Avoid overcooked and dry meat with these easy tips, then try some of our favorite grilled chicken recipes.

If easy summer dinners have a signature protein, it's got to be grilled chicken. Whether for a quick weeknight meal or a casual outdoor gathering on the weekend, chicken wins—it's the most popular protein, after all. Score big with our smart tips on how to grill chicken breasts and thighs that peck out any dry—or bland—results.

Our Best Tips for Juicy Grilled Chicken

You might already be familiar with and use some of these tips when you grill, but you might be surprised by the others. Even better? Some of these tips hold true for grilling foods other than chicken.

Choose Boneless, Skinless Cuts

First, for easy, even grilling, choose boneless, skinless cuts. The bone slows down cooking with high-heat methods of cooking such as grilling. Chicken skin has a tendency to burn over direct heat, so opt for skinless.

Skip the Marinade

Here's our most revolutionary tip: Don't marinate your chicken. We're fans of the no-marinade approach and here's why: a marinade can drip and cause flare-ups, it can cause your chicken to catch or burn rather than cook through.

In case you're thinking no marinade sounds kind of plain, bland, and maybe dry, let us explain: We're not advocating no added flavor, rather we're recommending using a vinaigrette or other sauce right after grilling, so none of its deliciousness ends up in the grill. Another bonus: not marinating makes prep much quicker as there's no need to marinate the chicken ahead of time.

Pre-Heat Your Grill

You want juicy, not dry, chicken so preheat your grill. Always let the grates get very hot before you add the chicken; this ensures a good sear without drying out meat. While the grill is preheating, organize everything you'll need on a tray and bring it to the grill: tongs, paper towels, and oil for the grill, kitchen towels, salt and pepper, and a platter for the cooked chicken. Running back to the kitchen for supplies can result in overcooked, dry grilled chicken.

Don't Crowd the Meat

Just like when you're sautéing, overcrowded ingredients won't cook evenly so space chicken portions on the grill.

Don't Flip Too Soon

Keep a close eye on the grill as the chicken cooks making sure it doesn't overcook or dry out. But also remember that standing at the grill can lead to the temptation to flip too soon—don't. Wait until you see distinct grill marks, then turn.

Check the Temperature

If, like many of us, you're nervous about the possibility of a pink center with grilled chicken, invest in a top-of-the-line instant-read thermometer (we swear by the speedy, durable Thermapen One). Insert it into the wider, rounder end of each piece of chicken. The magic "dinner's done" number is 155 degrees. Remember that the meat will continue to cook for a few minutes once it's off the heat.

Grilling Chicken Breasts

If you're cooking chicken breasts on the grill, choose small cuts; this is not the time for the biggest chicken breast portions you can find. The largest we use are 8-ounce boneless, skinless chicken breasts.

Pound them flat so they cook quickly and evenly—and call them paillards if you feel like being fancy. Simply place each chicken breast between two layers of plastic wrap and lightly pound to an even thickness, about 1⁄2 inch.

Grilling Chicken Thighs

Most of the tips for grilling chicken breasts apply to chicken thighs—but thighs are more forgiving than white meat. You can get away with slightly overcooking chicken thighs because they don't dry out as easily. Also, thighs are more affordable than chicken breasts—and more flavorful.

Know that you can use boneless, skinless chicken thighs in most recipes that call for boneless, skinless chicken breasts, but they'll probably need a few more minutes on the grill than the recipe calls for.

Grilled Chicken Recipes to Make Now

These are our go-to recipes for grilled chicken breast and grilled chicken thighs.

Grilled Chicken Breasts with Lemon-Thyme Sauce

Grilled Chicken Breasts with Lemon-Thyme Sauce

The grilled chicken breasts are finished with a simple sauce of lemon juice and olive oil plus fresh thyme and red pepper flakes. Thyme offers earthiness to the sauce, but you can sub in any fresh herb, such as rosemary, sage, parsley, mint, or a combination, says our former senior food editor Lauryn Tyrell. Or take the chicken in a whole other direction and use Yogurt-Ranch Dipping Sauce.

Teriyaki-Glazed Grilled Chicken

Teriyaki-Glazed Grilled Chicken

This recipe uses the same prep technique as above but finishes the dish with a homemade teriyaki glaze made with hoisin sauce, ketchup, light brown sugar, lime juice, sesame oil, and garlic. As Lauryn explains, "The hoisin-teriyaki glaze goes on in the last few minutes of cooking, so you get a nice char without burning."

Grilled Chicken Thighs with Charred Corn and Summer Squash

Grilled Chicken Thighs with Charred Corn and Summer Squash

After a quick turn on the grill, these flame-kissed boneless thighs get tossed with a minty lemon dressing. Corn and zucchini are next up on the grates—and when you platter everything up with the meat on top, the sauce dresses everything. 

Grilled Marinated Chicken Thighs

Grilled Marinated Chicken Thighs

Despite its title, this recipe doesn't call for the traditional marinade pre grilling, rather it's a recipe that uses the marinade as a post grilling sauce. It's the recipe we turn to on the regular throughout grilling season.


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