ThermaPen and Grilled Chicken

Worst and Best Ways to Grill Chicken

In a recent post, I asked readers to share their worst barbecue/grilling experiences that could have been spared if they’d had a decent instant-read thermometer.

ThermaPen and Grilled Chicken

Photo credit: ThermoWorks

I loved reading your comments, some of which are so funny you had me laughing out loud. But more than that, I learned that most of our grilling disasters involve chicken.

Grilled chicken should be delicious, moist, tender, and full of flavor. But all too often it turns out bloody raw in the middle, or bone-dry and tough as shoe leather.

Here it is: Simple Secrets for Grilling Cheap Cuts of Meat


Here are the things you’ve been doing all wrong when grilling chicken.

  • Starting out with cold, wet chicken. Chicken should be brought to room temperature and blotted with paper towels until it feels dry to the touch before it comes in contact with the hot grill.
  • Slathering with barbecue sauce right from the start. Because barbecue sauce is loaded with sugar, it burns quickly and long before the chicken is cooked through. Hold off on the sauce until the last five minutes of cooking,
  • Not enough salt. Chicken that is not salted properly tends to be bland or completely flavorless. If you cannot brine or marinade the chicken ahead of grilling, season the outside of your chicken generously and evenly and, if you are grilling a whole bird, don’t forget to season the cavity as well as the skin.
  • Not using a good, reliable instant-read thermometer. Precise temperature control is the secret of perfectly grilled chicken.
  • Not letting it rest. Cutting into your chicken as soon as it comes off the grill is begging for trouble. For chicken parts, let them sit for least five minutes before digging in. A full 20 to 30 minutes of rest time should be given to a whole bird if that’s what you’re grilling.


Want to make sure you never again waste money on grilled chicken disasters? Follow these simple tips, especially the one about using a good instant-read thermometer.

  • Bone-in, skin-on. If you want juicy, moist, flavorful chicken, opt for bone-in, skin-on pieces, and then remove the skin after grilling if you prefer not to eat it.
  • Even out boneless breasts. If you must grill boneless breasts, you want them to be of even thickness. Place the boneless chicken piece in a resealable plastic bag and go at it with a heavy skillet or a meat pounder, bashing the thicker parts of the breast until they match the height of the thinnest part. Don’t go too thin; keep the thickness around 3/4 inch.
  • Marinade or brine. Soak chicken in a simple marinade of 1/2 cup olive oil, 1/4 cup lemon juice, 3 cloves (crushed) garlic and 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt for at least one hour. Or make up this simple brine: 1-gallon warm water, 3/4 cup kosher salt, 2/3 cup granulated sugar, 3/4 cup soy sauce, 1/4 cup olive oil. Soak chicken in the brine for up to 24 hours. In either case, drain chicken pieces well, then pat dry with paper towels before placing on the grill.
  • Clean and oiled grill. Chicken, especially skinless, doesn’t have much fat at all, so making sure the grill is clean and the grate is oiled (soak a paper towel in cooking oil then use tongs to coat)  just before placing chicken will help to keep it from sticking.
  • Proper temperature. Preheat the grill to 375 F  before adding chicken.
  • Temperature. Don’t guess, you’ll get it wrong. You need a reliable instant-read thermometer. The USDA recommends letting all chicken parts and whole chickens reach an internal temperature of 165 F, keeping in mind that the temperature will continue to rise once the meat has been removed from the grill. Insert the probe into the coolest part of the chicken, usually the thickest part at the center. Remember that boneless chicken breasts will cook much faster than bone-in dark pieces.

Good read: Worst and Best Ways to Clean Your Eyeglasses

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1 reply
  1. Linda Pries says:

    I must admit that my daughter is our griller. Her specialty is boneless,skinless chicken breast and hers is the only way I will eat chicken breast because it is never dry or flavorless. It is also neither dried beforehand, marinaded, or brought to room temp. She uses ONLY a charcoal grill and doesn’t even own a food thermometer much less use one or a thermometer for the grill. She has never pounded chicken to even the thickness either. I suppose these will be useful tips for some but certainly not necessary for a lot.


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