Grilling the Perfect Chicken

Chicken, it turns out, is far more difficult to grill well than the ubiquitous steaks, chops and kebabs.

Most of my childhood memories of outdoor grilling have something to do with the pungent smell of charred BBQ chicken legs. Every time, my father would swear the next batch would be better and every time, they would end up a crunchy mass of hickory smoke coal.

Luckily, with just a few tips, you can grill chicken like a pro and explore some new ways to prepare chicken.

Tip 1: Beat the Heat

The most common error the home chef makes grilling chicken is to put their birds on as soon as the coals go gray, or with the gas grill up on high.

This grilling heat level is perfect for skirt steak and veggies, but it is exactly wrong for doing chicken. For best results, make sure to put your chicken on towards the end of your rotation of items to go on the grill if you’re using charcoal, and cook under medium to medium low heat if you’re using gas. This method will allow the chicken to cook through without burning the skin or resulting in the dreaded over-cooked on the outside, under-cooked on the inside syndrome.

Tip 2: Pay Attention to the Cuts
For grilling chicken bigger is better, and cheaper.

Keep away from grilling breasts or legs and try grilling either a half or whole chicken (which pound for pound will cost less than boneless fillets). Whole chickens can be easily butchered for the grill by cutting them right down the backbone and then flattening them out using your hand. Tuck the ends of the drumsticks into slits made in the skin of the back and push a skewer or two through the back legs to keep it in one easy piece. Cooking chickens in either whole or half will help keep the meat juicy by minimizing the surface area exposed to the flame and by cooking it next to the bone. If your family is bone averse simply pull the meat off the bones after it has grilled and toss with BBQ sauce or salsa for tacos or make a BBQ pulled chicken sandwich.

Tip 3: Avoid Sugar-laden Marinades and Sauces
Part of the problem with grilling chicken is the high sugar content of most sauces whether they be teriyaki or smoky BBQ. When the average pit master slathers their birds in these sauces they’re just asking for burnt chicken skin. Instead of using sugary store bought sauces use a traditional recipe for BBQ called a “mop” which will not burn:

Basic Mop
1 cup cider vinegar
1/2 cup salad oil
2 cloves of garlic minced
2 tablespoons ketchup
2 tablespoons chili powder
Salt and pepper to taste

Combine all of the ingredients and blend well. Use this recipe as a base for other mops. Give your chicken an Asian flavor by adding fresh ginger and soy sauce, or a Moroccan flair by adding cinnamon, clove, cumin and coriander seed.

To use the mop coat each piece of chicken in a thin glaze of mop with a grill brush every few minutes. The lower the heat the longer the chicken will cook and the deeper and more flavorful your glaze will be.


Tip 4: Make the Most of Your Hard-Earned Coals
While it is a good idea to let your coals cool down before you throw your chicken on, what do you do with the coals in the meantime to ensure that your hard-earned cash isn’t going up in smoke? Plan ahead!

Think of your grilling as a three-part process:

The beginning when the coals are very hot is the perfect time to grill things that do well on a hot grill like thin steaks or veggies like scallions or marinated zucchini that need to have char on the outside and be fresh on the inside.

The second act, when the coals are hot but not hard to stand in front, is the perfect time for thick steaks, pork chops, kebabs and whole fish. There will be enough heat to get a nice crust on the outside of your items but the heat will be tame enough to cook them evenly. This is also the perfect time to put on an eggplant to roast for making eggplant caviar.

The third act is when your coals are mellow and you can place items that need to slow roast on the grill like half chickens, ribs or skewered potatoes. Take care that the heat doesn’t die out too much by covering your grill with the lid. Once these coals have died you can even cook flat breads in the dying embers!

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