Grilling chicken has always been a frustrating endeavor for many people. You either end up with charred outsides and dry insides, or perfectly cook outsides and raw insides. Neither of those is good eating in my opinion and I don’t blame people for getting frustrated with grilling.
Now if you happen to be the ultimate grill master, this post isn’t for you. This is for those of us who have struggled to get perfectly cooked chicken from our grill. Over the years I’ve developed a few tricks that have helped me out tremendously. I’m sure if we had a charcoal grill I might not have to put forth such an effort to ensure that my chicken turns out juicy and fully cooked without being coated in a black, ashy, crispy exterior.
My Step-Dad was the King of charred chicken on the grill. He even used to tell us that the char was “good for our teeth”. Needless to say I was very suspicious of this claim. However, I appreciated his creative efforts to try and get me to eat a completely blackened piece of chicken.
The Stud Muffin on the other hand always had the opposite problem. His chicken was either perfectly cooked on the outside, but raw in the center, or he’d deal with constant flareups on the grill and so he’d turn the heat down so low it would take forever to cook and it always turned out bone dry. Not wanting to continue to microwave the undercooked chicken so we could eat before everything else got cold, and not wanting to nosh on arid, shriveled chicken AND not wanting to figure out how to eat around a layer of black char on my chicken, I knew I had to come up with something so that we could enjoy grilling more than just brats, hotdogs, steaks and hamburgers each summer.
What really makes this chicken fabulous, aside from the flavor it gets from brining is my Sweet & Zesty BBQ Sauce. It’s mouth watering and delicious. I have two jars of it right now in my fridge because I don’t want to be without it! It’s loaded with flavor. It’s similar to Kansas City type sauces. It’s a great basic sauce that you can tweak to fit your families preferences. Whether you like it with more mustard or less sugar, it’s a great sauce that can handle being tinkered with to make it your own. Sometimes I add more chipotle, sometimes I use more honey and less brown sugar. Sometimes I completely change up the spices. No mater what, each and every time it’s still better than anything you get at the store.
You might think I’m nuts, but after I soak my chicken in a really basic brine, I parboil it for a few minutes to cook out some of the fat in the skin to minimize flare ups. It is rare that this chicken doesn’t turn out when I parboil first. Not sure what parboiling is? I’ll explain that in a moment.
Another tip that I use is I don’t add the BBQ sauce until the final moments of grilling. This ensures I don’t burn the exterior of the chicken (as most sauces are high in sugar, and, sugar likes to burn at high temps) and it also means my grill won’t cook the majority of the sauce off each piece of chicken. If’ I’m going to go to the trouble of making a tasty BBQ sauce, I want it on the chicken not on the grates of my grill. Know what I mean? I’m not making BBQ grill grates, I’m making BBQ chicken.
Parboiling is nothing more than partly cooking food by boiling it. Mostly in well seasoned water. If you aren’t into brining, go ahead and par boil the chicken in well-seasoned water (should taste like the ocean NOT a salt lick). This way you’ll infuse some seasoning and flavor into the chicken while you cook away some of the excess fat.
Why don’t I just remove the skin and grill the chicken skinless? Well, because the skin adds some moisture and flavor to the chicken and quite honestly, it protects it from getting overcooked by the grill. Also, if you can get a little crisp on the skin, that’s just plain heaven right there. Oooh, chicken skin. It’s The Stud Muffin’s favorite! Have you ever cut into a chicken breast that has been grilled and the top eighth of an inch of the breast is just hard, like bark? Yeah, it’s because they removed the skin and the meat had nothing to protect it so it seized up and got nice and hard like the sole of your penny loafers. Poor chicken!!
Five rules to perfect grilling:
#1 Start hot: Heat your gas grill to high or build a “three Mississippi” fire in a charcoal grill. For the latter, simply hold your hand about four inches above the grate. Start counting “one Mississippi, two Mississippi…” and by “three Mississippi,” the intense heat should force you to snatch your hand away. Place your chicken legs or thighs directly over the high heat for a few minutes on each side, searing them, and when they are ready to release, move them to the indirect heat– see rule #2.
#2 Finish warm: If you’re using a gas grill, turn half (or even just one) of your burners on high and leave the other ones off. Start by placing your chicken legs or thighs directly over the high heat (see the first rule) for a few minutes on each side to sear them, then move them to the indirect heat, close the lid and cook them medium-low and fairly slow until they’re done- I keep my grill at about 350, whereas I am sure others go lower than that. I don’t want my chicken to take an hour or more to cook, so I use a medium-low heat. If you prefer a charcoal grill, you can achieve the same effect by stacking on all your charcoal on one side of the grill.
#3 Keep it clean: Scrub the hot grate thoroughly with a stiff wire brush. This dislodges any debris and minimizes sticking. If you don’t have a grill brush, use a crumpled ball of aluminum foil and hold it with tongs. We use this grill brush.
#4 Keep it oiled: Roll several paper towels into a small ball, dip it into melted coconut oil or olive oil, and using tongs, rub it over the bars of the grill grate. Oiling the grill helps prevent sticking, and it helps you get great grill marks. Please turn the burners down all the way before doing this and watch out for potential flares.
