5 Techniques for Great Grilled Chicken

Chicken is one of the most popular meats to grill, so here's a chicken grilling guide with five techniques that get it right every time.
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Chicken is one of the most popular meats to grill, so here's a chicken grilling guide with five techniques that get it right every time.

A Chicken on Every Grill

Chicken is lean, versatile and cheap, but for a dish so seemingly simple, why is chicken on the grill frequently so tough? Or dried out, too pink in the middle or just kinda ho-hum? Well, it won't be this summer! We've got solutions for all your mistakes, plus recipes and easy techniques to help you make great grilled chicken.

*86% of you barbecue some bird at almost every cookout, according to a recent Every Day with Rachael Ray survey.

5 Tips for Grilled Chicken

Technique #1: Rubbing

Rubbing spices and seasonings onto chicken before grilling gives it high-impact flavor. If you blend the spices with oil first, you'll have twofold success: The oil helps seal in the juices and prevent the chicken from sticking to the grate.

Tip! Nix the chill before you grill! To cook chicken pieces quickly and evenly, let them stand at room temperature for about 45 minutes before placing them on the grate.

Rubbing

Get the Jamaican Jerk Drumsticks & Thighs recipe!

Technique #2: Basting

Basting is the hands-down secret to sensational wings. Make your own sauce by using sweet dates, apricot jam and tangy sherry vinegar, then know when to slather it on (and when not to)! Since sugary ingredients can over-caramelize and burn, wait until the last 5 minutes of cooking.

Tip! Twist and Turn 'em! Unlike breasts or thighs, which should be turned only once, flipping wings a few extra times helps them cook more evenly by bringing heat to their crevices.

*56% of Every Day survey respondents say drying out or overcooking the meat is the biggest mistake they make when grilling chicken.

Basting

Get the Apricot-Date Sticky Wings with Marcona Almonds recipe!

Technique #3: Steaming

Steaming may not sound like a grilling technique, but a little liquid (in this case, beer!) inside a whole chicken can create a full-on flavor sauna. Don't let the long cooking time stop you from trying this. When the grill lid opens to reveal the gorgeous, golden bird, you'll be glad you did. (Psst: The waiting time also buys you a built-in cocktail hour!)

Tip! Smoke, don't sauce! To infuse rich flavor into the meat and skin without tending to the chicken over a hot fire, smoke it from the outside in. Set presoaked hickory or applewood chips on the grill, close the lid -- and voilá, instant smoker!

Tip! Make carving a cinch! Remove the legs and wings first, pulling back their joints, then slicing through them with a sharp chef's knife. Getting these pieces out of the way makes carving the breasts easier.

Steaming

Get the Beer-Can-Smoked Whole Chicken recipe!

Technique #4: Butterflying

Butterflying is butcher lingo for opening a whole bird like a book, and it takes just three easy knife cuts or scissor slits to do. The chicken's flattened shape helps guarantee quicker, more even cooking across the bird...er, board.

Tip! Stop sticky skin! The trick to preventing it from staying behind on the grate: Don't let the skin hit the heat until the last 5 minutes of grilling.

*77% of you say chicken breasts are your go-to cut for grilling. Steal our secrets for keeping them moist and tender.

Butterflied Chicken with Lime & Ginger

Get the Butterflied Chicken with Lime & Ginger recipe!

Technique #5: Marinating

Marinating chicken for at least 30 minutes not only lets seasonings work their magic, but can also help lean pieces stay juicy once they hit the flame. Our light and citrusy marinade has greater impact when you cut the meat into pieces: It coats more of the chicken's surface area, which allows flavor to seep in faster.

Tip! Cube with Care! Cut kebab ingredients into equal-size pieces to achieve uniform cooking. Thanks to the marinated chicken's speedy cooking time, when the meat is done, the veggies will still have some crunch.

Tip! Juice it up! Grilled lemon wedges are a colorful and surprising addition to chicken skewers. After you grill them, squeeze over the just-cooked meat and vegetables for extra-lemony flavor.

Marinating

Get the Dijon-Herb Chicken Zucchini & Lemon Kebabs recipe!

4 Ways to Test for Doneness

1. Prick with a Knife
Jut the tip of a sharp paring knife into a juicy part of the chicken, such as its thigh joint. If the juices have a pink tint, keep cooking. The meat is safe to eat when the liquids run clear.
Good for: butterflied broilers, bone-in thighs, wings

2. Use a Thermometer
Insert a meat thermometer into the thickest part of the chicken, pressing it into the center of the flesh (do not hit bone). The meat is safe to eat at 165°; take it off the grill when it registers 160° to account for carryover cooking.
Good for: whole chickens (check the temp in the breast or thigh meat), leg quarters

3. Poke with Your finger
Practice makes perfect with this no-tools-required technique. Using your index finger, tap the thickest area of the meat. If it springs back to your touch (and doesn't mush under your finger), chances are good it's cooked through.
Good for: boneless breasts, bone-in breasts, boneless thighs

4. Yank on a Joint
Grab the end of a leg with your fingers or a set of grilling tongs and tug it away from the body. When the joint separates easily, the chicken is ready.
Good for: whole chickens, butterflied broilers, leg quarters, wings

Gas versus Charcoal Grill

Keep grilling on!

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