How to Grill the Tastiest Chicken
Make this the summer you learn how to grill chicken the right way.
Here's your guide for how to grill chicken, including chicken thighs, chicken breasts, chicken wings, whole chickens, and chicken kabobs for tender, juicy meat with flame-kissed flavor. You'll get tips for making marinades, handling flare-ups, and ensuring proper doneness, plus you'll get top-rated recipes and videos to help you can hit the grill with confidence.
How to Grill Chicken
Chicken is always a popular choice for grilling, but it's also one of the more difficult foods to grill correctly. There's white meat and dark meat, pieces of varying shapes and sizes, with different amounts of fat—fat that adds flavor and moisture but also promotes flare ups. Essentially, different chicken parts require different treatments on the grill. Here's how to get the best results when you grill any kind of chicken:
1. Choose Your Meat
Boneless, skinless chicken breasts can be the trickiest chicken parts to grill because the high heat of the grill tends to dry out the meat before it's cooked through. The solution: Pound them to an even thickness before grilling.
To pound chicken breasts, simply place a boneless, skinless chicken breast between two layers of plastic wrap or inside a zip-top bag (squeezing out as much air as possible) and pound all over with a flat meat mallet or rolling pin until the breasts is flattened out to about 1/4 inch thickness. Even if your grilled chicken breast recipe doesn't include this step, it's a quick and easy way to help chicken breasts cook more evenly.
VIDEO: Grilled Pickle Brine Chicken
Skewers are a great low-tech tool for making healthy grilled chicken. Call them chicken kabobs, kebabs, satays, or skewers, chicken on a stick is great for the grill. For best results, leave space between the raw chicken and vegetables so heat can circulate and cook the pieces evenly. Here are a few more tips for grilling chicken kabobs:
- Cut chicken pieces into the same size pieces. (One- to 1½-inch inch cubes work well.)
- Skewer foods with similar cooking times together.
- To stabilize round or hard-to-skewer foods like cherry tomatoes, use two skewers parallel to each other.
- To keep wood skewers from turning into kindling on the grill, give them a nice soak in water. Thirty minutes should do the trick. No need to soak metal skewers.
VIDEO: Yummy Honey Chicken Kabobs
Chicken thighs are naturally fattier and typically come off the grill moister and more tender than chicken breasts. Boneless chicken thigh meat lies flat so you don't have to pound it out to help it cook evenly. Bone-in chicken thighs also lie flat, but they'll take a little longer to cook.
Here's how to grill chicken thighs (also works for chicken legs):
- Place the chicken skin-side down (if you're using skinless, boneless chicken thighs, place them smooth-side down) on oiled grates over medium/high heat.
- Grill until the skin is crispy and grill marks form, about 3 to 5 minutes.
- Turn the thighs over and place on the cooler side of the grill to continue cooking until the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees F.
- Remove from the heat onto a clean platter and let the chicken rest for a few minutes before serving.
VIDEO: Rusty Chicken Thighs
Grilling a whole chicken can be a bit of a challenge because of its size and shape. And yet, thanks to human ingenuity, you have a number of options. Here's how to grill a whole chicken:
- Butterfly the Bird: Remove the backbone so the chicken flattens out on the grill. It will cook more evenly, the butterflied look makes an impressive presentation, and it's easy to carve.
- Don't Spare the Rod: Skewer and grill your whole chicken, rotisserie style. You'll need a special attachment to hold the chicken as it rotates over the grill.
- Share a Beer with the Bird: Beer can chicken comes as advertised. Stand a whole chicken up in a baking pan by inserting an open can of beer into the cavity of the chicken. Fans of this method swear the meat turns out moist and delicious.
VIDEO: Beer Can Chicken
Before we hit the grill, a word about marinades. Chicken works great as a blank canvas, with marinades painting on the flavor. Marinades also add moisture to grilling chicken. And unlike other meats, chicken doesn't need a long soak. Check out tips for how to marinate chicken, plus easy chicken marinades for the best summer grilling.
VIDEO: Marinated Grilled Chicken
Some favorite recipes for chicken marinades:
3. Tame the Flames
When you're grilling chicken, it's always smart to have a cool area on the grill—a safe place where you can remove chicken pieces when flare-ups threaten or when some pieces are just cooking too fast. When you're grilling over coals, keep the white-hot coals on one side of the grill, and reserve the other "cool" side for chicken removal. With gas grills, you can simply adjust the flames on either side of the grill as needed.
VIDEO: Grill-Master Chicken Wings
4. Grill at the Correct Temperature
Many grills come with a built-in temperature gauge so you can see how hot it is with the cover closed, or you can buy a grill thermometer. Some folks swear by the hand-held method: counting how many seconds you can hold your hand about 6 inches over the grill.
- High Heat: 3 seconds or 500 F (260 C)
- Medium High Heat: 5 seconds or 400 F (205 C)
- Medium Heat: 7 seconds or 350 F (175 C)
- Medium Low Heat: 10 seconds or 325 F (165 C)
- Low Heat: 12 seconds or 300 F (150 C)
5. Grill for the Right Amount of Time
Use this handy chart to see how long to grill whole chickens, chicken breasts, chicken thighs, chicken, wings, chicken kabobs, and more.
Related: Check out our collection of BBQ & Grilled Chicken Recipes.