Wednesday, May 21, 2008
The Secret to Moist Chicken on the Grill
1. Brining: Nothing beats brining when it comes to producing juicy, succulent barbecued chicken. You'll need to make the brine and begin the brining process at least 24 hours prior to grilling the chicken. A basic brine is quite simple, requiring only salt, sugar and citrus mixed with water, in specific ratios. You can add other spices to add flavor. I've posted a couple of recipes for brines here along with basic instructions.
2. Freshness: The fresher and higher-quality the chicken, the tastier and juicier the results. Go ahead and splurge on fresh, never-frozen, chicken, and if you can find an all-natural, organically-raised bird, that's even better. Old-timers who grew up on a farm will often complain that today's supermarket chicken has no flavor, and they've got a point, as you'll find out when you taste a fresh, organic bird. But if frozen is your only option, a good brine and the other tips here will give you the next-best results.
3. Cooking temperature and time: Some people swear by low temperatures and long cooking times, but you have to be careful with chicken because it will dry out if cooked too long even at a low temperature. You're better off grilling at medium heat until the internal temperature reaches 180 degrees, and then serve right away so the meat won't dry out. A good meat thermometer for the grill is an excellent investment.
4. Dry Rubs & Seasonings: Some folks like to use a dry rub before grilling their chicken, and that's fine so long as the salt or sodium content AND the sugar content aren't too high. Too much salt will draw the natural moisture out from the bird, so choose a dry rub or seasoning that doesn't list salt as the first ingredient. On the other hand, too much sugar can cause the skin or meat surface to burn, and charred chicken isn't tasty. That's also why we don't recommend saucing the chicken until the last few minutes of grilling, so that the sauce won't burn (assuming you're using a thicker, sweeter sauce like a tomato BBQ sauce). Go light on the rubs or seasonings during grilling, but you can be more liberal with rubs if using a smoker.
5. Marinades and Oil: Many commercial marinades rely on vinegar as one of the main ingredients. While vinegar adds nice tang and can help deliver other flavors, it can also dry out "lighter" meats like chicken. The ideal chicken marinade will have a bit of oil to help seal in the natural juices in the bird, and also to keep any spices or sugars in the marinade from burning during grilling. A good choice would be Bone Suckin' Yaki, which is a savory-sweet teriyaki style marinade and grilling sauce with a splash of sesame oil and olive oil. If you use a vinegar-based marinade, consider adding some oil to the marinade when you use it for chicken.