Skip to main content

How to grill chicken correctly for a tender, delicious barbecue

Looking to ace that grilled chicken recipe this summer? Here's how

Chicken drumsticks on grill
Markus Distelrath/Pixabay

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.

chicken oven meat thermometer
Teresa Short/Getty Images

The tools of the trade

Besides a grill and a chicken and some top-rated beers to enjoy while you’re cooking, there’s only one other thing that you’ll need that is an essential bbq 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.

turkey brine slice
Diana Miller/Getty Images

How to brine 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.

Rachel Bramlett/Unsplash

How to marinate 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.

A whole roasted chicken served on a plate.
John Maher/The Manual

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.


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 good 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).

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).


With drumsticks, it’s all about frequent rotation and getting the meat evenly cooked. Again, shoot for an internal temperature of 156 degrees but take note of the size and shape of the drumsticks as no two are exactly like (also, be aware of hot spots on your grill should they exist).

  • Season to your liking prior to grilling.
  • 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.
  • Sear evenly over direct heat for 25-30 minutes, rotating every 5 minutes.
  • Use a thermometer to check for doneness (165 degrees).
  • Let the meat rest for at least 5 minutes.

There’s so, so much you can do with chicken. Check out our piece on chef-approved chicken oysters and some great barbecue sauce recipes to get you through the summer. Here’s to al fresco dining!

Editors' Recommendations

Mark Stock
Mark Stock is a writer from Portland, Oregon. He fell into wine during the Recession and has been fixated on the stuff since…
Climate change has caused olive oil prices to skyrocket, and there’s no end in sight
We all love olive oil, but it may soon be a luxury item
climate change causing olive oil price increase pexels mareefe 1022385

As if climate change hadn't already wreaked enough havoc, now it's coming for everyone's favorite cooking essential. According to a recent report published by the USDA, the price of olive oil has risen more than 130% in the past year, with absolutely no signs of slowing down.

Due to irregular weather and extensive drought brought on by climate change, Mediterranean countries such as Greece, Italy, and Spain are all suffering an immense hit to olive crops and production. Spain alone - one of the world's largest olive oil exporters - is down more than 50% this season compared to last year. A spokesperson for the International Olive Council told CNN, "We are facing a complex situation as a consequence of climate change."

Read more
MLB star Mookie Betts travels with his own portable kitchen so he can eat healthy no matter where he goes
All-Star MVP candidates gotta eat right, too
Mookie Betts playing baseball


Even a short road trip poses challenges to eating well, with tempting drive-through windows and enticing gas station snacks at every turn. Even the most disciplined can be lured by the alluring aroma of fast food. For MLB superstar Mookie Betts, veering off the healthy eating path while traveling isn’t an option.

Read more
Coca-Cola used A.I. to create its next big drink because that’s ‘what the future tastes like’
We wonder if the future tastes like a dystopian hellscape

If you’re anything like us, you’re still a little wary of artificial intelligence (also known as AI). Maybe it’s because of movies like I, Robot or Terminator 2: Judgment Day, but we don’t think it’s so wrong to be at least a little cautious about artificial intelligence. The last thing we need is a robot uprising that eventually leads to the downfall of humankind, right? Well, clearly, Coca-Cola doesn’t share our fears of an impending AI-led apocalypse because it just launched a cola made with artificial intelligence. Well, co-created with AI.

It's called Coca-Cola Zero Sugar Y3000, and it was co-created by humans and artificial intelligence by “understanding how fans envision the future through emotions, aspirations, colors, flavors and more,” according to a Coca-Cola press release. It was created by Coca-Cola fans around the world as well as “insights gathered from artificial intelligence.” If that sounds kind of sci-fi, that’s because it really is. Robots and humans working in unison to create…cola? We’re sure that’s what people envisioned when they created artificial intelligence.

Read more