#5 Hold the Sauce: If you’re coating your chicken legs/thighs in BBQ sauce, don’t start basting until the chicken is mostly cooked and has about 10-12 minutes left on the grill. When sauces are applied too early, they dry out and burn because of the high sugar content (be careful with teriyaki sauces, they’re loaded with sugar and will burn very quickly), coating your meat in a blackened, charred sticky nightmare. I can speak from experience that blackened chary chicken isn’t tasty. Sorry Real Food Step Dad. 🙂
The rule of thumb for a brine is 1 Tablespoon of salt (and equal parts sugar if you desire– however I use only 1 teaspoon of sugar per cup of water) to each cup (8-ounces) of water. Never brine boneless/skinless cuts of meat for more than 2 hours or else they’ll be overly salty AND rubbery. Repeat after me: “Rubber chickens are for magicians, not dinner”. Good. Now that you have that down, we can continue.
For my bone in and skin on chicken I brine for 3 hours max. I could go longer, but I never seem to remember to get the brine started in time. If you don’t feel brave enough to try brining simply salt the parboiling water pretty liberally. Taste it before you add in the raw chicken. It should taste like the ocean, but not a salt lick. You want the chicken to get some flavor from parboiling since partially cooking meats in boiling water can sometimes remove flavor and you want to infuse flavor. Err on the side of a little too much salt than not enough. But if you pucker wildly and scare your children because you sucked your cheeks inside out, you may wanna pour out some of that salty water and add in some fresh water. Crazy faces means too much salt.
I normally only BBQ a few pieces of chicken at a time so I hastily took some very basic photos. They don’t capture just how lip-smacking tasty the chicken was in person, but sometimes ya gotta get a quick photo and you just can’t worry about a perfectly staged plate of food. I hope you’ll forgive me. I even got a few corners nice and charred… just for old times sake. 😉
Have you ever made your own BBQ Sauce? If so, what are some of the must-have ingredients in your sauce? Share your answers below…
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- 12 TB Salt
- 12 tsp. Sugar (optional but recommended)
- 6 Cups of water
- 6 Cups of ice
- Water- 4 quarts
- Sauce pan
- Salt 1 TB + 1 tsp.
- 4 chicken thighs and 4 chicken legs
- 1-1/2 cups favorite BBQ sauce (my recipe in the notes below)
- In a medium saucepan bring the salt, water and sugar to a simmer. Stir until the salt and sugar are completely dissolved. Remove from the heat and cool for 30 minutes.
- Poor brining solution into a large bowl and add the 6 cups of ice. The water should be cold!
- Add the raw chicken, cover the bowl and place in the fridge, allowing chicken to brine for 2-3 hours.
- Ten minutes before the brining is completed, fill a large sauce pan with 4 quarts of water and 1 Tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon of salt. Place the skillet over medium-high heat. Once the water starts to simmer, carefully add the brined chicken. Bring to a boil, and reduce heat to medium and boil the chicken for 5 minutes.
- Remove chicken, and set aside on a plate to dry slightly.
- Prepare grill.
- Measure out your BBQ sauce in a heat safe container (so that when you set it near your grill it won't melt or get too hot to handle).
- Once grill is heated and grates are oiled, place the chicken skin side down (for the thighs) on the side where your burner is turned to high and cook on each side for 2 minutes. Now move chicken to the side of the grill where you have the heat source turned to low, or off.
- Cook chicken on each side for about 12-14 minutes. You want the internal temperature of the chicken to be at about 150-153 degrees at this point. If it hasn't reached that, keep it on the grill a bit longer before you start adding sauce.
- Once the chicken has reached 150-153 it's time to baste the chicken with your favorite sauce. Spread sauce (be generous) on one side of the chicken, let it cook for about 3-4 minutes. Flip the chicken, spread on the sauce and grill for another 3-5 minutes.
- Using an instant read digital thermometer, insert into the fattest portion of each piece of chicken (away from the bone) and cook until thermometer reads 163-165 degrees. Remove from grill and set on a plate for FIVE minutes. Do not touch the chicken for FIVE minutes. You want the internal temp to get up to 165-170 degrees.
- Feel free to spread on a little more sauce, and then serve.
- My BBQ sauce recipe can be found here: https://www.realfoodgirlunmodified.com/lets-get-sauced/
- It is important to note that each grill is different and your temperature may end up being higher or lower than mine. You may end up cooking your chicken in less time or more time than I've stated in this recipe. If your chicken is taking longer, then don't start basting with sauce until the chicken has reached an internal temp of at least 150 degrees.
- Be patient, and the chicken should be fully cooked at 165 degrees, but some people feel safer eating it at 170 degrees. I take mine off at 160-162 degrees and let it sit until it reaches at least 165 degrees.
- You may find online that they've increased the safe internal cooking temps of poultry to 170-175 degrees. The only time I ever worry about cooking my chicken beyond 165 degrees is if I can't get a pastured, local-raised, organic chicken and have to use a conventional store bought chicken.
- If you don't want to brine the chicken double the salt in the parboiling liquid and then add the chicken.
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