Chicken may be one of the simplest meats to work with, both in the kitchen and on the grill. However, especially with the grill, it takes skill to ensure that the chicken always comes out well-done, moist, and tasty!
(Scroll down to the bottom for delicious grilled chicken recipes!)
If you want your next chicken-based grilled meal to be a hit with family and friends, consider these tips for grilling delicious chicken on the barbecue! (And again, below, if you’re at a loss for how to make unforgettable BBQ chicken meals, stick around for a few foolproof grilled chicken recipes!)
Expert Tips for Grilling Chicken
1. Choosing Your Chicken & Cut
Of course, the first step of grilling chicken is picking your chicken! If you want your chicken to be full of flavor, you may want to buy organic, free-range chicken; they’re known to “have a pronounced chicken flavor and meat that is firmer without being tough.” (Source: Weber) Read the brief description below or check out this article if you’re looking for specific tips on which cuts of chicken to choose for your BBQ.
In terms of whether or not the best tasting grilled chicken will have the skin or not, it’s best to use chicken with the skin on; the skin will help add flavor while also keeping the meat from drying out.
Choosing Chicken Cuts
The kind of chicken you want to grill will, of course, depend on your initial preference, but will also depend on how much time you actually have to cook. Grilling chicken cuts (wings, legs, thighs, breasts) will take a lot less time to grill compared to cooking a whole chicken or chicken quarters.
For short cooking times, boneless chicken cuts are the way to go; and if you’re really short on time, try slicing the cuts into smaller pieces and adding them to skewers to grill even faster.
2. Preparing the Chicken
Grilling chicken isn’t as easy as just throwing it on the grill and hoping for the best; there are certain steps you’ll need to take to ensure that the chicken comes out cooked well done and evenly—and let’s not forget tasty!
Tenderizing Chicken Cuts
Out of all of the chicken cuts, chicken breasts usually take longer to cook due to how uneven in size they are. To overcome this problem and ensure they cook quickly and evenly, place each chicken breast piece in a large Ziploc bag one at a time, and pound the thicker ends with a meat tenderizer until they are about the same size as the thinner ends.
Butterflying Whole Chicken
The biggest obstacles in grilling a whole chicken are making sure that all parts are thoroughly grilled and carving it once it’s done. Luckily, there is a solution that can solve both of these common problems!
Rather than try to put the whole chicken on the grill as is—or struggling to cut it into quarters—butterfly it instead. This method requires you to remove the entire backbone of the chicken so that it is able to lay flat across the grill. The result? Not only will your chicken cook faster and more evenly, but it will be easier to carve later.
3. Seasoning for Flavor
There are a variety of ways to season your grilled chicken; however, the easiest—and tastiest—method is by taking the time to inject a seasoning mix (usually marinade*) with an injector into your chicken before it’s put on the grill. This way, you can use the extra time to entertain your guests or spend time with family rather than be stuck in front of the grill basting.
*Note: If you decide to use a liquid brine or marinade to inject your chicken, make sure you keep separate bowls of seasoning for when you season raw chicken from basting or glazing the cooked chicken to prevent contamination.
Of course, there’s a little more to seasoning besides injecting some of it into the chicken. You have the option to use brines, rubs, or even marinades to ensure your chicken tastes good from the inside out!
Brine is essentially a high-concentrated salt and water solution. Chicken can be soaked in a large glass or plastic container of brine for a few hours in the fridge to have a moist, juicy effect. Brining chicken not only seasons it, but prevents it from drying out on the grill. Brining is a good option if you’re using skinless chicken.
Dry rubs are standard seasoning methods for grilling and smoking on the barbecue. They usually consist of at least salt, sugar, and paprika, with the option to mix in other spices depending on your personal flavor preferences. At least one tablespoon of dry rub for each pound of chicken you have is enough for seasoning. Allow the rub to settle with the chicken at least two hours before grilling. Check out this article here for more Rub & Seasoning recipes for steaks and chickens.
Marinades are liquid solutions composed of a variety of seasonings. Most protein-based foods about to hit the grill are soaked in a marinade in the fridge for a few hours before grilling, so the meat has the chance to absorb the flavors. Marinades also help make the meat more moist and tender. For chicken, we recommend using a lighter acidic marinade to soak it for no more than two hours in a glass or plastic container (Ziploc bags work too).
