Grilled chicken has become a staple on many dinner tables and backyard grills. Versatile and delicious, chicken is adaptable to almost any cooking style, yet many still feel timid when approaching fresh poultry. Grilling 101 from American Made Grills continues with The Basics of Grilling Chicken!
We all know that grilling is one of the easiest and tastiest ways to prepare food, but each ingredient has its nuances. Cooking times vary widely depending on which chicken parts are used, whether boneless or bone-in, the type of marinade, and the spices. This blog will help you master the basics of grilling chicken by providing tips and techniques for preparing and cooking different cuts of poultry.
The Basics of Grilling Chicken - The Parts
What makes chicken so versatile is the different parts of the chicken, but this is also the primary challenge when grilling. When grilling multiple items, uniformity is your friend because everything cooks equally. However, each section has differing characteristics with chicken, most notably the presence or absence of bones and differing sizes.
- Wings and legs contain bones but are different sizes,
- Breasts are usually purchased boneless and are much thicker than the other parts,
- And thighs vary in size, can be purchase bone-in or boneless, and are generally much thinner than breasts.
All of these factors require different approaches when grilling to yield consistent and tender results.
The Basics of Grilling Chicken - Bones
In every type of meat, the presence of bones makes a big difference in the cooking method and time. In general, pieces with bones are thicker, causing the inside to take longer to cook and increasing the likelihood of burning the outside in the process. Bones also take longer to heat up, further increasing the time the inside of the cut needs to cook.
With chicken, when grilling bone-in pieces, always set up the grill for indirect heat with two zones. Sear the chicken for a couple of minutes over the hot zone, and then move it to the other side of the grill to finish cooking throughout at a slower rate. Since it is dangerous to eat undercooked chicken, have an instant-read thermometer to make sure it reaches 160 degrees inside near the bone. For more about using different heat zones when cooking check out, "Grilling 101: What is Direct and Indirect Heat?"
The Basics of Grilling Chicken - Boneless
Boneless cuts generally cook faster, but the caveat is the thickness of the piece. Today, many boneless breasts are large and almost an inch or thicker. These large pieces need to be split and pounded, so the parts are of uniform thickness. Some boneless thighs can also get relatively thick, also requiring some thinning.
The best way to pound chicken into uniform thicknesses without making a huge mess is to:
- Grab a cutting board
- Place a piece of plastic wrap on the cutting board.
- Lay the piece of chicken on the plastic.
- Cover the chicken with another piece of plastic wrap.
- Lightly pound the chicken starting in the center and working your way out.
These pounded chicken pieces will grill in just a couple of minutes per side on a medium-hot fire.
The Basics of Grilling Chicken - Marinades and Sauces
Marinade & Brine
The recipe or preparation used affects the cooking times and how the meat reacts with the grill. For example, when grilling Mexican-style Pollo Asada (marinated chicken) from a local carniceria, this type of chicken comprises thighs or breasts that have been pounded and split, so they are of very similar thickness. Also, the long marinade has infused plenty of moisture, making it easy to cook these pieces quickly over a hot fire without burning.
Using a marinade or a brine is a great way to infuse moisture into chicken, especially thicker pieces and whole chickens. Expert chefs and grillers would say that the brine is an absolute necessity when grilling so that the white meat areas are moist throughout. Plan on keeping the chicken in the brine overnight for maximum effectiveness and at least an hour with marinades.
A vital step to making a delicious chicken is ensuring that it's been appropriately seasoned beforehand. Your poultry rub should be applied with care, as you want all areas of meat covered in herbs and spices – some even go so far as rubbing under the skin! An example of a standard rub would be a combination of garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, black pepper, salt, and cumin.
There's nothing like a sticky, get-all-over-your-face sauce on barbecue chicken that is sweet and addicting. Most sauces contain sugar and should be added in the last five minutes of cooking to caramelize. If added too soon or even from the beginning, the sauce will burn, and you will be tempted to remove it from the grill too early, leaving the inside undercooked.
Another method of working with sauce is to divide the sauce in half and water it down some, so it's thinner. Use this watered-down sauce to baste several times through the grilling process for exquisite flavor, while its lighter texture can keep the chicken from charing too early. You can then still baste with the thicker sauce in the last five minutes to get that beautiful caramelization that everybody loves.
##The Basics of Grilling Chicken - The Final Tips
- Clean the Grates - It's essential to clean the grill before you start cooking chicken, ensuring no grease or debris is left and burned off by preheating your grill. Chicken will easily stick to dirty grill grates, and flare-ups are often caused by what was last grilled.
- Arrange the Chicken - When grilling multiple chicken parts simultaneously, place the chicken on the grill by setting larger pieces closer to the fire and smaller pieces further away. Move pieces closer to the heat in the following order: breasts, thighs, legs, wings. This arrangement will help everything cook evenly without burning if the fire isn't too hot. The total time it takes for your meal is determined by the larger pieces - about 45 minutes or so should do it depending on the portions used.
- Flip the Chicken - Every grilling enthusiast's temptation is over-flipping and manipulating the food too much. With chicken, it is essential to let it cook and wait approximately 15 minutes before flipping to the other side. If you flip too soon, the chicken will likely stick to the grill grates, and needed moisture and juices can needlessly escape. Patience is necessary to resist the urge and let the grill do its job.
Grilling 101 Continues
Using these tips and techniques, you should have great success thrilling your family and guests with tasty grilled chicken from many different regions. Experiment with various recipes, dry rubs, and marinades to find your favorite and refine your grilling chops. Join us next time as we look into the joys and basics of grilling beef.