A close up of food on a grill, with Chicken breast

Worst and Best Ways to Grill Chicken

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


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.

A close up of food cooking on a grill, with Chicken and Grilling


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.

Worst ways to grill chicken

Here are the worst things to avoid when grilling chicken.

Starting out with cold, wet chicken

The 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 marinate 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.

Best ways to grill chicken

Want to make sure you never again waste money on grilled chicken disasters? Follow these simple tips.

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.

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Marinade or brine

All-purpose simple marinade:

  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 3 cloves (crushed) garlic
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

Place chicken pieces in a large zipper-type plastic bag, pour marinade over the chicken, and zip close. Allow sitting in the marinade 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

Mix all ingredients in a clean bucket or large pot. Soak chicken in the brine for up to 24 hours.

In either case, marinade or brine, drain chicken pieces well, then pat dry with paper towels before placing them 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.

Internal 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 of a good instant-read thermometer 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.

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4 replies
  1. Anonymous says:

    We made the Greek-lemon rice and garlic-dijon chicken last night- as written and they were so easy and so flavorful!! Dinner got rave reviews from everyone. We will definitely be making these again. Thank you!

  2. Doris Griffin says:

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  3. Sheri says:

    Thank you so much, Mary!
    My adult son and I are going to be moving from this apt that we have lived in for 28yrs. To a different place. I have a BBQ in the carport and we don’t even know how to BBQ. Until now I will be able to BBQ chicken!


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