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Chicken is always 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. So here it is, your guide for how to grill chicken thighs, chicken breasts, 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 -- so you can hit the grill with confidence.
Whole Foods Market carries whole fresh chickens and ready-cut pieces for tasty summer grilling.
How to Grill Chicken
1. Add flavor with marinades: 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. Here are tips for successful marinating, plus the simple 1-2-3 formula for making marinades.
Some Favorite Recipes for Chicken Marinades:
- Marinated Grilled Chicken II
- Pretty Chicken Marinade
- Italian Chicken Marinade
- Korean BBQ Chicken Marinade
- Chicken Marinade
2. 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. Keep the white-hot coals on one side of the grill, and reserve the other "cool" side for chicken triage. With gas grills, you can simply adjust the flames on either side of the grill as needed.
3. 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)
Follow the heat recommendations for the recipe you're cooking. To determine doneness, use this handy chart to see how long to grill whole chickens, chicken breasts, chicken kabobs, and more.
4. Pound boneless chicken breasts to uniform thickness: Here’s how to grill boneless, skinless chicken breasts, which can be the trickiest chicken parts to grill. The high heat of the grill tends to dry out the meat before it's cooked through. To avoid drying out your boneless chicken breasts, gently pound the poultry into uniform thickness; the breasts will cook more evenly.
Some Favorite Boneless Grilled Chicken Breast Recipes:
- Honey Mustard Grilled Chicken
- Spicy Chicken Breasts
- Marinated Grilled Chicken II
- Grilled Asian Chicken
- More Grilled Chicken Breast Recipes
5. Kebob your boneless chicken breasts: Skewers are a great low-tech tool for grilling chicken breast meat. Call them chicken kabobs, kebabs, satays, or skewers, chicken on a stick is great for the grill. For best results, string the chicken and vegetables onto separate skewers. While a skewer that combines bell peppers, cherry tomatoes, and chicken looks appetizing on the plate, the tomatoes will turn to mush and/or slip off the skewer before the chicken is reliably done. Here are a few more tips for grilling chicken kebabs:
- For the best results, 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.
Some Favorite Chicken Kabob Recipes:
- Yummy Honey Chicken Kabobs
- Chicken Kabobs Mexicana
- Rosemary Ranch Chicken Kabobs
- Chicken and Bacon Shish Kabobs
- More Chicken Kabob Recipes
6. When in doubt, choose chicken thighs for the grill. Chicken thighs 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.
Some Favorite Grilled Chicken Thigh Recipes:
7. Grill the chicken whole: 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 whole chickens:
- 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.
See how to make Beer Can Chicken:
Check out our collection of BBQ & Grilled Chicken Recipes.
- Check out our Top Tips For Grilling Successfully.
- Find all of our top-rated grilled chicken recipes.
- Get recipes and tips for amazing chicken marinades.