How To Grill Chicken

Written in 2024
by Adam

    Grilling is a summertime favourite. Whether you're hosting friends and family at your house or grilling for yourself, it's hard to go wrong with the satisfying taste of grilled food. But if you've never grilled before, getting started can seem somewhat daunting. Grilled chicken, in particular, maybe an intimidating prospect for beginner grillers because there are so many variables involved- how to tell when it's done? What heat should I use? Is direct heat better than indirect heat? Does seasoning help flavour the meat more during cooking? We'll answer all these questions and provide some easy step by steps that will keep even novice grillers happy! Let's get started!

    Why Grill Chicken?

    Grilling is a type of cooking where the food is held above the direct heat source. It often involves an outdoor grill that uses charcoal or gas as the fuel source, but it can also be done on stovetops or ovens.

    Grilling chicken is a simple and healthier way of cooking chicken compared to other ways like frying. 

    It’s one of the most popular ways to prepare chicken because it preserves its moisture and keeps the natural flavour intact, resulting in tender & juicy meat every time!

    Not to mention easy, fast, and requires very few ingredients, making it an ideal meal for beginners!

    Grilled chicken has become increasingly popular in recent years because of how well it pairs with other flavours, textures and vegetables alike! The taste is great on its own, but it can also be enhanced with a marinade or rub if desired. 

    Preparation for Your First Time Cooking Chicken on a Grill

    1. Flattening the Chicken

    Flattening your chicken helps in uniform cooking of all sides by cutting through tough tendons in the muscle.

    This also helps ensure even cooking by removing any excess fat from the meat and breaking up tough tendons in the meat.

    How to go about it:

    • Cut two pieces of parchment paper that are about the same size.
    • Lay one piece of parchment on the work surface. Place a chicken breast over it.
    • Cover the chicken with the second parchment paper cut
    • Pound it lightly with a rolling pin or meat mallet until it has a uniform thickness of around 1.5 cm.


    Parchment paper is ideal because it doesn't soak up the moisture in the meat that would cause the chicken to dry out fast when grilling before it's properly cooked.

    2. Marinating the Chicken

    Though not necessary, marinating the meat can help with tenderizing the meat and adding flavour.

    There are two types of marinades that can be used on chicken- acidic or oil-based. Acidic marinades consist of ingredients like lemon juice, vinegar, wine etc. Oil-based marinades include ingredients such as olive oil, butter etc. The choice comes down to your personal preference!

    You can also add your favourite herbs, spices or aromatics to the marinade. They go especially well with acid-based marinade because the acidity tenderizes the meat and helps the herbs to absorb easily and thoroughly.

    Tips: Do not use creamy marinades like mayonnaise or yoghurt because they can cause the fat to burn more easily on the grill.

    3. Soak in brine

    This is optional.

    A typical way to make the brine is to dissolve a 1/4 cup of kosher salt in 4 cups of water.

    Proceed to soak your chicken in the brine for at least half an hour.

    When using brine, you don't need to salt the meat again.

    The salt helps to break down the protein in the chicken, which makes it more tender. It also makes the meat absorb water better during cooking, resulting in a juicier final product because of effectively reduced moisture loss!

    4. Seasoning Your Chicken

    A lot of people prefer to season their grilled chicken with spices & herbs before grilling because the heat from the grill helps them stick better to the meat, enhancing its flavour even more!

    Simply sprinkle your favourite spices or pre-mixed seasoning on both sides of your flattened pieces of chicken and rub them against the surface so that they stick well!

    Chicken can be seasoned using any combination of ingredients you desire- cumin, paprika, garlic powder, dried thyme, pepper, oregano, chilli powder etc.

    5. Clean The Grill Grate

    Many people often forget about this step! Ensure that your grill grate is clean before placing the chicken on it because dirty surfaces can lead to sticking & tearing of the meat while grilling.

    You can use a grill brush to brush off stuck remains of the previous grilling session.

    For easier cleanup, spray your grill grate with cooking oil before you start grilling.

    How to Grill The Chicken

    The best way to grill your chicken is by using high direct heat. This is because you are not looking to sear the meat, but just cook it through.

    You should set up your grill with two zones- one side for high heat cooking and one side for low-heat cooking.

    The best chicken cut to grill is boneless skinless chicken breasts. The below steps and references refer to this cut.

    Step 1-

    Preheat your grill for 10-15 minutes.

    The heat levels should reach 218 °C- 232 °C (425 °F-450 °F) easy to measure if you are using a gas grill.

    If using a charcoal grill, light a pile on one side of the grill and place a drip pan filled with water underneath the cooking area where there is no fire. This will help reduce smoke and save some time by cutting down on pre-heating time. Wait till the flames die before playing the chicken.

    Step 2-

    Place pieces of flattened chicken directly over the heat and grill each side for approximately 5-10 minutes (for chicken breast) or till they turn golden brown and crispy

    To check if your grilled chicken is done using an instant digital thermometer, the chicken should reach a minimum internal temperature of 73 °C (165° F). This is the safe temperature where salmonella and other harmful bacteria are destroyed. Insert the thermometer in the thickest part of the chicken if the cut is uneven.

    The most important tip is to not disturb or flip your chicken too early, otherwise, you will end up with dry and tough meat or worse yet the meat won't stick, or it will tear while flipping.

