Bone-in skin-on chicken breasts are hard for most people to grill correctly, but with just a few easy tips, you can master grilling split chicken breasts for a wonderfully moist and tasty meal.
Most people can not get a split chicken breast grilled to 165° internal temperature without having a texture or burning issues. It can be hard to get a great BBQ taste while the meat is still moist and tender.
This is as simple as it gets. Start the grill, trim the chicken correctly, put it on a grill, a few flips, and a brush of sauce. And you will have a moist and tender barbecued chicken dinner.
So what are the secrets of not burning the outside of the chicken while getting the center done?
- Use the 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 simple.
👨🍳How to Grill BBQ Split Chicken Breasts
Preheat the Grill and Set Up a Cooler Zone
Grill temperature is critical to cooking any chicken correctly. It is easier to control grill temperature on a gas grill.
You can use a charcoal grill but must accurately control the grill temperature and set up a cooler zone while keeping the direct heat zone from not overheating.
The grill surface temperature needs to be 450° or a bit less. Most chicken is grilled in the range of 450°-500°. With the skin issues, try to use a range of 425°-450° for the majority of the grill surface.
That is a little above medium on most gas grills. See A Beginners Guide to Grill Temperature on a Gas Grill for more details.
Preparing Split Chicken Breasts to Grill
Split chicken breasts are also known as bone-in skin-on chicken breasts. They are cheap, often on sale, and widely available. The big plus is they are delicious when done correctly.
Start by chopping off the rib section. There is no meat there, and it is so thin that it will burn before the chicken is fully cooked.
Second, cut them in half or thirds if they are big. You will have more normal serving sizes and more surface area to season by cutting them up. But the biggest plus is a much easier time getting to the correct internal temperature.
Give them a light brush of oil, and you are ready to grill.
We don't recommend rinsing chicken anymore. Pat dry only, Please see Chicken… To Rinse or Not To Rinse? for a more detailed discussion.
Grilling the Split Chicken Breasts
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.
We will do “uneven grilling,” meaning cook the meat/bone side facing the flame longer than the skin side down. You can also grill some with the cut side down.
Last, use the lower temperature zone we set up. If a thinner or smaller piece is getting done faster or the skin is too charred, move it over to the lower temperature area.
Applying BBQ Sauce to the Chicken
Do a medium brush about 5 minutes before the end of cooking and then again the last few minutes. I try to keep the skin side up once the sauce goes on since there is sugar in the sauce, and it will tend to burn.
Grill to 165°
About 30 minutes, it depends on the size of the chicken pieces and your exact grill settings. But the real answer is as long as it takes to get to 165° internal temperature in the thickest part of the chicken.
Absolutely, your chunks of chicken breast will be of different sizes and thicknesses, plus chicken skin can burn quickly.
The cooler area should be under 300°. You can leave a burner on low or turn it off. If you only have two burners, turn it down at about 10-15 minutes into the cooking. If you have three or more burners, turn one down at the beginning of cooking.
On a charcoal grill, use a side of the grill with no coals.
A sweeter BBQ sauce like Kansas City or Memphis type sauce is an excellent choice for chicken.
There's no salt, black pepper, or other seasonings on the chicken before adding the sauce. 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.
Use the BBQ sauce of your choice. I love Gates BBQ of KC sauce but sometimes use Bulls Eye Original, which Cooks Illustrated likes. My Memphis BBQ Sauce would be the best choice but some work.
According to the FDA, all chicken needs to reach 165° to be safe. Less will be unsafe, and higher will dry out rapidly. You must use an instant-read thermometer or another type of meat thermometer.
📖Grilled Side Dish Recipes
📖Split Chicken Breasts Recipes
This recipe is listed in these categories. See them for more similar recipes.
🖼️Step-by-Step Photo Instructions
Preheat a gas grill to a surface temperature of 425°-450°. That is medium to medium-high on most grills. Clean and oil the grill grates.
Pat dry chicken. Trim loose fat and rib section.
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 on the hot side 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. You can also grill some with the cut sides 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 cooler side as needed.
When the chicken is near 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°. The total cooking time is about 30 minutes.
Grilled BBQ Split Chicken Breasts
- 2 split chicken breasts - AKA bone-in skin-on chicken breast
- 1 tablespoon oil - for brushing
- ¼ cup BBQ sauce of choice
- Preheat a gas grill to a surface temperature of 425°-450°. That is medium to medium-high on most grills. Clean and oil the grill grates.
- Pat dry chicken. Trim loose fat and rib section.
- 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. You can also grill some with the cut sides 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 is near 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°. The total cooking time is about 30 minutes.
Your Own Private Notes
- Get grill surface temperature correct—450°or a bit less.
- Trim and cut up chicken. Large pieces don't cook well.
- Keep skin up as much as possible to prevent burning.
- Have a cooler zone to move smaller pieces to while grilling.
- BBQ near the end to prevent burning.
- Done when the internal temperature is 165°.
To adjust the recipe size:
You may adjust the number of servings in this recipe card under servings. This does the math for the ingredients for you. BUT it does NOT adjust the text of the instructions. So you need to do that yourself.
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Originally Published June 7, 2011. Updated with expanded options, refreshed photos, and a table of contents to help navigation.