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Weekend Chef: How to BBQ Chicken

Posted 3:42pm on Friday, Sep. 28, 2012

Backyard barbecues are known for hot dogs, hamburgers and BBQ chicken, sort of the Holy Trinity of the backyard grill.

Unfortunately, you can't cook BBQ chicken like burgers or hot dogs, or you can end up with chicken that is burnt on the outside, but still pink (undercooked) in the middle.

Actually, it is a common mistake. You have your hot dogs, hamburgers and chicken pieces coated in BBQ sauce on a nice, hot grill cooking away. Before you know it, the sugar in the BBQ sauce on the chicken starts to burn. You try turning the pieces over a couple of times, but they are starting to look pretty black. So you pull them off the grill and debate whether the chicken is too burnt to serve. You decide a little burnt chicken is not going to kill anybody and tentatively serve a few pieces. Then the chicken comes back with the discovery that it is still raw on the inside.

It turns out that the most BBQ chicken has in common with burgers and hot dogs is the low price per pound. BBQ chicken really needs to be cooked at a lower temperature, and for a longer period of time. You can still cook all three at your next cookout, you just need to give the chicken a head start before you start your burgers.

Here are some tips for the next time you fix BBQ chicken.

1. If you have the time, brine. Brining will make your chicken stay extra juicy and moist, even if you accidentally over cook it a little. Brining is easy to do (recipe below), but it does take a little extra time. So plan ahead and buy your chicken a day before you plan to grill it.

2. Legs and thighs. If you end up having to buy your chicken the day of the BBQ with no time to brine, you might consider skipping the white meat and just cooking legs and thighs. Legs and thighs are a lot more forgiving on the grill, so there is less chance of dry, overcooked chicken.

3. Low and slow. BBQ Chicken needs to be grilled over indirect heat at a temperature of around 300°F (recipe below), so you need to fix up the grill accordingly. On a charcoal grill move the hot coals to one side of the grill, on a gas grill turn on only half the burners. Grill the chicken on the side of the grill without the hot burners/coals and with the lid closed. You can still grill your burgers and hot dogs on the hot side of the grill, just give the chicken an hour head start.

4. Rub, then sauce at the end. A common mistake when barbecuing chicken is to apply the BBQ sauce too soon, or even at the beginning. The sugar in the sauce then burns, leaving a bitter taste. Apply a BBQ rub at the beginning and sauce the chicken the last 15 to 30 minutes.

5. Get an instant read thermometer. You can cut into the chicken pieces to see if it is done, or check for clear running juices when poked. But the best way is to use an instant read thermometer if you really want to know when things are done on the grill. White meat is done at around 160°F and dark meat is done at 165°F. Be sure to get a thermometer with a fast instant read response time. Some instant reads can be pretty slow. ThermoWorks makes some of the best and are super fast. You can find them on Amazon starting at $19.

Perfect BBQ Chicken

BBQ sauce glaze

Brine

  • ½ cup of sugar
  • ¼ cup of canning/table salt or a ½ cup of kosher salt
  • ¼ cup of your favorite BBQ rub
  • 2 cloves of garlic chopped
  • 1 quart water
  • 1 gallon plastic zipper bag

Brining

As you saw in my first tip, I like to brine my chicken the night before barbecuing. This will make the chicken extra juicy and a lot harder to accidentally overcook.

Mix brine ingredients into 1 quart of water until dissolved.

Place chicken pieces into resealable plastic bag, add the brine and seal the bag.

Place bag in a bowl or pan to catch any liquid (if the bag springs a leak), then place into the refrigerator to brine overnight.

In the morning remove chicken pieces from brine and rinse off in cold water. Pat dry with paper towel, and put pieces back into refrigerator on a plate uncovered for 2 to 4 hours to air-dry the skin.

Barbecue

Set your grill up for indirect heat and preheat grill to a medium temperature of around 300°F.

While the grill is coming up to temp, take the chicken out of the refrigerator and lightly coat the pieces in vegetable oil, then apply a nice even coat of rub on both sides of the chicken pieces.

Once the grill is up to temp, place chicken pieces on the indirect side of the grill skin side up. Make sure not to crowd all the pieces together when arranging them on the grill, also try to place the chicken breast on the coolest part of the grill (normally the furthest away from the heat source).

Close the lid on the grill and let chicken cook 1-hour or till the breast meat reads 150°F on an instant read thermometer.

While chicken is cooking make the BBQ sauce glaze by mixing BBQ sauce, honey and garlic into a measuring cup with a large spoon.

After the chicken has cooked for 1-hour (or the breast meat has reached 150°F) pull chicken pieces off of the grill and onto a pan to be glazed. Be sure to close the lid on the grill after you pull the chicken so the grill keeps its temp.

Arrange pieces in pan so they are not touching and make sure the breast are skin side down. With measuring cup or large spoon, pour glaze over chicken pieces so that each piece is nicely covered, but make sure not to use over half the glaze. Turn pieces over and repeat pouring the glaze over the pieces until they are fully covered.

Place pieces back on the grill for 30 minutes or until the chicken breast reads 160°F on an instant read thermometer.

Pull chicken off the grill and serve.

The chicken turned out great! The glaze on the chicken has a nice caramelization, but is not burned. When I cut into the breast the meat actually looked wet. Now that is a juicy piece of chicken. I am really glad I took the extra time to brine it. Now for the taste, sweet, tangy, savory and juicy... I would call this perfect.

Be sure to check out the slideshow above for step-by-step pictures.

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