After your chicken has soaked in the brine or marinade or has settled with the dry rub for a few hours, remove it from the fridge 15 minutes before you get the grill ready. The chicken should be at room temperature before putting it on the grill.
4. Prepping the Grill
There’s more to preparing the grill besides setting coal or wood on fire or turning the gas on!
Make sure it’s clean.
For one, you want to make sure your grill is cleaned thoroughly from the last time you used it to cook; the last thing you need is cross-contamination. Check out this article for tips on how to really clean a charcoal grill and this one to clean a gas grill.
Check your supplies.
You don’t want to run out of charcoal or fuel in the middle of grilling! Check your supplies and make sure you have enough of either burner material to grill all of your food.
Oil the grates.
Once you’ve begun to heat up the grill, use a little bit of vegetable oil or olive oil to rub across the grill grates. This will prevent the chicken from sticking to them (and makes for easier grill clean up later).
5. Grilling the Chicken
Chicken Grilling Temperatures
With meats such as pork or beef, you have to grill at a very high temperature to make sure they cook thoroughly. However, you have to treat chicken a little bit differently; you don’t want its skin to burn with high heat, so it’s best to use a medium, indirect heat the majority of the time it’s on the grill. (However, you may want to use a little direct heat if you’re cooking chicken bone-in.)
This applies to users of both charcoal and gas grills. For charcoal grills, this may mean placing coals on one side of the grill rather than across the bottom; gas grills can simply be set to medium heat.
How to Grill the Chicken
Now it’s time to grill the chicken! Once you’ve placed the chicken on the grill, check your fire one last time, then close the grill lid. This is especially important—an open grill loses a lot of heat and will take longer to cook the chicken all the way through. If your grill doesn’t have a lid, use a large, disposable aluminum foil pan to cover the food by flipping it upside-down.
Allow the chicken to grill for at least 20-25 minutes, checking on the fire and food for basting every so often. Depending on the chicken cut or if you’re cooking a whole chicken, you may have to grill longer.
To ensure that the flavor stays in the chicken until the very end, you occasionally may have to baste or use a sauce to glaze over it, but the best time to do so is the chicken is nearly cooked all the way through (about 5-15 minutes before its finished). Any earlier and the sauce can burn over the chicken.
Use a basting brush to add sauce to the chicken, turning the chicken or chicken cuts over every so often to ensure that the sauce sticks to it and has the chance to caramelize over the heat.
How long does it take to cook chicken on the grill?
Different chicken cutlets have different cooking times. The below table shows the average cooking time for each type of cut at its recommended cooking temperature:
Cooking Time & Temperature (degrees Fahrenheit)
Bone-in, Skin-on Chicken Breasts (10-12 oz)
30-40 minutes (350 degrees)
Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breasts (6-8 oz)
8-12 minutes (350 degrees)
Bone-in, Skin-on Chicken Legs
30-40 minutes (350 degrees)
Bone-in, Skin-on Chicken Thighs
30-40 minutes (350 degrees)
Boneless, Skinless Chicken Thighs (4 oz)
8-10 minutes (450-650 degrees)
Chicken Wings (2-3 oz)
18-20 minutes (350 degrees)
Whole Chicken (3.5-4.5 lbs)
1.5-2 hours (350 degrees)
Source: Food Fire Friends
The chicken will be done when it has cooked to an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit. A meat thermometer or instant-read thermometer will be a good tool to have to check this when it starts to look like the chicken is almost ready.
Just be sure that you insert the thermometer’s rod into the thickest part of the thickest piece of chicken (usually the thigh; this piece would have taken the longest to cook). Also make sure that the rod is not touching bone, as this could potentially give you a false reading.
If you don’t have a thermometer, that’s okay! Simply cut into the thickest section of the thickest piece of chicken and look for clear juices oozing out in addition to a lack of pink near the bone; if you see both of these things, then your chicken is ready to take off the grill!
Delicious Grilled Chicken Recipes
So you’ve mastered the art of grilling chicken? The next step is learning a few delicious grilled chicken recipes! Here are a few great recipes for grilling chicken on the BBQ:
Easy Grilled Chicken Breast
Although the recipe is simple, this grilled chicken will definitely taste like it came from a chef’s kitchen!