    If you feel like the surfaces are getting burnt too fast, lower your gas grill to medium heat (or place the chicken on an upper rack if using a charcoal grill) after cooking it at high heat. Close all vents on your gas grill; adjust burners on some units so that they're turned off around the perimeter while others are still burning in the centre.

    Step 3-

    Once cooked, remove the chicken from the grill and let it rest for 5 minutes before serving. If you like, cut them into pieces (breast) and place them on a platter. Garnish with parsley and lemon wedges & serve hot!

    How Long Should I Grill My Chicken? Other Chicken Cuts

    Keep in mind the grilling time for your chicken may vary based on a number of factors: size and thickness of chicken breasts, marinating time allowed before grilling, preferred level of crispiness, etc

    Whole Chicken Grilling Time

    A full chicken weighs 2-4.5 kg (5- 10 pounds) and takes approximately 2 to 2 1/2 hours and the temperature is set to  93-149 °C (200-300 °F).  Basically, it's a long, slow cooking process.

    You can reduce the time greatly if you spatchcok the chicken. It will take about 30-40 minutes because the thickness is reduced and the meat will cook faster.

    How Long to Grill Chicken Thighs and drumsticks?

    The time required for grilled chicken thighs depends on their thickness and the cooking method used.

    If you are using direct heat, medium-high or 232 °C (450 °F), it will take a minimum of 40 minutes or till they turn golden brown. Note that they need to be turned every 5-10 minutes to avoid burning.

    Alternatively, you can use both direct and indirect heat to grill the chicken thighs. 30 minutes on indirect and the last 10 minutes over direct heat, at this point add sauces so that they don't burn and taste bitter.

    To test if done the internal temperature should read at least 82 °C (180 °F).

    How Long Should You Grill Chicken Wings

    Chicken wings are best grilled using indirect heat with a temperature of 177 °C (350 °F) .  It will take approximately 20-25 minutes to grill completely.

    To check if done, the temperature should read 82 °C (180 °F) or a minimum of 73 °C (165 °F).

    How Long to Grill Chicken Legs

    Regular chicken legs are best grilled using over medium-high heat 232 °C  (450 °F) for 30-40 minutes. 

    When done the temperature should reach 82 °C (180 °F) minimum rather than the safe 73 °C (165 °F) as it is complete, and the taste is better.

    How To Tell If  Your Grilled Chicken Is Done

    An instant digital meat thermometer can tell you exactly when your grilled chicken breasts. The minimum safe temperature is 73 °C (165°F) with an okay factor of 10%, the best temp for a good flavour and tenderness is 82 °C  (180 °F). Make sure to insert the thermometer in the thickest part.  

    • If you prefer to use "visual clues" instead, here's what you need to watch out for:
    • There shouldn't be any pinkness inside the meat when you cut into it. If the juices are pink, the chicken is not done.
    • The skin of your marinated grilled chicken should be golden brown and crisp
    • Press the centre of the chicken with your fingertip. If it springs back into place under pressure, then you can say that it's fully cooked 
    • You could also slice open a piece to check if it's done or not

    Indirect Vs Direct Heat Grilling - Which Is Better For Grilling Your Chicken?

    Whole bone-in breasts, leg quarters, and entire birds should be cooked under indirect for at least half of the cooking time to release fat and flavour.

    While smaller pieces of chicken breasts, drumsticks and wings, cook well on direct medium heat if they are turned frequently to prevent burning.

    Chicken Grilling Tips

    • To increase the moisture levels so that it doesn't burn and char, you can stuff your chicken pieces with your choice of ingredients before grilling, a simple stuffing could be basil pesto or garlic butter. Make sure to leave 1/2 cm between the meat and the stuffing.
    • For tender grilled chicken pieces, use long grilling tongs instead of metal skewers to turn them over. If using wooden skewers, remember to soak them in water for about 30 minutes before use so that they don't burn on the grill.
    • Never use a  fork as the fork piercings release valuable natural juice.
    • To avoid burning the chicken meat, always remember to pre-heat the grill for at least 10 minutes before placing the chicken on top.
    • Pre-heat your grill for 10 minutes before placing your chicken pieces over direct heat otherwise, they will stick and burn.
    • If you haven't used an oil-based marinade, make sure to rub or spray some oil on the chicken before grilling so that it doesn't stick to the grill.


    Grilling your chicken is a healthy way of cooking, and you get the smoky flavour from the marinades. Don't be afraid to experiment with a variety of marinades to see which one your family likes best.

    Share your favourite recipes and grilling tips in the comment section below.

    Happy grilling!


    How do you keep the grilled chicken from burning on the grill?

    Always preheat the grill for at least 10 minutes before starting to cook, use an oil-based marinade and apply it generously to your chicken breasts as this forms a protective layer around the meat which prevents it from burning

    Do you flip chicken on the grill?

    Always use tongs to turn your pieces on the grill so that you don't pierce them with a fork.

    Do you grill chicken with the lid open or closed?

    If grilling under direct high heat, you want to keep the lid open to keep the flames away from the chicken and flip it frequently.

    Written by Adam

    Adam is the creator of the SmokeGuys website, running it since 2016. Hater of coriander, lover of all things meat... Adam currently works in marketing with a dream of being able to make food his full-time 'job' in the longer term.

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