How to Grill Chicken

Grilling chicken brings out the best in the bird by crisping its skin, juicing up its meat and lending every part a deliciously distinct flavor.
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Grilling chicken brings out the best in the bird by crisping its skin, juicing up its meat and lending every part a deliciously distinct flavor.

WHOLE CHICKEN

chili lime chicken

Grilling time: 40 min butterflied

Grilling the entire bird is the ultimate flavor bomb -- cooking meat on the bone keeps things juicy while the skin crisps up, and turns out an outer layer brimming with flavor. Plus, a whole grilled chicken makes for a stunning presentation. Butterfly it so that it lies flat and grills evenly over direct heat. Bonus: This cuts down the cooking time by half. And small, hibachi-size grills need not apply, as you'll need extra grate space to move the chicken around when inevitable flare-ups occur.

Try our Two Chile-Lime Chicken recipe

CHICKEN WINGS

chicken wings in jala peach juice

Grilling times: 14 to 18 min

Grilling brings out the best in these snack-size pieces -- the fat drips away, leaving behind a crisp wing perfect for gnawing to the bone. They are easily separated into the drumette and the wing end by hacking at the joint using a cleaver or heavy knife. Some people prefer the meatier drumette, but the crackle and crunch of wing ends have their own appeal. Be prepared to move the wings around as flare-ups occur, and arrange them so that the smaller ends point away from the high heat to prevent burning.

Try our Chicken Wings with Jala-Peach Sauce

CHICKEN LEGS

Grilled Chicken Legs

Grilling times: 20 to 25 min for legs, thighs and drums

There's nothing quite like the dark, juicy meat of a chicken leg. The extra fat found in this part keeps the meat moist, making it a forgiving cut to throw on a grill. Grill these pieces over a split fire of high and medium heat. The high heat lets some of the fat drain away first, resulting in the desirable crisp, charred surface. Finishing the legs over medium heat lets the chicken cook through without burning. This holds true whether you're grilling whole legs or drumstick and thigh portions separately.

Try our Fennel-and-Herb-Rubbed Grilled Chicken Legs recipe

CHICKEN BREASTS

tea soaked chicken breasts

Grilling times: 10 to 12 min for breasts, 6 to 8 min for cutlets

Skinless, boneless chicken breast is the number-one bestseller at meat counters; it's ideal for beginning grillers because its cooking time is the easiest to predict. Pound to a uniform thickness (1/2 inch for a breast, ? inch for a cutlet) for even cooking -- the expanded surface area will also show off the grilled exterior. But let's not overlook the skin-on, bone-in breast. Sure, its natural shape requires extra coddling on the grill, but meat is tastier and juicier cooked on the bone, and the skin lets the meat baste in its own fat as it cooks. Turn this cut regularly, at least four times, to minimize flare-ups, and arrange the thinner edges away from the heat to prevent burning while the thicker portions cook through.

Try our Tea-Soaked Chicken Breasts recipe

Sauces, Seasonings, Marinades and More

Apricot-Date Sticky Wings with Marcona Almonds

SAUCES are a good bet with all chicken parts, but the nooks and crannies of chicken wings let the sauce collect in pockets and caramelize during grilling, adding another layer of texture and flavor. Many sauces tend to be high in sugar, which burns easily, so brush on the sauce during the last 10 minutes of grilling. To glaze 3 pounds of wings, about 1 1/4 cups sauce should do -- reserve a separate batch for dipping to avoid cross-contamination.

Try:

Hoisin Glaze

White Barbecue Sauce

Honey Barbecue Sauce

Apricot-Date Sticky Wings wth Marcona Almonds (pictured)

Marinating

Treat your chicken right with a little extra flavor, before or after the grill. Here's what to use when, plus recipes to try. SEASONING PASTES are spices mixed with a little liquid. They slide easily under and over the skin, flavoring the meat and skin. Prepare 1/3 to 1/2 cup for a 3- to 5-pound chicken. For extra-crisp skin, skip the paste on top and pat the skin dry before grilling.

Try:

Lemon-Herb Paste

Spicy Jerk Paste

Thai Chile Paste

MARINADES turn out gentle, pleasant results, a good match for the mild flavor of breast meat. The seasoning process happens slowly, so allow at least an hour (and up to eight) for the marinade to soak in. Plan on using 2 cups marinade for every 4 breast halves. Include an acidic ingredient like vinegar, citrus juice or wine for flavor and to tenderize the meat, and a teaspoon or two of oil to help keep the chicken moist.

Try:

White Wine and Tarragon Marinade

Hot Sauce Marinade

Bourbon-Apple Marinade

Dijon-Herb Chicken Zucchini & Lemon Kebabs (pictured)

DRY RUBS are great with chicken legs. The combination of dark meat and spices forms a nice crust as the legs grill. Dry rubs are also ideal when you're short on time, punching up flavor immediately without the lengthier time required for marinating or for prepping seasoning pastes. Plan on 1/4 cup dry-rub mixture to season 8 chicken legs.

Try:

Paprika Rub

Cumin Rub

Five-Spice Rub

Good To Know Tips

Good To Know

Butterflied Chicken with Lime & Ginger

Keep close watch. Grilling is still cooking. You can't just crack open a beer and walk away. Chicken is a little bit needier than a hot dog -- and can flame up if unattended. Keep your eyes on the clock.

Pop the hood. Good grilled chicken has a seared, crisp exterior that houses a tender, juicy interior. The only way to get that one-two punch is to grill over direct heat with the grill top off. Covering the grill creates an oven that bakes the chicken.

Use medium heat. Too hot and you have charred chicken with a raw center; too cool and you have tough meat and flabby skin.

Q&A

What should I look for when buying chicken?

Buy chicken unwrapped from a butcher, if possible. It should be odorless and free of unusual discolorations or markings. When buying prepackaged options from the supermarket, skip ones that have a pool of drained juice at the bottom or have passed their sell-by date. Chicken should look moist, though the skin color may vary from white to yellow depending on the chicken's diet. Terms like "free-range" and "natural" are loosely regulated, so ask your butcher about anything important to you.

How do you know when it's done?

Use an instant-read thermometer, especially when grilling a whole chicken or breast meat. An internal temperature of 165 degree to 170 degree is considered done. If you lack a thermometer or the cut is too thin to read accurately, make a small slit in an out-of-the-way spot. Juices should run clear and the meat should no longer look translucent; breast meat will be white throughout.

What if there's a flare-up?

Leave empty grate space around the perimeter of the grill so that the chicken can be moved away from the flames. You can also close the cover of the grill briefly to starve the flame of oxygen.

Is chicken skin bad for you?

Chicken skin adds calories and fat to an otherwise lean meat, but it also provides extra flavor, holds in moisture and makes a perfect pocket for dry seasonings rubbed under the skin. When grilled properly, the skin becomes crisp as fat drips away. Remove the skin if you're concerned about fat or calories; otherwise, live a little and indulge in its crackly, savory flavor.

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