Grilling season for me, starts when the outside thermometer reads about 40 degrees. And chicken is often the most frequent grilling choice. Not only does the grill give chicken breasts a great flavor (and very cool grill marks if you follow my technique), but the it makes kitchen clean up so much easier…and as a lazy man at heart, I appreciate that more than anything. While chicken breasts are among the most common meals around, people are still a bit nervous about cooking them. Add the open flame of the grill, and it only ups the ante! Since chicken breast is so lean, it is pretty easy to over cook them and dry them out. So, just like on the stove top, when you grill chicken breasts, you start out with very high heat, and cook them quickly. The speed helps to keep them from drying out, and the high heat, especially on the grill, gives the chicken a great extra layer of flavor. Just learn these techniques and they’ll come out tender, juicy and flavorful every time.
Keys to Perfectly Grilled Chicken Breasts
- Make sure to use a hot grill, that’s been pre-heating for at least 20 minutes. That will get a good sear and grill marks on the outside, providing a ton of flavor.
- Season the chicken properly. salt & pepper are a must. Other flavors, rubs and marinades optional
- Learn how to tell when it’s cooked through. With practice, you’ll be able to tell by look and feel, until then use an instant read meat thermometer, and cook the breasts until they just hit 160 degrees in the center.
How to Grill Chicken Breasts
- Take the chicken breasts out of the fridge about 30 minutes before cooking to allow them to come up to room temp.
- Season both sides of the breasts with salt and pepper. If you’re using a rub, you can put it on a few hours ahead of time, and keep the chicken in the fridge. You’ll still want them room temp before cooking
- Note the thickness of the chicken breasts. Thicker breasts will take longer to get the center to 160 degrees. So for the last several minutes, you’ll cook them with the grill lid closed, but at lower temp, essentially forming an oven.
- If you’ve marinated the chicken breasts, you’ll want to pat the chicken dry. You’ll also probably want a lower temp grill, as most marinades have sugar in them, that will burn more easily.
- Pre-heat your grill with the lid closed for at least 20 minutes, or until it’s at or above 500 degrees
- Put a thin coat of olive oil on the chicken, and then lay the breast down on the grill diagonally to the direction of the grates
- Don’t fiddle or move the chicken for at least 4 minutes; to allow a proper crust & grill marks to form.
- Turn the chicken over. For thin chicken breasts, it should only take 2- 3 minutes to cook them through, which isn’t enough time to get really good grill marks – so serve the first side you cooked as the “presentation” side
- After 2 – 3 minutes, if the chicken breast are thin, or pounded out, take temperature reading. You’ll want to remove them right as they hit 160.
- For thicker chicken breasts, continue to cook for 4 – 5 minutes, then take a temperature reading.
- If they are at 160 degrees, remove them from the grill, but chances are they will be under. Turn down the heat on the grill to medium, or move the chicken to cooler spot, and close the grill lid – creating an “oven”
- Continue to cook the chicken breasts until they reaches 160 degrees. It should move about 10 degrees every two minutes or so.
- Once off the grill, allow the chicken to rest for 3 – 5 minutes before serving.
- And you’re done…they should pack a ton of flavor, and still be juicy and tender.