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How to grill chicken like a pro…

September 2013
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I rarely, if ever, order chicken when we eat out. All too often it comes out dry and, not to put too fine a point on it, I happen to be pretty darned good at it.

How many only barbecue chicken on the grill because the sauce makes the otherwise dry chicken a little juicier?  How many skip chicken altogether because it always comes out tasting gnarly?

Chicken is, without a doubt, one of the toughest meats to get right – on a grill it’s even tougher. This is so for one reason, and one reason only: It is easily overcooked.

The tendency is to overcook chicken because the ramifications for undercooking it are huge. There is nothing worse than bringing in a beautiful plate of chicken, only to cut it open to see the telltale gray-pink center followed by the rush to get the chicken back on the grill to cook it the rest of the way through.

I am, within my family at least, a bit of a Svengali on the grill.  If it used to pump oxygen, I can grill it.  Heck, if it didn’t I can grill it.  My chicken though, is legend, and I’ll lay out my tricks to cooking perfect, juicy chicken on the grill.

Before we get into the steps, grill with the lid down.  Only lift it to flip the chicken or to take care of flare-ups.  Also, I’m assuming that you have a basic knowledge of how to cook food on a grill.  If you’re a straight up grilling noob, there’s too much to pass on for this one post, start with something easy, steak or burgers (both of which simply require “so many minutes per side”).  Finally, NEVER use a fork Using a fork to turn the meat will pierce it and allow the juices to drain out.  This is grillmanship 101…  Use tongs.

#1. Heat the grill up, gas on high (if you’re using charcoal you want the bricks just glowing red – don’t wait too long though).  You’re looking for around 400 degrees F if you have a thermometer in your grill.

#2. Pretty side of the meat goes to the fire first.

#3. Put the chicken right over the hot spots, preferably thick side over the hottest spots. A few minutes so you get the perfect grill marks. Flip and repeat on the other side.  2-3 minutes per side.

#4. For gas, after the initial blast, turn the heat down to medium and cook for a couple of minutes each side over the hot spots, for charcoal, you should have fairly obvious hot spots, move the chicken to the edges of the hot spots with the thick part closest to the heat. 2-3 minutes per side (rotate the chicken 90 degrees – it’ll give you awesome cross-hatched grill marks).

#5.  Finally, turn the heat down to low (or move the chicken away from the hot spots) and give your chicken a few minutes on low heat (ugly side down).  This last part is all timing and unfortunately, visual.  If you cut a piece open to make sure it is indeed done, cut the thickest piece in the thickest part – if that’s done, everything else is.  I did this a few times before I got the timing and the visual cues down right.  Unfortunately, the piece that you hack will have the juices drain a bit – it won’t be ruined, but it won’t be as good as the pieces that aren’t sliced.  What you’re looking for is blackened grill marks and the remainder of the meat to be a golden brown.  Grill time will vary depending on your grill so be very careful that the meat is cooked all the way through – raw meat will have an ugly pink center while perfectly cooked chicken will be white all the way through but drip juices like crazy when you cut into it.

Total cook time should only be 10-15 minutes depending on the thickness of the filets…  To practice, butterflying the breast filets at the thickest part doesn’t hurt and you can cut the cook time down to about 10 minutes.  Cutting the filets prior to cooking will not hurt the overall juiciness of the chicken.  We start off with the high heat first to sear the outside of the meat, trapping the juice inside.


4 Comments

  1. magnuminsp says:

    A good digital thermometer will prevent slicing into the meat. When it gets to around 160 degrees, remove the chicken and let it rest, covered in foil for 10 minutes.
    Also, low and slow works: http://ericvandeven.wordpress.com/2011/07/04/smoked-chickens/

    http://ericvandeven.wordpress.com/2011/02/06/chicken-breasts-on-the-q/

    • bgddyjim says:

      I can’t agree with low and slow more, but when you’re pressed for time (as I always am), high and hot works just fine too, as long as the chicken is seared, the juice gets trapped inside, you’re good. I don’t bother with the thermometer for the exact same reason I stay away from the fork – stabbing it before I eat it is always bad. The way I choose to cook is obviously the “unscientific” way to do it, but once I got the process down and timing right, it’s simple enough.

  2. Love my grill and chicken is one of my favorite items to grill. I must say mine comes out juicy 99% of the time.

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