How to Grill Chicken

Our grilling tips yield juicy, perfectly cooked chicken breast every time.

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July 02, 2020

Grilled chicken is a backyard classic. But it often turns out dry and bland instead of crisp and juicy—or inexplicably both burnt and raw. So how do you get it just right? Read on for all the info. And if you'd like more info on all the other ways to cook chicken breast, check out our story How to Cook Perfect, Juicy Chicken Breast.

The Best Chicken for Grilling

For the juiciest, most flavorful grilled chicken, use bone-in, skin-on pieces. Place the chicken on a paper towel-lined tray and pat it dry. This removes excess moisture, which prevents the skin from getting crispy. Remember to wash your hands and all equipment after handling raw chicken.

Next, season both sides generously with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper and allow the chicken to come to room temperature for 15 minutes. This helps it cook evenly and gives the salt and pepper a chance to work their magic. Keep in mind that sweet sauces like glazes and barbecue sauce shouldn't be applied until the chicken is finished cooking. They will burn before the chicken is fully cooked.

Get in the Zone

Always start with a clean grill. Lightly coat a bunched-up paper towel with olive oil. It should be saturated but not dripping to avoid flare-ups. Using tongs, oil the grill grates.

Next, create two cooking zones: For a charcoal grill, move the hot coals to one half of the grill. For gas grills, turn one set of burners to high and the other set to low. The hot zone is for charring and crisping the skin, while the cooler zone allows the chicken to gently cook through without burning. Cover the grill with the lid vents open and preheat for 15 minutes. The fire should be very hot--about 500 degrees F.

Place the chicken skin-side up on the cooler part of the grill. Position the thighs and drumsticks closer to the flames and put the wings and breasts further away. Wings and breasts cook faster and can dry out or burn. Close the lid and cook for about 15 minutes.

Check occasionally. If the exterior of the chicken is burning before it cooks all the way through, move it to a cooler area.

Flip the chicken with tongs. Cover and cook for about 15 minutes or until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center of a chicken breast without touching a bone registers 150 degrees F.

Get Saucy

If you like, now is the time to add sauce. Use a brush to baste both sides of the chicken, then transfer the pieces to the hot side of the grill to crisp up and finish cooking. Turn and move the chicken as needed to prevent burning. Baste a final time for the perfect coating of sauce.

Remove the pieces from the grill when they register 160 degrees F. The internal temperature will rise about 5 degrees while resting. Be sure to let the chicken rest at least 5 minutes before serving.

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