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:
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.