Techniques to Achieve the Best Grilled Chicken
Summer is an ideal season for making the most use of your grilling skills. Many of our favorite dishes feature grilled meats, poultry, and seafood prominently. However, as much as we love to eat it, grilled chicken can present some challenges. Improper technique can leave you with dry or overdone flesh, unevenly cooked poultry, and even some of the sauces can be a sticky nightmare. In this segment, we’ll discuss some helpful tips to ensure you’re grilling right, as well as offer some thoughts on brines, marinades, and sauces. Get ready to be the star of the party with the perfect grilled chicken, and be more in demand than ever for barbecue duty.
First, There’s Fire
If you make use of a traditional grill, and go with charcoal instead of gas burners, fire isn’t as intuitive as one might at first believe. There’s a trick to choosing the best type of fire for a particular cut, and yes, there are different ways to build your fire for these results. Let’s talk about those different approaches and the cuts of chicken for which each is ideal.
This is a single layer of coals that provides even heat over the entire grilling rack. Simply get your coals going nicely and then spread them evenly on the bottom of your grill. The single layer fire is usually best for small or boneless chicken dishes, such as kebabs. Wings can also be grilled using this approach, along with vegetables and corn, if you like.
Just like the single layer, you’ll spread about two thirds of your hot coals over the bottom of the grill, heaping the remaining one third up on one side. What this does is to create a much hotter area for searing meat and a cooler, more consistent region where you can cook it through. This is ideal for bone-in or larger pieces of chicken.
Here, all your coals are heaped on one side and the other is left empty. What this does is create two dramatically different environments—one is super-hot for intense searing and the other is relatively cool for better control of easily scorched or lower fat cuts of chicken. Breast meat is especially lean, and when used in butterflied or small portions, it can very quickly overcook.
This approach requires you to create two steeply banked piles of coals on either side of the grill, leaving the center empty. It offers superior control for pieces that require slower cooking and reduces the likelihood of flairs that can burn the chicken as it cooks. You place your cuts over the empty center and a pan beneath to catch any fat drippings. Then, you can cook larger pieces and bone-in selections to perfection.
What’s There to Brine About?
There are a number of issues we face when we first grill our chicken. Here are some trouble-shooting moves to avoid burnt or unappetizing results. Chicken often dries out because it’s low in fat and exposure to heat renders what little fat there is out of the meat entirely. You can brine your chicken and then rinse it and pat it dry before grilling. Here’s a good brining recipe that’s an easy fix for party chicken:
• Two cups cold water
• ½ cup salt
• Four pounds of chicken from your favourite online butcher
Dissolve the salt in the water and add the chicken. Then cover the bowl and refrigerate for one hour. Rinse each piece and pat dry to avoid sticking problems, since wet chicken skin is the primary reason for this.
Other issues with sub-par chicken are easily solved if you just remember to follow these simple rules of thumb.
1) Clean and oil your grate. Once your fire is nice and hot, scrub the grate clean. Then, dip a wad of paper toweling into vegetable oil and using a pair of long tongs, rub the grate with the oiled towel.
2) Chicken skin should always be dry. We skin sticks. Always towel off your chicken before grilling.
3) Glaze last. Glazes and sauces usually have sugar in them, which burns quickly. Never glaze raw chicken. Take the temperature—66 degrees C for white meat and 74 degrees C for dark meat. Then apply your glaze.
A Few Rules of Thumb
Before you grill, check to make sure you’re a few feet away from your home and out of the path of play or mingling. Be sure to clean your grill—disposing of ashes—and once your coals are ready, scrub and oil your grill. Always have an extra bag of charcoal just in case (or propane if you use a gas grill.) Then, give your grill time to come up to temperature—15 minutes for gas grills, and about five for the standard charcoal grills.
Smaller, easy to control fires are a must with charcoal grilling. You aren’t sending an ancient Viking king to his rest, just having a barbecue. And when it comes to grilling, invest in a meat thermometer you can use for meat on the grill. Pretty grill marks do not doneness make. If you’re cooking during a cold or especially windy spell, be sure to allow a few extra minutes for your chicken to finish cooking.
Lastly, watch for cross-contamination! Use separate plates and utensils for raw and cooked foods. Marinades for raw chicken get tossed out after one use, and if you make a marinade-sauce combo for your recipe, set aside the portion you want to use as sauce before adding the chicken.
As you no doubt noticed, most of the effort that goes into perfectly grilled chicken happens before the chicken is ever introduced to the hot grill. But every ounce of effort is worth it! Just follow these small tips and you’ll be hailed as the neighborhood Grill Master or Mistress. Preparation is key for an effortless looking performance, but the juicy, delectable products are infinitely worth while.