- 4 chicken breasts
- ¼ cup balsamic vinegar
- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar
- 3 gloves garlic, minced
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1 teaspoon dried rosemary
- Kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Freshly chopped parsley, for garnish
- Place each piece of chicken in a large Ziploc bag. Using a meat tenderizer, pound each piece of chicken through the Ziploc until it is even on all sides, and about a ½ inch to 1 inch thick.
- In a medium bowl mix the vinegar, olive oil, brown sugar, garlic, thyme, and rosemary together. Add salt and pepper. After mixing reserve ¼ cup of the marinade for a later step.
- Add the chicken breasts to the bowl to soak in the marinade for at least 20 minutes to 24 hours in the refrigerator. Remove chicken from the fridge at least 15 minutes prior to heating the grill.
- Preheat the grill to medium high (400-450 degrees Fahrenheit), and oil the grates with vegetable or olive oil.
- Add chicken to the grill and cook at least 6 minutes on each side, or until juices run clear. Use the reserved marinade to baste the chicken around 5 minutes before it’s done cooking.
- Garnish with parsley before serving. Serve the chicken with your favorite side dish!
Grilled BBQ Chicken Breasts
This BBQ chicken breast recipe is sure to astound the taste buds! The best part? You can choose to cook the BBQ chicken on a charcoal grill or gas-grill; both will equally result in tasty grilled chicken!
For this recipe, you’ll need the following ingredients:
- 6-8 skinless chicken breasts (boneless or bone-in)
- 2 cups barbecue sauce
- Use a meat tenderizer to make sure chicken breasts are flat and even on both sides.
- In a large Ziploc bag, add barbecue sauce and chicken breasts. Shake gently to coat chicken.
- Leave the chicken to marinate in the barbecue sauce in the refrigerator for at least 20 minutes up to 4 hours. Remove chicken and marinade from the fridge 15 minutes before starting up the grill.
- Heat the grill to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and oil grates with vegetable or olive oil.
- Remove chicken breasts from the bag of marinade, place on the grill, and close the lid. Cook for 6-8 minutes on each side. Save the remaining barbecue sauce from marinade for the next step.
- In a medium pot, heat the barbecue sauce from marinade bag on medium-high heat until it starts to bubble.
- Use a basting brush to coat each side of the chicken breast pieces evenly with the barbecue sauce. Allow chicken to finish cooking for five more minutes or until chicken reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
- For a full BBQ style meal, serve with potato salad, bread, and baked beans.
Honey Mustard Grilled Chicken
Honey mustard and grilled chicken? There couldn’t be a better combination! Here are the ingredients you’ll need:
- ⅓ cup Dijon mustard
- ¼ cup honey
- 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
- 1 teaspoon steak sauce
- 4 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
- Heat up the grill to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
- In a shallow bowl, mix the mustard, honey, mayonnaise, and steak sauce together, leaving aside some of the mustard and honey for basting.
- Dip each chicken breast into the sauce mix, coating it evenly.
- Lightly oil the grill’s grates with vegetable or olive oil. Place the chicken on the rack away from the direct heat and close the lid.
- Grill chicken for about 18-20 minutes—or until the juices run clear—occasionally flipping the pieces over.
- During the last 10 minutes of cooking, baste every so often with the extra mustard and honey.
- Serve with Hawaiian rolls for an extra sweet and savory taste!
Grilled Chicken Teriyaki
Mix things up with this tasty teriyaki recipe!
- 4 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
- 1 cup teriyaki sauce
- ¼ cup lemon juice
- 2 teaspoons minced fresh garlic
- 2 teaspoons sesame oil
- Place all ingredients in a large Ziploc bag with chicken breast halves. Seal bag and gently shake to mix and coat the chicken with the marinade.
- Place the entire bag in the refrigerator to set for at least 24 hours, occasionally removing the bag to shake.
- After 24 hours, prepare the grill by heating it to 500-650 degrees Fahrenheit. Lightly oil the grill grate with vegetable or olive oil.
- Remove the chicken from the bag with the marinade and grill for 6-8 minutes on each side (lid closed), or until juices run clear.
- Serve with white rice.
With these tips and recipes, you’ll be grilling chicken like a pro in no time!