Our Tips for Perfect Grilled Chicken That's Juicy and Flavorful
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.