Once the weather warms I prefer to do my cooking out of doors. Investing in a good grill allows you a dependable grilling and cooking surface that can be used with a wide array of different meats, vegetables, fruits, and countless sides.
Unfortunately there can be a learning curve when it comes to cooking on a grill. You need to become familiar with both how your heat is distributed and how best to cook certain cuts of meat for safe consumption–without ruining them! If you want to know how to grill chicken perfectly or just want some of my best chicken grilling tips, read on.
What You Need
Whenever you grill (or prepare any meal for that matter), you should have complete license to pick your own flavors. Although I am sharing the chicken preparation my family gobbles up, you can apply the same steps with many variations of cuts and seasonings.
Charcoal or Gas Grill
Either type of grill works perfectly well when grilling chicken. For this guide I used a propane grill, mainly to save on time. As they repeatedly told me, my kids were going to starve and die right there in the backyard if they didn’t get fed, like, RIGHT NOW!
I actually prefer a charcoal grill due to the smoky flavor it infuses, but do your thing. All you need to keep in mind is that you want to be able to maintain temperature at a medium-high heat (450 – 500 degrees). As long as you can control your temp, you are all good!
Your Choice of Chicken
You honestly can’t go wrong with any cut of chicken as long as you take into account they all cook a bit differently. The biggest issue I’ve discovered is the variation in required internal temperatures. The USDA recommends that chicken should be cooked to a minimum temperature of 165 degrees. In my experience, that is perfect for breasts. But when it comes to other parts of the bird with tougher connective tissue, you want to get to 185 degrees.
In my household, nothing says summer like chicken drummies. You can pick these up in bulk at any grocery store and freeze what you don’t need.
Olive or Grapeseed Oil
Pick either to oil your grates to help keep your meat from sticking. Both have a high smoke point (the temp at which they stop shimmering and start burning off), making them perfect for grills that get very hot.
Herbs and Seasoning to Taste, plus BBQ Sauce!
You can use a WIDE variety of seasoning options and different sauces. My drummies use salt and pepper (to taste), onion and garlic powder, and some cayenne powder.
We also have a few favorite sauces. Southwestern flavors are sweeter and have a brown sugar and/or molasses base, while those from the southeast often include mustard and vinegar. Mix and match to find your favorite!
Step 1: Rinse and Pat Chicken Dry
If you want truly crispy, juicy chicken, you need to leave the skin on and pat it dry with a paper towel after rinsing. Simply rinse your chicken well and then lay on a paper towel to pat dry. This allows the seasoning to adhere to the skin to become a yummy, crispy, flavorful part of every bite.
Step 2: Pre-Heat Grill to 450 Degrees Fahrenheit
While prepping your chicken, run out and pre-heat your grill to 400- 450 degrees. You don’t want to start cooking until it’s completely warmed up, and you never want a too-low temp, which can dry out the chicken due to the longer cook time. A too-high temperature runs the same risk.
Step 3: Season Chicken
As your grill warms, season your chicken with dry ingredients. As long as you don’t have picky eaters, don’t be afraid to be liberal with your application as these seasonings work as a dry rub. Also, be sure to get it under the skin as well, directly against the flesh. We love the bite of cayenne with the BBQ sauce.
Step 4: Oil Grill Grates
Heating your grates is one way to keep meat from sticking, but I also like to oil my grates to help season the meat while it cooks. This is especially good to do if you have cast iron grates; the oil both protects the surface and makes it easier to clean. Simply brush oil over the grates while trying to avoid dripping it into the flame. If you do, the oil will just burn off, but you will also create a lot of initial smoke.
Step 5: Set Out Your Chicken and Cover
If you’re familiar with the areas of your grill that produce hotter cooking spots, try to avoid those. Charcoal allows you to move the coals around to direct heat, and you can also always turn a burner off with a gas grill if needed.
Basically you want to place your chicken where it will cook, but not cook too fast. You also want to avoid dripping juices and oils down on the flame, which will cause flares that might burn your meat. If you find your chicken is cooking faster than you like, try moving it to the edges of the grill.
Always keep the chicken covered or the grill closed to help hold in the heat.
Step 6: Be THE Grillmaster
The key to grilling, in my experience, is babysitting the meat. To get a nice, even BBQ, you need to make sure the grill stays at temperature. 450 degrees is perfect for chicken and will allow you to get the perfect moisture and flavor in about 20 to 30 minutes depending on the thickness of the cut.
So go ahead and crack yourself a cold brew or soda and enjoy the grilling solitude.
Step 7: Turn Every 5 Minutes or So…
You’ll want to turn your chicken about once every 5 minutes for even cooking and to avoid too deep a char on one side. You can generally tell where you have a hotspot the first time you turn, so be sure to rotate the cooking spaces to get the perfect skin crispness and flavor. Re-cover after each turn.
Step 8: SAUCE Your Chicken!
Once the chicken is well browned and your spices are cooked-in, add your sauce. Coat one side, and then allow it to cook for 5 minutes before repeating the process on the other side. Do this as many times as you want to get your desired flavor.
At this point you can start checking your internal temperature.
Step 9: Cook to the Correct Temperature
I mentioned earlier that cooking your drumsticks to 185 degrees was preferred. This is also true of thighs to help soften connective tissues and make a more tender bite. Your chicken is safe at 165 degrees, but trust me, you will be so glad you cooked it a bit longer.
Step 10: ENJOY!
Once you have your chicken up to temp and properly sauces, take it off the grill. Remember, meat will keep cooking even after you remove it. I always turn down my grill a little to avoid overcooking when I begin saucing or when I’m looking for a little bit extra crisp. These drummies turned out perfectly seasoned, crisp, and with a thin coat of sauce–just the way we like it!
Hopefully this guide has provided you some great tips for how to grill chicken on a gas grill or charcoal grill for a perfect meal each and every time. A few simple steps and basic rules will prevent drying out your chicken or making it too tough to enjoy. Here is everything you need to remember:
- Always preheat your grill and keep your grates seasoned.
- Season your chicken in advance. Be liberal with your use of rubs, and marinate for at least 20 minutes if that is a preferred method.
- Tenderize chicken breast with a meat tenderizer.
- Grill chicken at 400 to 450 degrees.
- Turn your chicken every 5 minutes for even cooking.
- Breasts need to be cooked to 165 degrees, but go to 185 for drumsticks and thighs.
- Keep in mind the smaller the piece, the faster the cook time.
- Keep the skin on when possible to help insulate the chicken and hold in moisture.
Chicken serves up wonderfully next to a wide variety of sides. Grilled veggies, pasta and potato salads, fresh salads, fresh fruits, ranch beans, roasted potatoes, and savory rices are all suggestions to consider.
We’d love to answer any questions you have, or hear about your favorite seasonings! And, as always, please share!