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5 Sure-Fire Tips for Perfectly Cooked Grilled Chicken

Since it’s Father’s Day weekend, the grill is sure to be going–am I right?

Here’s a gift from me to your favorite griller who may need a few tips on getting that chicken done right this summer.

Be sure to check out my other grilling guides for grassfed burgers and steak, salmon and even salad and fruit! And here’s an useful tip sheet on healthy grilling.

Grilling boneless chicken breast?

See my latest Post for this tricky cut

Grilled Chicken Challenges

It’s hot, you’re busy and company’s coming for dinner. Nothing’s easier than tossing some chicken on the grill. Am I right?

Not at all! Think about it: When was the last time you had a properly cooked piece of chicken from somebody’s backyard grill?

“Never” is my guess — even from your own. Don’t take it personally. The fact is that hardly anybody knows how to grill chicken that isn’t coal-blackened or outright charred in some places or practically raw in others.

The trouble is the chicken. While it’s a favorite choice for grilling, especially in summer, the how-tos are not obvious.

Chicken is nothing like burgers or hot dogs, pork chops or rib steaks; it’s tricky to deal with the fat under the skin that drips onto the fire and causes flare-ups.

What makes matters worse is marinade, which causes the grill to smoke heavily, turning your chicken gray instead of enticingly browned.

Better grilled chicken at

On top of that, it’s tough to determine when chicken is done all the way through; it always seems to take longer than it should. So you pull it off too soon and end up with (gulp) pink, undercooked chicken.

So, here are my hard-learned lessons and tips as a professional cook for getting grilled chicken right.

5 Pro Tips for Grilled Chicken

1. Use bone-in, skin-on chicken pieces.

Grilling experts highly recommend thighs, and I agree that they are the moistest, but legs, breasts and wings also benefit when the bones and skin are left intact, as they help to insulate the meat from overcooking — and they make it taste much better. (However, if you’re committed to boneless, skinless chicken breasts, the techniques you practice with the remaining tips will help you master those, too, with practice.) Pasture-raised chickens, especially those from heritage breeds, are not only tastier but also more sustainable than factory-farmed birds, so seek them out in your area at the farmers market or local grocer.

2. Season the chicken well with salt and save the marinades for after cooking.

Most people make their first mistake before they even fire up the grill: They don’t season the chicken enough. With your best-quality kosher or sea salt, sprinkle all sides of the chicken pieces as if you’re dusting them finely with confectioner’s sugar. Everyone loves marinated chicken, but submerging your chicken in any sauce — even barbecue sauce — will bring you more cooking complications, not more flavor.

3. Preheat your grill to medium-high heat and control those flames.

Unlike other foods that respond well to intense heat, chicken calls for moderate or medium-high heat (between 350 F and 400 F). Whether using a charcoal or gas grill, test the heat patterns by placing your open palm about 5 inches above the grate. If you can hold it there for 5 seconds, you’re in range. Also note where the heat is less intense. In the event of a flare-up, immediately move the chicken to these cooler parts of the grill to prevent charring.

Better grilled chicken at

4. Brown chicken pieces skin side down for longer than you think you should.

Always cook the chicken skin side down first and plan to leave it there for the next 20 minutes or more — or until it is nearly all the way cooked. Why? You’ll end up with crispy and beautifully browned skin (remember, it insulates the meat), plus the chicken will be cooked evenly to the bone. In general, it takes at least 30 minutes to cook bone-in chicken at this temperature, so aim for cooking it skin side down for three-quarters of the total cooking time — 20 to 25 minutes — before flipping and finishing it on the second side.

5. Use your grill like an oven.

After laying the chicken pieces on the grate, put on the lid. Now your grill will radiate the heat above as well as below, which is exactly what chicken needs to get cooked all the way through. The lid also controls air flow and keeps the flames on a charcoal grill from getting out of hand. Dripping fat will likely incite flare-ups, so monitor the cooking and move the chicken away from flames to those cooler areas of the grill whenever necessary. If you’re at all uncertain that the chicken is done, insert the tip of an instant-read thermometer close to the bone or just cut into the center for a visual check.

