The Best Way to Grill a Chicken Breast
Nothing says “summer’s here” quite like stepping outside and smelling the familiar smell of a barbeque grill. Grilling is a great way to celebrate the days getting longer and the weather getting warmer, and is one of the most popular ways to cook chicken in the summertime. Heck, it’s one of the most popular ways to cook anything in the summertime - you can cook everything from meat and vegetables to fruits, and you can even cook dessert on a grill.
But, as you know, we’re chicken people, so let’s focus on the best item to grill...a succulent chicken!
When you cook chicken on a grill, it really brings out the flavor, and once you get the hang of it, grilling is a fun and easy way to cook chicken (less dishes too, and who doesn’t love that!) Since pasture raised chicken in general is more flavorful and savory than conventionally-farmed chicken, grilling pasture raised chicken really draws out that savory flavor even more.
There is a bit of a learning curve when it comes to cooking chicken on a grill though, more so than with other methods of cooking.
Here are a few of the common mistakes people make when grilling, and it’s important to avoid these to cook chicken breast properly:
- You don’t heat the grill long enough before cooking: Because you’re essentially making fire, grills radiate heat pretty much from the moment they’re lit - but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re ready to start cooking. If you put meat on the grill too early, it will stick to the still-cool grill grates and you’ll be left with meat that tears as you try and pry it from the grill, and it leaves behind a messy grill to boot. Your grill should be closed and allowed to preheat for about 10 minutes after lighting, before you begin grilling your meat.
- You keep opening the grill lid to “check on things”: It can be tempting to keep messing with your grill as you wait for the meat to cook, but think of your grill as an outdoor oven. You know that if you keep opening your oven door when something is baking, the oven will lose heat and your food will be undercooked, overcooked, or unevenly cooked because of it. The same is true for grilling! Open your grill often enough to flip your meat so it doesn’t burn, but otherwise leave it alone to do its thing.
- You use too much lighter fluid: Seems like a good idea, right? More lighter fluid equals bigger flame, and bigger flame equals more (and faster) heat? Not exactly. While you’ll get an initial boom of flame with lighter fluid, the flames quickly diminish, and you end up adding more and more fluid to keep the flame going. The result is usually a frustrating cooking experience, and a gasoline-scented meal. Some alternatives are to use a chimney starter, crumpled up newspaper, or torn up cardboard egg carton underneath your coals. Light this first, and let it slowly light the fire and grill a perfect, gasoline-free meal.
What is the Best Way to Grill a Chicken?
Alright - now that we’ve talked about some of the things you shouldn’t do when grilling chicken, let’s talk about the best way to grill pasture raised chicken breasts to achieve perfectly cooked chicken every time.
The general rule is that you should cook chicken breast for about 5-8 minutes on each side. But as with most things in life, each grill is different and sometimes can be unpredictable. To allow for variations in cooking speeds between grills and to make sure you don’t overcook your chicken breast, we recommend investing in a meat thermometer. When you open your grill lid to flip the chicken (which you should do about 7 minutes into the cook time), take the temperature of the chicken to give you an idea of how much longer you’ll need to grill the chicken so it reaches that perfect temperature you're looking for.
It’s particularly important to avoid overcooking chicken breasts - since breasts are lower in fat than many other cuts of chicken, such as thighs, they dry out easier if they are overcooked, and eating an overcooked chicken breast really isn’t pleasant. Depending on the thickness of your chicken breast, the heat of your grill, and how much chicken you’re cooking at once, the chicken may cook faster or slower than you expect. A meat thermometer takes the guesswork out of the grilling process and saves you from serving chicken breasts that better resemble shoe leather.
Another important tip - while you should apply dry rubs and marinades anywhere from a couple of hours to 30 minutes prior to cooking, DO NOT add barbeque sauce or glaze until the chicken is almost cooked! The best time to add glaze or sauce is when the chicken has about 2-3 minutes left to cook. Otherwise the glaze will burn and you’ll end up with a charred, sticky brick of chicken rather than a juicy and flavorful chicken breast.
And finally, the piece de resistance for grilling perfect chicken - heat your grill using the 2 zone method - set one half of the grill to low heat, and the other half to high heat. Cook the chicken on the low heat zone, and then move it to the high heat zone for crisping up and getting that delicious grill-charred flavor.
Check out some of our previous blog posts to get some recipe inspiration for grilling chicken breasts - we have several posts offering loads of different chicken breast recipes or marinades, and while not all of the recipes are for grilled chicken, they can be easily adapted for the grill - just remember to use the tips above, and avoid the grilling mistakes we mentioned to ensure your grilled pasture raised chicken breasts are perfectly cooked and juicy every time!