With the 4th of July weekend coming up, I have been thinking of having an old school backyard cookout like when I was a kid. Going through the recipes here on the blog, I realized that I have never written a post about how to grill up perfect classic BBQ chicken. You know — on the bone, with skin, slathered in BBQ sauce (preferably homemade) and served with plenty of napkins.
There is something to be said about the convenience of the boneless, skinless chicken breast… well, it’s convenient for a quick weeknight meal. I know that all too often grilled chicken beyond said breast can end up burnt on the outside and raw on the inside. Here are a few simple solutions to ensure that you get that tasty, juicy, tender picnic style BBQ chicken.
Just like your Thanksgiving turkey, brining your chicken before grilling will ensure that the bird is will stay tender and juicy. I like to use a dry-brine when grilling larger or putting a whole chicken on the rotisserie, but for grilling cut up chicken I prefer a more traditional wet-brine like my Chicken Brine recipe below. Whether wet or dry, brining uses salt to deeply season and introduce more moisture into the meat. Contrary to what we have been led to believe, all cuts of meat benefit from a generous early salting. It won’t dry them out, trust me. Without getting too technical, it is true that the salt will initially pull the moisture from the meat. However, the effect of reverse-osmosis then pulls that flavorful moisture back into the meat seasoning it throughout. Additionally, the salt will help break down tougher muscle proteins and make the meat deliciously tender.
Just like when you remove meat from a marinade, you should always pat it dry with paper towels to remove any moisture. The brine or marinade has done its job at this point. Leaving the chicken wet before it hits the grill will steam the meat and prevent caramelization. That wonderful bit of char and tasty smoky caramelization of the meat is the very reason we grill, otherwise you just may as well bake it in the oven.
Now here is where a lot of backyard grillers get into trouble. Unlike a steak or a burger, you can’t turn the heat up to 11 and give it a flip in a few minutes and pull off a perfectly seared mid rare piece of meat (over-simplification noted). First, we don’t want mid rare chicken. Secondly, the skin contains fat which will render out causing flare-ups and overcooking or burning the outside before it has begun to cook in the inside. The trick is to set your grill up with two zones — one side for searing the skin over direct medium to medium-high heat and the other side for finishing the chicken on a closed grill with indirect heat.
A general rule is not to sauce anything until a few minutes before it comes off the grill because the sugars in the sauce will cause it to burn. However, since we are finishing our chicken with indirect heat, we can sauce to our heart’s content. Two things we have to balance here: layers of sauce will insure that delicious sweet and smoky tangy-ness that we want in BBQ chicken BUT every time you open the grill cover, heat escapes and the longer it will take to cook the chicken. I recommend saucing the chicken every 15 minutes or so. Of course, you can use store-bought or try my Classic BBQ Sauce with some variations and develop your own signature sauce.
Oh! The most important tip… make more than you plan on serving because cold BBQ chicken eaten out of the fridge the next day is one of the best things ever!
- One 4 pound chicken, cut into 6 to 8 pieces
- 1 recipe Basic Poultry Brine (recipe below)
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Granulated garlic (optional)
- 2 cups Classic BBQ Sauce
- Place chicken in a larger ziptop bag. Pour in room temperature Basic Chicken Brine and seal the bag. Set in a bowl in the counter and brine chicken for 3 to 4 hours.
- Remove chicken from brine 45 minutes to an hour before cooking. Rinse chicken and pat dry with paper towels. Season with black pepper and granulated garlic.
- Set up grill for indirect grilling over medium heat. Brush and oil grate when ready to start cooking and the cooking temp is 350˚F.
- Place the chicken over the lit burners and sear until marked; about 2 to 3 minutes per side. Move the chicken to the indirect side of the grill and close the grill cover and cook for 30 minutes. Brush sauce on chicken and continue cooking. Turn and brush with BBQ sauce every 10 minutes after that until the chicken is no longer pink at the bone and the internal temperature reaches 160˚F to 165˚F. Transfer to a serving platter, tent with foil and let rest 10 minutes. Carryover heat will raise the internal temperature another 5 degrees.
- Serve with remaining sauce on the side.
- 2 cups water
- ¼ cup Diamond Crystal kosher salt (or 1-1/2 oz /40g salt by weight)
- 4 cloves garlic, smashed
- 1 small onion, sliced
- Strips of zest from 1 lemon (removed with vegetable peeler)
- Fresh herbs such as sage, thyme, and/or rosemary
- 1 tablespoon black peppercorns
- 1 tablespoon coriander seeds
- 2 cups ice water (more ice than water)
- Add everything but the ice water to a medium sauce pan and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and stir until salt is dissolved; let steep for 10 minutes.
- Pour ice water into a medium bowl. Add the brine mixture and stir until ice is dissolved and cooled completely to room temperature.
Cheers and Happy Grilling!