How to Grill Chicken

Three Parts:Preparing and Seasoning the ChickenGrilling the ChickenFinishing and Serving

Grilling chicken is quick and easy, but there are a few tricks you can do to get it done just right. Unlike beef, chicken must be cooked all the way, or you risk getting very, very sick. This article will show you how to properly, and safely, prepare chicken.

Part 1
Preparing and Seasoning the Chicken

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    Prepare the chicken pieces. Wash your hands with soap and warm water. Use a knife to trim off any skin and/or excess fat. Wash the chicken pieces using cold water, and pat them dry with a paper towel.
    • If the chicken pieces, such as wings, thighs, and legs, still have the bone in them, consider leaving the skin on.
    • If you need to defrost the chicken, do so in the fridge or in the microwave. Do not defrost chicken at room temperature.
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    Pound boneless chicken breasts flat until they are about ¾ inches (1.91 centimeters) thick. Place the chicken breasts inside a plastic, re-sealable freezer bag. Seal the bag, then whack the chicken with a rolling pin or meat pounder. The bag will keep the juices from splattering all over your kitchen. When you are done, take the chicken breasts out of the bag and rinse them.[1]
    • Pounding the chicken breasts flat ensures that they cook evenly.
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    Consider butterflying a whole chicken to cut down on cooking time. Butterflying the chicken involved taking out the backbone and breastbone. This will allow the chicken to lie flat on the grill, and speed up the cooking process. To butterfly a chicken, do the following:[2]
    • Cut off the neck and remove the giblets.
    • Place the chicken breast-side-down and cut down both sides of the backbone. Pull out the backbone and discard it.
    • Pull open the chicken, like a book.
    • Cut away the breastbone, then pull it out. Discard the bone.
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    Consider marinating chicken breasts in the fridge for 4 to 12 hours. Combine all of the ingredients for your marinade in a plastic, re-sealable bag. Add the chicken, seal the bag, and leave it in the fridge for 4 to 12 hours. For a classic lemon and herb marinade for four chicken breasts, you will need:[3]
    • 6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
    • 4 large garlic cloves, minced
    • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
    • 1½ teaspoons lemon zest, from one lemon
    • 1 ¼ teaspoon salt
    • ½ teaspoon dried oregano
    • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
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    Consider using a rub on chicken legs and thighs. You can put the rub onto the chicken just before you grill it, or let it marinate for one hour. Simply mix your rub together, and pat it into the chicken. For a simple rub, you will need:[4]
    • 4 teaspoons kosher salt
    • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
    • 2 teaspoons chili powder
    • 2 teaspoons dried cilantro
    • 2 teaspoons dried onion flakes
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    Consider brining the chicken for 2 to 3 hours in ¼ cup (25 grams) salt and 4 cups (950 milliliters) water. Combine the salt and water in a large pot, then add the chicken breasts. Unlike with marinating, the longer you brine is not better. Leave the chicken in the brine for only 2 to 3 hours; any longer, and the chicken will turn rubbery.[5]

