How to Grill Chicken Correctly for a Tender, Delicious Barbecue

It’s grilling season. It’s time to stock up on charcoal, pellets, and propane and get ready to enjoy some quality outdoor time with your friends and family. Aside from burgers and brats, chicken is also a grilling go-to for those guests who require a healthier option.

The difference between burgers and brats and the delicious white meat is that chicken can be tough to get right on the grill. We’ve all had a piece of grilled chicken that was drier than shoe leather. This quick guide will help you every step of the way through the process of grilling up tender, moist, and delicious chicken.

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The Tools

Besides a grill, chicken, and some beers to enjoy while you’re cooking, there’s only one other thing that you’ll need that is an essential tool in the grilling process. That thing is an instant-read thermometer. This little gadget should be attached to your grill, not for just grilling chicken, but for any meat. Those guys that try to look like tough-guy expert grillmasters and say they know when meat is done by touching it is just plain poppycock. There’s no shame in temping your meat frequently to ensure the meat is not under or overcooked.

With chicken especially, you want to make sure you’re not serving it undercooked (165 degrees is always our target temp). The only other way to really do this is to cut it open to check for doneness. But, when you do this, you lose precious juices that keep the meat moist. Chicken can be hard to gauge if it’s done by touch alone, especially if it’s not deboned. A thermometer will allow you to access the center of the breast, thigh, drumstick, or wing to ensure that your bird is ready to come off the grill.

Brining Chicken

An extra step to make your grilled chicken extra juicy and the skin crispier is to brine the chicken. A simple brine of 2/3 cup salt and 2/3 cup sugar per gallon of water will do the trick. You should brine boneless chicken for no longer than an hour, or the meat will become too salty. Bone-in pieces can be brined for up to two hours. If you’re brining a whole chicken, plan on letting it chill in your fridge for 12 to 48 hours, depending on the size.

Marinating Chicken

Marinating chicken is an excellent way to add a unique taste to your chicken. If you really want to infuse the flavor, we recommend marinating overnight. However, if you’re planning on brining before you marinate, make sure to use a low-sodium marinade, as your chicken will already be infused with salt from the brine. Also, brining your chicken before you marinate it will drastically reduce the time it will need to sit in the marinade (two hours at most). When making a marinade, pay attention to the amount of oil as well. A marinade that is too oily will create grease fires in your grill, resulting in a blackened and burnt outer crust.

How to Grill Chicken

How the chicken is prepared will affect how you want to grill it. Below are all ways a chicken can be broken down and grilled.

Whole

If you’re planning on grilling a whole bird, we recommend the beer can method. To do this, all you need is a 16oz or 12oz can of cheap beer (depending on the size of the chicken).

  • Rub the whole chicken with your favorite seasonings.
  • Drink the beer until the can is one-third of the way full, then ram it up into the chicken cavity.
  • Balance the chicken upright on a baking pan or on the grill grates themselves, and cook with indirect heat between 250 and 300 degrees.
  • Use a thermometer to check for doneness (165 degrees).

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Bone-In & Skin-On

If your chicken pieces have both the skin and bones, there’s a process that will get you the best results.

  • Before grilling, rub the chicken in some of your favorite seasonings.
  • Bring your grill up to high heat, then season the grates with a healthy portion of oil to keep the chicken from sticking.
  • Sear the chicken skin-down with the grill uncovered for about 3-5 minutes, or until you have heavy grill marks on the skin.
  • Flip the chicken to the skinless side. If you’re grilling with propane, move the chicken to one side and turn off the burners underneath using indirect heat. Then cover the grill with the lid. If you’re grilling with charcoal, simply flip the chicken and continue to grill uncovered.
  • Use a thermometer to check for doneness (165 degrees).

Boneless Skinless

Grilling boneless skinless chicken will yield the quickest (and healthiest) results. However, these types of chicken cuts are the easiest to get wrong. Grilling the chicken with too high or too low of heat can both result in dry, tough chicken. You’re going to want to shoot for a grill temp between 350 and 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Hot enough to give you a good sear, but not too hot as to dry out the outer portion of the meat. A good rule of thumb for boneless, skinless chicken is to grill for five minutes per inch of thickness and flipping it once in between. But, don’t worry too much about this, because you’ll have your trusty thermometer at hand.

  • Before grilling, rub the chicken with a little cooking oil and your favorite seasonings. Be sure not to use too much oil to start a grease fire in your grill.
  • Bring your grill up to around 350-375 degrees, then season the grates with a healthy portion of oil to keep the chicken from sticking.
  • If possible, sear over direct heat, then finish grilling covered with indirect heat.
  • Use a thermometer to check for doneness (165 degrees).

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