Chicken comes in several different cuts — not to mention that some are packaged with or without skin — so there’s no single method for grilling them all. But what we can tell you is that dual-zone grilling is the way to go for pieces like wings or breasts, whether skinless or skin-on. As with other meats, this technique gives you both the direct heat needed for caramelization and the indirect heat that helps the chicken finish cooking throughout. Whole chickens, meanwhile, should be placed only in an indirect setup so they can slowly roast away from direct flames that would burn the exterior well before cooking the inside.
Because there’s such a variety of chicken available, grilling it can take anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour and a half. Generally, smaller cuts need less time to cook, while whole chickens require the most time in the grill. The only sure way to tell when your chicken (or any meat, for that matter) has finished cooking is to check its internal temperature with a meat thermometer. Chicken is safe to consume once it reaches 165 degrees Fahrenheit, and not 1 degree sooner. For whole chickens or other large, bone-in pieces, stick the thermometer in multiple areas to make sure the entire bird is cooked properly.
See the chart below for loose guidelines on about how long it should take to grill certain pieces of chicken on medium-to-high heat in gas or charcoal grills.
|Type of Chicken||Cook Time (Gas or Charcoal Grill)|
|Boneless, skinless breast (about 8 ounces)||10–15 minutes|
|Bone-in, skin-on pieces||35–45 minutes|
|Whole chicken||60–90 minutes|
|Kabob cubes||15–18 minutes|
|Ground chicken patties||6–10 minutes|
Approximate cook times are longer in a smoker or pellet grill, which use lower temperatures between 225 and 350 degrees.
|Type of Chicken||Cook Time (Smoker or Pellet Grill)|
|Boneless, skinless breast (about 8 ounces)||1–1½ hours|
|Bone-in, skin-on pieces||2–3 hours|
|Whole chicken||Up to 3 hours|
|Kabob cubes||45–90 minutes|
Though these cook times are only suggestions, you can use them as a starting point for when to begin checking your chicken with a BBQ thermometer. Remember that internal temperature is the only way to be sure your food is completely done.
How to Avoid Dry Chicken
While we always recommend you cook meat to the minimum internal temperature provided by the FDA, we know it’s frustrating when food comes out dry. Chicken in particular has a reputation for drying out when on the grill, but there are a few steps you can take to preserve its juiciness while still ensuring doneness. The easiest place to start is with a chicken roaster, which allows you to enjoy the juicy tenderness of beer can chicken.
Bone-in chicken can be soaked overnight in a saline solution (brine) and marinade, while boneless chicken calls for a 50-50 mix of buttermilk and water along with whatever marinade you want. Both the salt and buttermilk put your chicken through the process of acid-cooking, meaning they break down the muscle fibers that typically require heat to unwind. By using this technique to shorten cook time, your chicken will retain more of its natural juices because it won’t need to be exposed to as much heat as normal. The marinades and everything you used to season your chicken will also infuse the bird with flavorful juices.
You can also try to take advantage of carryover cooking, a term that describes how meat’s internal temperature continues to rise for a short time after it’s taken off heat. When your meat thermometer reads about 5 degrees short of the target temperature (160 degrees for chicken), remove it from the grill and wait a few minutes. Its temperature should rise to about 165 degrees before the exterior significantly cools, but remember to check the internal temperature after you’ve let your chicken rest a bit. You can always toss it back on the grill if it’s still a few degrees short of the minimum requirement.
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