Is Your Grilled Chicken Lacking?
Dry, burnt, or bland… We’ve all experienced it before. You’re at a BBQ and you are offered some chicken. You take your first bite and the meat is dry and the skin and sauce are burnt and bitter. You tell the host it’s delicious only because when you grill chicken it ends up being the same. You start to believe that this is the way that grilled chicken is supposed to be and accept mediocracy as perfection.
Okay, maybe I’m being a little dramatic but I really enjoy grilled chicken. When it’s done right it is amazing. The meat is juicy with a slight smokiness. The outside is caramelized with slight charring to remind you that this was indeed cooked over an open flame. This is the way chicken is meant to be and it’s really not that hard. With some tweaking to your technique and a couple of tips, you will be grilling some amazing chicken that the neighborhood with be envious of.
Having been a head chef for over 10 years with experience grilling chicken for countless events, I have learned a few tricks to ensure the best results every time. Here are my 5 secrets to the best-grilled chicken. Rest assured if you follow these steps you will be enjoying the juiciest and most flavorful grilled chicken of your life.
1. A Good FoundationThe first step to cooking anything to perfection on your grill is clean grill grates. This one goes for anytime you grill but is especially true when it comes to cooking chicken which is prone to sticking. The cleaner the grates are the less likely chicken will stick to it. So give it a good scrub down before you cook and soon after. This habit will make cleaning your grates quick and easy. The last thing you want to do when you have hungry guests is to sit there and scrape your grill for 30 minutes to get it clean. My two favorite grill cleaning tools for the job are currently the Safe Scrpe™ Non-Bristle Cleaning Tool or the Dual-Handle Safe-Scrub™ MONSTER Brush™. Both these tools are extremely effective yet don't pose the threat of leaving wire bristles stuck to your grates and possibly in your food. No matter what tool you choose to use, give your grill a thorough clean so that you do not have the best part of the chicken ripped off.
2. The Dry Brine
You may have heard of bringing and it's good for some things, mainly for making pastrami or ham, but dry brining is what you want for grilling chicken in particular. Traditional brining involves making a water solution with a high salt content to season the meat. The problem is that the water also gets absorbed into the skin and meat. This not ideal when it comes to chicken for two reasons: water dilutes flavors and water doesn’t get crispy. Dilution is great when you are talking about ingredients with intense flavor. Think lemon juice vs lemonade. You probably wouldn’t drink a cup of lemon juice but when you dilute it with four cups of water and some sugar you get lemonade for you and your friends. The problem is chicken is relatively mild in flavor so the added water leaves you with a flavorless bird. The water also has to cook off from the outside before it will crisp up. This means that you have to cook it longer to get the outside caramelized and result in a dry chicken.
To dry brine take the weight of your chicken season with 1.5% salt by weight. This can be done by multiplying the weight of the chicken by .015. If you don’t have a kitchen scale look at the weight on the package of chicken and add ½ a teaspoon of salt per pound. Let the chicken sit for at least an hour in the fridge skin side up before cooking.
3. Two Zone Cooking
Two zone cooking is great for cooking chicken as it allows you to use direct high heat to sear the meat and indirect to gently roast the chicken until it’s cooked through. Setting up your grill for two zones is easy. If you have a gas grill just turn on the burners on one side. If you are using charcoal place lit coals only to one side leaving the other side to be only indirect heat.
To use the two zones for cooking you are going to remove the dry brined chicken from the fridge. You will notice that salt and the air in the fridge should have slightly dried out the skin. This will help to keep the skin from sticking to the grill. Place it skin side down on the hot side of the grill. Cook for five to eight minutes or until the skin is crispy. If you try to check the skin and it is sticking leave it be. It just means that it needs more time. It will naturally release once the skin has crisped up. Flip the chicken and cook on the indirect side until it is cooked through.
4. The Perfect Temperature
Thermometers are the best way to judge whether something is ready to eat or not. Yet a lot of people don’t own one or don’t use one. I don’t know if it’s a thing of pride or a belief in some grilling myth. I’m here to tell you I would much rather use a thermometer and know that I have a perfectly cooked cut of meat than rely on guessing. For chicken breast, we want to cook it to 150 degrees F and I know this is below what the USDA says for chicken. However, after we take the chicken breast off the grill and let it rest the internal temperature will continue to rise cooking to the necessary temp. Do not worry, this will give you delicious juicy chicken that is cooked all the way through.
Okay, so you’re convinced, great but what thermometer do you get? This is a personal preference. Some people like an instant-read thermometer like the FLIP-TIP™ Digital Thermometer that allow you to get internal temperatures quickly and accurately. However, some people like to be able to monitor the temperatures all the way through the cooking process. The Pocket Digital Thermometer allows you to easily measure the internal temperature of your meat. This is my go choice as I usually judge chicken based on the temperature in the very center. For the techie, we have the Q-Tech™ Bluetooth® Thermometer that connects wirelessly to your phone. The app gives you live temperature readings and sounds an alarm when the meat has come to its desired temperature.
5. The Final Touch
If you want a sauced bird do it at the end! Most sauces for grilling contain a lot of sugar and sugar likes to burn. That’s why I always add sauce right before it's time to take the food off the grill. A good rule of thumb would be to baste the meat when it is 10 to 15 degrees away from final cooking temperature. So don’t let that label trick you. I know it says teriyaki marinade but it’s not. You will be better off basting it a couple times at the end rather than serving dry chicken with burnt sauce on it. The basting and slow roasting will give you that sticky and slightly caramelized sauce everyone loves.
What Is Your Trick?
Those are my two cents and I have been pulling great chicken from the grill for years. But the learning is never over, I would love to hear what tricks you use to grill juicy chicken? Let me know in the comments below or tag us on Instagram with your grillings @Charcoalcompanion.