-banked fire was created to help avoid flare-ups. We employ the double-banked fire in several grilled chicken recipes. When the coals are banked into two piles on opposite sides of the grill, leaving the center empty, the chicken can be placed in the center of the grill and receive a steady, even level of heat from both sides. As the chicken cooks, its fat renders and drips down into the center of the grill (we usually place a pan there to catch the drips), so we don’t have to worry about the fat hitting hot coals and causing flare-ups that could scorch the skin. This type of fire is made by dividing the hot coals into two steeply baked piles on opposite sides of the grill, leaving the center of the grill empty.

Easy Solutions for Common Grilled Chicken Problems

Dry meat, flabby skin, charred skin and skin that just won’t let go of the grill are all too common problems when grilling chicken. Here’s why they happen—and how to keep then from happening to you.

PROBLEM: DRY BREAST MEAT

CAUSE: White meat. Chicken is lean, especially the breast meat, which tends to dry out. 

SOLUTION: Brine, the rinse. 

1. BRINE

To brine 4 pounds of chicken, dissolve 1/2 cup table salt in 2 quarts of cold water in large bowl. Add chicken, cover bowl, and refrigerate for up to 1 hour. The brine also flavors the meat. 

2. RINSE

After you've brined it, rinse the chicken well to remove excess salt. The salt has already done its job, changing the molecular structure of the meat to help it retain its juices when cooked. 

PROBLEM: STICKING SKIN

CAUSE: Moisture. Wet skin sticks to the grill. And if the grates are dirty, forget about saving the skin. 

SOLUTION: Dry skin, oil grate.

1. BLOT DRY

Shrink-wrapped packaging makes chicken skin very wet. Brining and rinsing make matters worse. Blot the chicken dry with paper towels before cooking it. 

2. CLEAN GRATE

Brush the hot grill grate clean. Next, dip a wad of paper towels in vegetable oil and use a pair of long-handled tongs to grease the clean grate. 

PROBLEM: FLABBY SKIN

CAUSE: Anxiety. Sure, indirect heat is safe (no towering infernos), but it won't ever get that crisp skin. 

SOLUTION: Render, then sear. 

 

1. START LOW

Arrange the chicken skin-side down on the cooler side of the grill. Cook, covered, until the fat has rendered and the skin is crisp and golden, about 20 minutes. 

2. GO HIGH

Move the chicken to the hot side of the grill, and continue to cook, turning occasionally, until both sides are well browned and the white meat registers 160 degrees (175 for dark meat). 

PROBLEM: CHARRED SKIN

CAUSE: Twofold. The fat drips down and causes big flare-ups, or sweet sauces burn. 

SOLUTION: Grill, the glaze. 

1. TAKE TEMP

Only when the chicken is nearly done (150 degrees for white meat, 165 for dark) it is ready to glaze. 

2. GLAZE LAST

Breaking Down a Chicken, Making Parts

It may seem intimidating, but carving a whole roasted chicken isn't difficult. Here are the step-by-step tips you'll need to make this task effortless every time.

Avoiding the Top Grilling Mistakes

Preparing a grilled chicken recipe, whether on a gas or charcoal grill, takes practice, patience, and attention to detail. Here are some tips to ensure that your outdoor cooking remains rewarding, successful, and safe.

1. STAY AWAY FROM DANGEROUS LOCATIONS

Make sure the grill is located in an out-of-the-way spot several feet from your home (and children and pets, for that matter).

2. DON’T RUN OUT OF FUEL

You don’t want the grill to peter out before the food is cooked, so make sure you have enough fuel on hand. This means at least 6 quarts of charcoal.

3. KEEP YOUR GRILL CLEAN

Check the drip pan on your gas grill; built-up grease can be a fire hazard. On a charcoal grill, dispose of ashes left over from previous grilling before firing it up again. These ashes will affect cooking times and give off-flavors.

4. CLEAN AND OIL THE COOKING GRATE BEFORE COOKING

This will prevent foods from sticking and picking up off-flavors.

5. THINK AHEAD

Gas grills need to preheat for 15 minutes, and charcoal takes about 5 minutes once the coals are hot to achieve the proper temperature. Be sure to factor these times into your plans.

6. AVOID CROSS-CONTAMINATION

Use separate platters for raw foods and cooked foods, clean utensils after handling raw foods, and always dispose of leftover marinades. When basting chicken, pour what you need for cooking into a separate dish and set aside the rest for serving.

7. DON’T JUDGE A BOOK BY ITS COVER

Chicken parts with nice grill marks can still be raw in the middle. An instant-read thermometer is the most effective tool for checking doneness.

8. BIGGER (AND HOTTER) ISN’T ALWAYS BETTER

Gas grills have knobs for a reason, so adjust the heat as necessary to keep things in control. For charcoal grilling, use only the amount of coals specified in the recipe.

9. SAVE THE SAUCE UNTIL THE END

Sauces are affected by intense heat. If the sauce is applied to your chicken too early, the sugars in it may char and become bitter. There are exceptions, but we typically apply sauces 5 minutes before the food is done.

10. WATCH THE WEATHER

If it is cold or windy, you may need to cook foods for a few minutes longer than directed.

Done in 281 ms! 61.385 KiB - 7.5% = 56.776 KiB