Part 2
Grilling the Chicken

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    Make sure that the grill is clean. Chicken is more likely to stick to a dirty grill than to a clean one. If you have not yet already done so, get out that grill brush, and scrub the grate clean.
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    Start up the grill. If you are cooking bone-in or different cuts of chicken, consider having a two-zone fire. This means one half of the grill will be very hot while the other half will be less hot. The hot part will have "direct heat," and the less-hot part will have "indirect heat." You can do this by piling the coal on one side of the grill (for a charcoal grill), or turning up the flames on one side (for a gas grill).[6]
    • For breasts and wings, use a direct medium heat, about 350°F (176°C).
    • For legs and bone-in thighs, use indirect, medium heat.
    • For boneless thighs, use direct, high heat 450 - 650° F.
    • For whole chicken and bone-in chicken (breasts, legs, and thighs), use indirect medium heat.
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    Oil the grill by wiping it down with an oily brush or paper towel. Chicken is more likely to stick to a dirty grill. Oiling it will protect the chicken from sticking.[7]
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    Place the chicken on the grill and replace the grill cover. If you are using a two-zone fire, make sure that you are placing the boneless pieces over direct heat, and the bone-in pieces over indirect heat. The one exception to this rule are chicken wings, which should be placed over direct heat.
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    Consider searing bone-in chicken pieces if you are using a two-zone fire. Place the bone-in pieces to the hottest part of the grill, and cook them over direct heat for 3 to 4 minutes, turning once. When you are done, transfer them to the cooler part of the grill, so that they can finish cooking over indirect heat. This will give the pieces that nice, crunchy texture on the outside.
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    Grill the chicken, covered, until it is done. Covering the grill is very important, because it traps the heat and helps the chicken retain moisture. Listed below are the different cuts of chicken and the recommended cooking times. Keep in mind, however, that the times may vary, depending on the weather, the grill you are using, and how large/thick the chicken pieces are.[8]
    • Cook chicken breast for 8 to 12 minutes, turning once. Thinner pieces, such as cutlets, will need 2 to 3 minutes.
    • Cook boneless chicken thighs for 8 to 10 minutes, turning once.
    • Cook chicken wings for 18 to 20 minutes, turning once.
    • Cook a whole chicken for 1 ½ to 2 hours (3 ½ to 4 ½ pounds), 40 minutes if you butterflied it.[9]
    • Cook bone-in pieces (breasts, legs, and thighs) for 30 to 40 minutes, turning occasionally. Larger pieces may require up to 50 minutes.[10]
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    Consider adding a glaze or barbeque sauce in the last 10 minutes of grilling. Brush some glaze or sauce over the pieces, and grill them for 5 minutes, covered. Turn the pieces over, brush on more glaze or sauce. Cover the grill, and cook for another 5 minutes.[11]
    • If you plan on using some of the sauce for dipping/serving later on, set aside however much you need before you brush the sauce onto the chicken. This will prevent any cross-contamination.[12]

Part 3
Finishing and Serving

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    Test for doneness. Unlike steak, chicken must be fully cooked, and cannot be eaten rare. There are two ways you can check chicken for doneness:
    • Stick a meat thermometer into the chicken. The chicken is done if the temperature reads at least 165°F (74°C) for boneless pieces, and 180°F (82°C) for bone-in pieces.[13]
    • Cut one of the chicken pieces open. The meat should be opaque, and the juices should run clear.
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    Remove the chicken from heat and let it rest for 5 minutes before serving. This resting period will allow the juices to sink into the meat, making it even juicier. Keep the chicken breasts warm, about 140°F (60°C) while they rest. You can do this by placing them on a plate and covering them, or transferring them to a warm, flameless part of the grill.
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    Consider serving the chicken with some sauce or glaze. If you have any sauce or glaze leftover from grilling, consider pouring it into a dish, and serving it alongside the chicken. Just make sure that none of the sauce came in contact with the raw chicken.
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    Remember to wash everything that came in contact with raw chicken before using it again. If you have not already done so, wash all of your knives, brushes, and cutting boards using hot water and soap. This is vital, especially if you plan on using these utensils again to serve the chicken.


  • If you are grilling a lot of chicken, try to place the breasts facing all the same direction. This will allow you to fit more on the grill.
  • Consider using a two-zone fire when grilling bone-in and boneless chicken pieces together. One part of the grill will have higher, more intense flames, while the other will have less.
  • If there is a flare up, move the chicken to an unused part of the grill.


  • Never marinate chicken outside the fridge.
  • Always test chicken for doneness. Never serve chicken rare or undercooked.
  • Always wash all surfaces and utensils used to prepare raw chicken with soap and hot water.
  • Never thaw chicken at room-temperature. Thaw it either in the microwave or in the fridge.

Things You'll Need

  • Cutting board
  • Sharp knife
  • Grill
  • Marinades or seasoning (optional)
  • Brush (for oil and glaze)
  • Grill thongs
  • Meat thermometer (recommended)

Article Info

Categories: Barbecue