By contributing writer Mary Cressler
Grilled chicken is a summertime favorite for many, myself included. But I’m not gonna lie. I often avoid it when I go to large gatherings. You know why? Most people either overcook chicken on an outdoor grill, making it dry and tough, or they don’t season it enough to give it any flavor. Not my cup of tea. Overcooked chicken = no bueno.
Chicken is a blank canvas and will take on whatever flavor you want it to have. So it’s important to season it. It’s also important to grill it properly so you don’t dry it out!
I’ve learned some great (and simple) techniques for how to grill perfectly juicy and flavorful chicken, without the fear of it overcooking or drying out. It’s simple.
For starters I always buy a whole chicken, cut into quarters. If the meat counter at your supermarket doesn’t offer them pre-cut in packages, just ask the butcher. They should be happy to do it for you (it takes just seconds for them). Why cut it? I can pull the meat from the grill easier when it’s done. Often the smaller cuts grill faster. With a whole bird, you can run the risk of overcooking some of the meat.
This is often more affordable than buying boneless skinless breasts and gives you more yield. Cooking chicken with the bone in not only adds flavor, it provides a shield for the breast meat when bone side down, protecting the meat from overcooking.
For the legs (leg and the thigh combo), you may need to do a little butchering to separate the thigh from the leg (often the leg/thigh combo is cheaper). And in my opinion, the thigh is the best part of the chicken. It has rich flavor and stays juicy throughout.
Next, I love to marinate the chicken in a buttermilk bath. This helps to tenderize the chicken and adds extra richness and moisture when you cook the meat on a hot grill.
Finally, when it’s time to grill your chicken, it’s important to cook it briefly on a very high heat to get the sear marks and crispy skin, but then move it to indirect heat allowing it to cook through without burning the exterior or drying out.
The idea is to get a quick sear on both sides of the meat. Usually no more than 2 minutes per side, enough for some color and grill marks. Move then to indirect heat. Make sure the breast is bone side down, protecting that white meat — it can dry up fast. Then cover or close your grill like an oven to let it roast away (this part should take approx 15-20 minutes). When I think my chicken is done, I always use a thermometer to check for proper temperature (165 degrees). This is when you add your BBQ sauce (no sooner).
Adding a BBQ sauce, or glaze. When the chicken is just about done add your BBQ sauce. If you add it too soon, it runs the risk of burning due to the sugar content in the sauce. This is the mistake all too many outdoor cooks make! They add it way too soon. Don’t do it, or you will burn the outside. Add it towards the end to ensure a nice BBQ flavor and more juicy textures.
- 1 whole chicken, quartered
- 1 quart buttermilk
- 3 tablespoons dry rub (Use a combination of salt, pepper, sugar, chili powder, and chili seasoning, or just use your favorite store bought dry rub for chicken.)
- 1 cup barbecue sauce (your favorite store bought or homemade)
- Prepare chicken by trimming excess fat and bone fragments. Rinse in cold water and pat dry.
- In a large baking dish, pour all the buttermilk and dry rub. Mix well.
- Add the quartered chicken pieces to the buttermilk bath. Flip a couple times so each piece is drowned in the buttermilk mix.
- Marinate anywhere from 1 to 6 hours.
- Prepare/heat up gas or charcoal grill and set it for indirect cooking. Get it hot!
- Place chicken on direct heat for approximately 2 minutes or until desired look of skin and then flip for another 2 minutes.
- Move chicken to indirect heat and cover for up to 20 minutes (but check often to be sure you don’t overcook, as each cut of meat will vary in time).
- When meat reaches close to final temperature (155 – 160 degrees), brush first coat of BBQ sauce over all sides of chicken. Continue cooking.
- Remove chicken when temp is at 165 degrees, and then add a second coat of BBQ sauce.
- Let the chicken rest 10 minutes to let juices redistribute and BBQ sauce thicken.
Unless you plan to drown your chicken in an overly sweet and spicy BBQ sauce, you have lots of options for wine pairing, both white and red!
For white wines, I like a medium to full bodied wine that is juicy, like the chicken, and full of fruity flavors to offset any heat from the sauce. One of my favorite summertime whites to pair with chicken is Albariño. Albariños can be very aromatic, crisp, with great acidity and texture, and are ridiculously food friendly, pairing with a wide variety of foods (from salads to meats to spicy foods).
Burgans Albariño (Rias Baixas, Spain) — $15
The Bugrans Albariño is fantastic with ripe peach, apricot, and tropical fruit aromas (think pineapple and banana), and crisp lemon. It’s juicy, yet crisp in the mouth, with great textures that really sing with the juices from the grilled chicken. The bold fruit flavors stand up well to not only the juices from the meat, but also the sweet and spicy flavors from the BBQ sauce. A winner indeed.
If you’re in the mood for red wine, several will work! Having just returned from French Malbec country, I haven’t been able to kick my Malbec cravings. Malbec is the perfect red for summertime because it tends to be rich in fruit (standing up to anything from grilled chicken to steak), but lower in tannins, making it pair with a wider variety of foods. I find Malbecs from Argentina tend to be more crowd pleasing and affordable, making them a good choice for larger gatherings.
2013 Pascual Toso Malbec (Maipu Valley, Argentina) — $10
This wine is a winner in the quality-to-price category for sure. You get loads of rich cherry, strawberry, and raspberry fruit aromas along with some spice and smoky tones in this fruit forward wine. Super smooth in the mouth with some rich chocolate and vanilla flavors from oak aging that are a good match for a heavier amount of BBQ sauce (it can stand up to the richness). The fruity flavors, low tannins, and rich body, along with its $10 pricetag make it another crowd-pleasing match for the chicken. Definitely a good one to have on hand this summer!
What about you?
Have you found any secrets or techniques for making the perfect summertime grilled chicken? I’d love to hear them!
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Mary Cressler is a Certified Sommelier, a Wine Location Specialist, and the proprietor of Vindulge: Wine Education & Consulting. She conducts wine classes and events and offers consulting for individuals, restaurants, and event planners.
She writes about wine, food, and travel on her blog Vindulge. Mary resides in Portland, Oregon with her husband, twin boys, and two Chihuahuas.