My wife gets tired of chicken. I hardly ever do, and grilling is one of my favorite ways to prepare it. You can have great chicken every time, and you can enjoy almost endless variety too, if you follow a few simple guidelines when grilling.
To make the perfect grilled chicken:
- If you are going to use a marinade, try to let the chicken remain in the marinade for several hours before grilling. If you want to use a marinade at the last minute, use an injector to get the flavor deep inside the muscle. There are countless marinades to be tried. Try a web search for "marinade recipe." You will find enough recipes to try for years to come.
- Do not use much salt (if any) in your marinade or seasonings. Salt causes the juices to be drawn out, leaving your chicken dry. If your chicken needs salt, apply it just before serving.
- Seal the surface of the meat to keep the juices in. Oil is your best bet. Butter works, and it adds a wonderful flavor, but you have to take care not to burn it. I like to mix a little oil with some marinade and keep brushing the surface of the chicken while I'm grilling. I try to use fresh marinade for brushing. If you use the marinade that the raw chicken was sitting in, stop brushing several minutes before removing the chicken from the grill. Make sure all surfaces are exposed to high heat before serving to kill any bacteria that was left in the marinade by the raw chicken.
- Cook the chicken to perfect doneness, but don't overcook. This is the hardest part to get right. Grilling is not an exact science. If your chicken is undercooked, any bacteria in the meat, such as salmonella, will not be killed, and you could end up getting sick. Overcooking dries out the chicken and leaves it tough and unappetizing. Try these simple tips to avoid either extreme:
- Use only medium or low heat until the final stage of cooking. Slow grilling allows the heat to penetrate slowly to the center of the cut without burning or drying the outer tissues. Slow cooking also allows the smoke flavors to penetrate longer. If you want to brown your chicken, wait until its internal temperature is almost perfect, then place it close to the heat source and sear it quickly and brown it. Your fire is hot if you can't hold your hand where the chicken will be for more than two seconds (one thousand one, one thousand two). If you can hold your hand at chicken level for about four to six seconds, but no more, you have the temperature just about right. Obviously the (six second) low heat takes more time to cook the piece than the (four second) medium heat.
- Grill mostly boneless chicken. This is hard if you are cooking thighs or legs. Removing the bones from these parts is difficult, especially from the legs. You may want to save those cuts for a different meal. Wings are thin, so the bones are not a problem. If you do grill with the bone in, remember that the bone will absorb heat. If you are not careful, the outside tissues will be cooked dry, while the tissues near the bone are still raw. Keep basting with oil or marinade with oil in it. Turn often.
- Use a meat thermometer to determine doneness. A thermometer is calibrated. Your eyes are not. Chicken is done when the innermost part reaches 165 degrees Fahrenheit, not before. If you check and find the internal temperature is still too low, brush some oil over the hole you made so that the juices don't pour out. Also wipe the thermometer with a damp paper towel to remove any bacteria it might have picked up from the raw meat.
- Be careful with marinades. Anything with sugar or tomato sauce in it will burn. Never apply BBQ sauce until just before taking the chicken off the grill. Turn and reapply a couple of times, turning before it can burn. Be extra cautious with teriyaki. The sugar content is high, and it will burn easily.
Practice makes perfect. If you follow the guidelines above, you will be turning out excellent grilled chicken dishes in no time. Bon appetit!