Saturday, May 28, 2016

Perfect Grilled Chicken Tips

Grilled chicken is one of my favorite Memorial Day Weekend foods. We grill it year-round-- rain, snow or shine.  If you are starting up the grill after a winter hibernation, here are a few reminders to get that perfect grilled chicken the first weekend of the summer instead of the last.

Chicken Grilling Basics
  • Pick the best chicken you can afford.  Keep it cold until it is ready to put on the grill.
  • If you marinate (in the refrigerator), wipe off excess so that oils do not drip into the flames.  We  prefer a dry method of seasoning the poultry and like to salt and pepper the pieces well, cook then add sauces and chutneys afterwards. If you want to add barbecue sauce, wait until the chicken is almost cooked, brush sauce onto one side, turn to allow it to caramelize a bit and repeat on other side.
  • Grill bone-in with skin intact to preserve moistness and impart the best 'chicken' flavor. You can remove skin after cooking (if you must).
  • Cook chicken on medium low heat for even and thorough cooking.  Chicken is safe to eat when it reaches an internal temperature of 165˚F. We use a charcoal grill and let the coals develop a nice ash before starting to cook.  This provides a moderate, even temperature.
  • Use a thermometer to check the internal temperature.  This is the most important tip on this list.  No amount of pressing on meat for tenderness can match the accuracy and safety of a good thermometer.
  • Use a grill cover to help the chicken meat cook on the inside while it is developing that lovely crisp skin on the outside.  
  • Dark meat, like thighs and legs, take a little longer to cook but stand up better to high and varying heat levels. They can stay on the grill to a temperature of 175˚F.  Chicken breasts need a little more care.  Provide even heat on the lower end of medium-low.  Chicken wings are high in fat and thus behave more like dark meat on the grill.  
  • Start chicken skin side up.  Turn chicken breasts when the breast's 'chicken tender' piece begins to split away from the larger muscle.  This takes about 12-15 minutes depending on the size of the piece. Turn thighs and legs when you see nice browning occur.  Start checking after 10 minutes.  These pieces can be turned a few times. 
  • Keep chicken fat out of the flames.  This causes flare ups and excess skin char which is not tasty.  Watch thighs in particular and move them to a cooler spot on the grill until they calm down.  Placing a cover on the grill, thus dampening oxygen flow, helps dampen the fire too.
  • Let the chicken rest after it comes off the grill.  Give it at least 10 minutes while you get the rest of the meal inside and served.  
  • Bonus tip: If you are charcoal grilling a different meat for dinner, pick up some chicken parts to put on the grill afterwards.  It is a great way to use the heated charcoal after the steak or burgers come off the grill.  Cooler charcoal takes a bit longer to cook chicken so put the pieces on, cover the grill and enjoy a leisurely meal, checking the chicken now and then.  (Use that thermometer.)
Lastly, cook enough to have cold grilled chicken leftovers.  After all, this is a holiday and we have important things to do, like thanking our lucky stars and the families of those who have bravely kept us safe.

Happy Memorial Day.