As simple as it gets. Start grill, trim chicken, put on a grill. Then a few flips and brush of sauce. Easy to follow step by step instructions.
I think most of us normal people can not get a split chicken breast grilled to 165 internal temperature without having texture or burning issues. It is hard to get great BBQ taste while the meat is still moist and tender.
So what is the secret of not burning the devil out of the outside of the chicken while getting the center done?
- Correct grill temperature and having a cooler zone.
- Trim the chicken correctly.
- Correct timing of the flipping.
- Brush with great sauce near the end of cooking.
- Use a meat thermometer to cook to the minimum safe internal temperature.
Really good and really simple.
Five Steps to Get It Right
1) Correct grill temperature and having a cooler zone.
The grill surface temperature needs to be 450 degrees. I usually give a range of 450-500 for chicken. Here I would prefer the range of 425-475. That is for the majority of the surface.
That is a little above medium on most gas grills and at medium for my grill. See A Beginners Guide to Grill Temperature on a Gas Grill for more details.
I also want one burner turned down some for a cooler zone. Lower 300s if you want to measure. This will be used for pieces that are getting too brown or smaller pieces that are cooking faster.
If you only have two burners turn it down at about 10-15 minutes into the cooking. If you have 3 or more burners, turn one down at the beginning of cooking.
2) Trim the chicken correctly.
Most of us (including me) have a hard time cooking those big chicken breasts we all get these days. The outside will burn before you can get the safe internal temperature of 165°.
So cut them in half or thirds if they are big. Cut it, and you will have more normal serving sizes, more surface area for the tasty sauce. And a much easier time getting to the right internal temperature.
I also like to chop off the rib section. There is no meat and so thin that it will start to burn before the meat can cook.
We don't recommend rinsing chicken anymore. Pat dry only, Please see Chicken… To Rinse or Not To Rinse? for a more detailed discussion.
3) Correct timing of flipping.
Sounds kind of stupid but not really. We need to get the center of the meat to the minimum safe temperature of 165° without burning the skin. A little char is good, burnt is bad.
First, start with the skin side UP.
Next, we are going to do “uneven grill” meaning cook the meat/bone side facing the flame longer than skin side down.
Last, use the lower temperature zone we set up. If a thinner or smaller piece is getting done faster or the skin too charred, move it over to the lower temperature area.
4) Brush with great sauce near the end of cooking.
With a skinless breast, I will do a very light brushing of sauce at the beginning to get a "base" cooking. But sauce has lots of sugar and skin likes to burn.
Here I try to do a medium brush about 5 minutes before the end of cooking and then again the last few minutes. I try to keep skin side up once the sauce goes on.
Note that there are no salt, pepper, or other seasonings. We are using the sauce as the entire seasoning here. So a great sauce makes for great BBQ grilled chicken. Bad sauce means bad BBQ chicken.
5) Use a meat thermometer to cook to the minimum safe internal temperature.
You must use a meat thermometer cooking almost any meat, but it is required here. You will undercook and not be safe. Or overcook and have bad results.
I love my expensive thermopen instant-read thermometer but a $15 el-cheapo will work good enough. See Cooking for Two Shop for suggestions if you don't have one.
Split Chicken Breast Recipes
Preheat gas grill to a surface temperature of 450°. That is medium on my grill but is usually medium-high on most grills. Clean and oil.
Pat dry chicken. Trim loose fat and rib section. Then cut the split chicken breasts into 2-3 equal pieces each.
A light brushing with oil and you're good to go.
Place the chicken pieces skin side up and grill for 5 minutes. Flip over with skin down for 4 minutes. Continue cycles of 5 minutes when skin is up and 4 minutes when skin is down.
If you only have two burners turn one burner down at about 10-15 minutes into the cooking. If you have 3 or more burners, turn one end burner down at the beginning of cooking.
With smaller pieces and pieces browning too fast, move them to the lower temperature area as needed.
When the chicken nears done, brush with BBQ sauce about 5 minutes before the end of cooking and then again the last few minutes. Grill until internal temp of 165°. Total cooking time for me about 30 minutes.
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Originally Published June 7, 2011. Updated with expanded options, refreshed photos, and a table of contents to help navigation.