Grillaholics, September is national chicken month, and because of that, we wanted to take some time to talk about one of grilling’s most fickle beasts.
When we say that grilled chicken is extremely fickle, it’s not because it’s an overly complicated or time-consuming meat to grill. It’s actually pretty straightforward. Rather, grilled chicken is fickle because it is SO easy to mess up. For every time that I’ve had grilled chicken that was tender, flavorful, and juicy, I’ve had just as many times that were tough, burnt, and dry.
Now don’t get us wrong, grilling chicken is no difficult task—IF you know how to grill it properly, that is. That’s why we wanted to share some Grillaholics tips with you that are guaranteed to help you grill chicken perfectly every time.
Tip 1: Avoid high temperatures.
One of the most common mistakes that I see rookie grillers make is grilling the chicken breasts at a temperature that is way too high. It’s an understandable mistake. After all, it’s that high temperature sear that gives our steaks that delicious crust and locks in juiciness. This unfortunately doesn’t work the same for chicken. Rather than searing nicely like steak, chicken burns, ruining the taste completely. It will also cause the outside of your chicken to cook more quickly than the inside, leaving you with unevenly cooked chicken.
To guarantee your chicken is cooked evenly, it’s important to cook it at a medium temperature. On a gas grill, this can be accomplished by simply lowering the power of your flames. However, for us charcoal grillers, indirect grilling is the way to go. Just load up half of your grill with your charcoals, leaving the other side clear. Light up the charcoals as usual, and cook your chicken breasts on the grill grates that are above the clear side.
Tip 2: Timing is key.
Now that we have the temperature situation sorted out, it is equally as important to have a mastery of knowing when your chicken is cooked to perfection. Chicken that is overcooked will be dry and tough, and chicken that is undercooked could be unsafe to eat.
If you’re a professional Grillaholic, you will likely be able to tell when your chicken is done just by looking at it. But for those who haven’t grilled thousands of chicken breasts in their lifetime, a meat thermometer is the most accurate way to check the doneness of your chicken. Just insert the probe into the center of the chicken breast, and when the thermometer reads 160° F then you’re done.
Whichever method you use to check the doneness of your chicken, it’s very important that you don’t cut into the chicken while it’s cooking. While many use this tactic to see the doneness of the inside of the meat, too many cuts during cooking will dry out your chicken.
Tip 3: Add some flavor.
Let’s be honest with each other for a second. Plain grilled chicken isn’t the most exciting food of all time. That’s why it’s important to make sure your chicken is seasoned well. There are several ways to spice up your chicken. For barbecue purists, some salt and pepper applied before grilling will give the chicken a bit more flavor, without masking the natural flavor of the chicken itself. For those who want a bit more flavor, any barbecue dry rub should do nicely as well. For those who want their chicken to be more moist, an overnight marinade will influse flavor throughout the entire piece of chicken (not just the outside!), and will break down the chicken and make it extremely tender. For lovers of barbecued chicken, a glaze of barbecue sauce pairs very well with grilled chicken, but only if done correctly.
Tip 4: Be careful with the barbecue.
As we said above, barbecue sauce pairs extremely well with grilled chicken, but if applied incorrectly, it can ruin your entire meal. There are two separate issues with barbecue sauce, but both center around the issue of burning. Most barbecue sauces are loaded with sugar, which burns extremely easy on the grill, and can ruin the taste of the chicken (while also making your grill dirty).
The first thing you have to worry about is when you should be applying the barbecue sauce to your chicken. The longer that the barbecue sauce is in contact with your hot grill grates, the higher your chances of ruining your chicken completely. Depending on what kind of barbecue sauce you’re using, some sauces will burn extremely quickly. Because of this, you should only apply your barbecue sauce in the last 2 minutes of cooking. Add the barbecue sauce liberally, close the lid, and take them off within a few minutes to get delicious barbecue flavor without burning.
The second thing you have to worry about is the amount of barbecue sauce you’re applying. If you’re cooking your chicken indirectly as we outlined above, then this won’t be a huge deal. But if you’re grilling over flames, you will want to ration the amount of barbecue sauce you slather onto your chicken. The more barbecue sauce you apply, the more barbecue sauce will drop into the flames below, causing flare-ups, and increasing the chances that your chicken gets burned by flames. To make sure this doesn’t happen, just use a bit less barbecue sauce than you usually would (you can always apply more after they’re off the grill!). Another option is to purchase a grilling accessory like a grill mat, which will cook your food while preventing flare-ups.