How to Grill a Whole Chicken

Learning how to grill a whole chicken is easier than you might think. Prepare your grill, prepare the bird and apply indirect heat and you'll have a healthy dinner that can be served as the main course, in sandwiches and as an accompaniment to salads. The technique used to grill whole chicken can also work for chicken breasts, legs and thighs.

Preparing the Bird
If you want to grill a whole chicken, choose birds that are between 2 ½ to 3 ½ pounds. Larger birds take longer to cook, while chickens this size will grill up in about an hour. Remove the giblets from the chicken's cavity, then wash the chicken thoroughly, inside and out with cold water. Pat dry.

If you're planning to season your chicken, now is the time. You can season the bird with spice blends or spice rubs, taking care to apply some of the mixture to the inside of the bird as well as its skin. If you're using marinade or brine, set the chicken in the mixture until you're ready to grill.

Grilling Whole Chicken
Preheat your grill prior to cooking and take a few minutes to clean and prepare it for your chicken. Once the grill is hot, use a stiff wire brush to clean the grates, then apply a small amount of cooking oil to a towel. Using tongs to hold the towel, quickly wipe the grates with the oil.

If you're using a charcoal grill, push all of your charcoal to one side. You'll be grilling your whole chicken over indirect heat, away from the coals. Place the chicken breast side down on the grill where the coals used to be. If you have a gas grill, use high heat to heat only one half of the grill and place your chicken, breast side down on the unlit half.

Cook the chicken covered for about 30 minutes, then open the grill and turn the bird so it's positioned breast side up. If necessary, control your grill's heat levels by adjusting the air vents. Cover again and cook for another 30 minutes before checking for doneness.

Whole chicken is done when:

  • Cutting into the thickest piece of meat, like the leg, releases juices that run clear. If the juices are pink, the chicken's not cooked all the way through.
  • A meat thermometer stuck into the thickest part of the bird gives you an internal temperature read between 165 and 170 degrees Fahrenheit.

When your chicken is done on the grill, remove it and let it rest for 15 minutes before carving.

Grilling Chicken Parts
Like whole chickens, chicken parts (legs, thighs, wings and bone-in breasts) should be washed thoroughly with cold water and patted dry before applying seasonings.

Coals and grills should be set to deliver medium heat. If you're using charcoal, be sure the coals are spread out in one even layer, so the chicken can be placed directly over them. No matter which grilling method you use, you'll want to barbecue chicken pieces for 30 to 45 minutes, turning occasionally to prevent charring or burning.

If you want smokier flavor, you can try grilling chicken parts covered, as you would a whole chicken, though you will need to let them cook longer than if grilled uncovered.

Grilled chicken pieces are done when juices run clear upon cutting or when the internal temperature reaches between 165 and 170 degrees Fahrenheit.

Grilling Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breasts
Before putting boneless, skinless chicken breasts on the grill, brush both sides of the meat with oil to help it retain moisture. Grill these chicken breasts over medium heat charcoal or burners, covered, for six to eight minutes, turning occasionally.

If you want to infuse the meat with a smokier flavor, plan for extra time and grill boneless, skinless breasts over indirect heat (push charcoal to the opposite side from where you're grilling or only heat half your grill and place chicken on the unlit half).

Like other chicken parts, boneless, skinless chicken breasts are done when juices run clear upon cutting or when the internal temperature reaches between 165 and 170 degrees Fahrenheit. If you cut one open and the center is pink, it needs more time on the grill.

Grilled Chicken Tips

  • Use tongs when turning your chicken so that you do not lose any of the juicy moistness of your bird.
  • If you use a meat thermometer to check for doneness, fill the resulting hole with a brush of vegetable or olive oil to help the chicken retain its juices.
  • If your chicken is starting to char or burn, move it to a cooler place on the grill.
  • If you are using barbecue sauce, brush it on during the last few minutes of cooking and then turn the chicken frequently. You can continue to baste with sauce as you turn the meat. Be careful. The sugar in the barbecue sauce may make the fire flare.
  • Whether you are cooking a whole bird or skinless, boneless chicken, let your meat sit for a few minutes before serving.
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