Prime BBQ season is officially here and in an effort to help our residents and guests enhance their poultry grilling skills thanks to these “Tips for Keeping Grilled Chicken” courtesy of grill master Clint Cantwell!
We’ve all seen it far too many times – chicken breasts that have been grilled until every last bit of moisture has been sucked out and covered in a layer of burnt on barbecue sauce.
But there is hope yet for all of you poultry grillers with these tips designed to help turn out perfectly moist and tender chicken breasts every time!
Bone-in versus boneless. When cooking chicken breasts, the first decision you must make is whether to go bone-in and skin-on or boneless and skinless. From a health standpoint, the latter version wins the race, but from a cooking standpoint, the former allows the meat to roast on the bone away from direct heat and is enhanced by the extra fat from the skin.
Brines and marinades. A 2-3 hour soak in a brine or oil-based marinade is an excellent way to not only add moisture to chicken but also amp up the flavor. To create a simple brine, combine 1/8 cup salt, 1/8 cup brown sugar, 2 cups water and fresh herbs and garlic then mix well until the salt and sugar have completely dissolved. For a simple marinade, combine 1 cup olive oil or canola oil, 1 cup balsamic vinegar and fresh herbs and garlic then stir well to combine.
Even thickness for even cooking. One of the biggest issues with chicken breasts is the fact that the plump side of the breast takes longer to cook through, resulting in an overcooked and dry smaller, tapered end. When using boneless breasts, even out the thickness by either butterflying the breasts or pounding them flat.
To butterfly the breasts, make a lengthwise horizontal cut 2/3 of the way through the breast, open it up and press it flat before grilling. To flatten boneless chicken breasts, place the chicken between a double layer of plastic wrap. Pound the meat with a meat mallet or heavy-bottomed pan starting from the center and working your way out until it is ½ – ¼ inch thick.
Stuffing the breast. Stuffing chicken breasts with ham, bacon, cheese and/or vegetables is a great way to introduce extra moisture and flavor to your dish. When working with full boneless breasts, simply cut a small incision through the thicker end to create a pocket and stuff it with the ingredients of your choice. Alternatively, pound the breasts thin as described above, lay your stuffing ingredients on one side, and roll the chicken around the stuffing. Secure the end of the chicken with two toothpicks or tie with butcher’s twine before placing it onto the grill.
Temping the meat and leave the “cut method” behind. The biggest culprit behind dried out chicken breasts is overcooking. Eliminate the guesswork by investing in a quality thermometer like the Super-Fast Thermapen from ThermoWorks and check the internal temperature often until the center of the meat reaches 160 degrees (keeping in mind that the meat will continue to rise in temperature after it comes off of the grill, taking it to the recommended 165 degrees internal temperature for chicken). And under no circumstance should you use the popular “cut method” to check doneness as slicing into the meat to see if it looks done is not only an inexact science, it also releases valuable juices from the meat.
Saving the sauce until the end. While it won’t technically result in dried out chicken, adding barbecue sauce too early is a recipe for ruining a perfectly cooked breast. Barbecue sauces contain a high amount of sugar and sugar goes from delicious to burnt when placed over direct heat for too long. Skip the recipes that call for marinating the chicken in a sauce as well as ones that suggest saucing early and often. Instead, wait until the chicken reaches an internal temperature of 155 degrees, add sauce, and cover the grill so the sauce can set during the last few minutes of cooking.
Resting the meat. The chicken breasts have been cooked to perfection, but that doesn’t mean it’s time to get eating. As with any meat, allow the breasts to rest for 5 minutes to allow the juice to redistribute before cutting into them.