Foolproof Finishing

Once your chicken is seasoned and fully cooked to an enticing golden brown, let it rest near the heat for 15 minutes or so. Grilled chicken doesn’t need much embellishment, although cilantro pesto, peach chutney or avocado salsa — or any other fresh and tangy sauce — will liven it up.

But what about those pesky marinades? Think wings, which are first deep-fried and then tossed with sauce. The same principle applies to grilled chicken: Cook it well first, then brush or toss it with any homemade or bottled marinade or sauce. Let it warm-marinate until ready to serve or put it back on the grill for a few minutes to marry the sauce to the chicken as it reheats.

Now you’re the expert.


and become a forager

What’s on your grill this summer? Let me know what you’re making in the comments below or tag a photo #lynnesforage on Instagram or Facebook.
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5 from 2 votes

Foolproof Grilled Chicken

We've all been there. You want a simple grilled chicken dinner but the grilling part never seems to go right. Here's my guide for getting perfectly done grilled chicken every time. The main recipe is for bone-in chicken pieces (breasts, thighs and legs). See the recipe notes for grilling boneless skinless chicken breasts.
Course Main Course
Cuisine American
Keyword grilled chicken
Servings 4 people
Author Lynne Curry


  • 4-8 (2 1/2-3 pounds) chicken pieces, preferably bone in and skin on
  • kosher salt


  • Preheat a gas or charcoal grill and scrape the grate extra clean. Season the chicken pieces all over with the salt. (For extra flavorful chicken, you can do this step the night before.)
  • Check the heat on your grill to be sure that it's about medium-high (between 350 and 400 degrees F) by placing your open palm about 5 inches above the grate. If you can hold it there for 5 seconds, you’re in range. Also, if using a charcoal grill note where the heat is less intense in case you have any flare ups.
  • Place the chicken pieces skin side down on the grate using metal tongs. Close the grill cover and reduce the heat to medium (300 to 350 degrees F). Keep the cover closed for 20 minutes. (For best results, keep the lid closed, but monitor the cooking. If you hear loud sizzling, check for flare ups and slide the chicken with tongs away from any flames.)
  • Flip the chicken and grill with the cover closed for another 10 minutes. It is fully cooked when an internal-read thermometer registers 160-165 degrees F. Or, if using a sauce, such as barbecue, toss the nearly cooked chicken in a bowl with the sauce or glaze and return to the grill to complete the cooking.


  1. Carol J Griffith

    5 stars
    I made this chicken today for my daughter, her boyfriend and my husband. It was universally acclaimed as wonderful. I think it’s the best grilled chicken I’ve ever made. I salted it this afternoon, after reading the recipe and left it uncovered in our downstairs fridge for a few hours. Then, followed the recipe exactly…kept an eye on it and moved it to make cross-hatched grill marks. Served with barbecue sauce for those who like it – I ate mine just as it came off the grill. Totally amazing! Thanks so much for your expertise!

    1. Congratulations on your grilled chicken success, Carol! And you’re right: it’s so good just off the grill–or any way you want to serve grilled chicken all summer long.

  2. Deb

    How would you do this if your recipe calls for a lemon olive oil type marinade before grilling? Thanks!

    1. Great question, Deb, and lemon olive oil sounds delicious. What I do is put the grilled chicken pieces into a bowl and toss it with the marinade to coat well while the chicken rests. That way, the chicken juices blend with the yummy marinade (maybe some fresh herb, like oregano or rosemary, too). And because the chicken is fully cooked, you can serve any extra alongside the chicken for a sauce.

  3. 5 stars
    Previously I was try boneless chicken for grilled.
    Last time I was try from your blog and use bone in chicken pice
    and that taste was really great!

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