4 Common Grilled Chicken Mistakes (& How to Fix Them)

updated Jul 2, 2019
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Credit: Joe Lingeman

Skin-on, bone-in chicken is synonymous with summer grilling, but it’s also one of the hardest grilled dishes to master. Drumsticks, breasts, and thighs all cook at different rates, and some are more likely than others to cause flare-ups. The good news? There are a few things you can do before you get to the grill to make grilled chicken totally foolproof. Here are four common pain points for grilling chicken, and how to avoid them for your next grilling session.

Credit: Mia Yakel/Kitchn

1. Not brining (or dry brining) the chicken pieces before grilling.

There’s almost nothing worse than dry chicken, and a really hot grill makes grilled chicken even more prone to overcooking and drying out in the time it takes to cook.

Try this instead: Use salt — in a brine or in a dry rub — to protect the meat from drying out on the grill. As a bonus, the salt will also season the chicken, making it even tastier.

Credit: Mia Yakel/Kitchn

2. Blasting all the chicken with the same level of hot, hot heat.

If you’re new to grilling, you might be under the impression that you’ve only got one heat option: flaming-hot heat! But throw skin-on, bone-in chicken pieces on the grill over a really hot flame and you’ll have tons of flare-ups and lots of burned skin.

Do this instead: Heat part of the grill to high heat (for crisping the chicken’s skin later) and set the other part of the grill to low heat. This is called a two-zone method. You’ll cook the chicken to temperature on the low heat side, then char it on the high heat area.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

3. Grilling the chicken uncovered.

An open grill looks kind of romantic, but the result is dry, overcooked chicken.

Keep a lid on it: Closing the grill will create convection that will cook the chicken more evenly. Feel free to peek, but try to limit your chicken spying to every five to eight minutes or so.

Credit: Mia Yakel/Kitchn

4. Putting sauce on the chicken too soon.

We all want that idyllic sticky layer of burnished, caramelized sauce that makes grilled chicken so crave-worthy. But put the sauce on too soon and you’ll have burnt sauce and chewy chicken skin.

Baste often at the end: Once your chicken is cooked through and you transfer it to the direct heat, you can begin basting your chicken with sauce. Start with a thin layer, let the sauce thicken, and baste again and again until you get that lovely layer of sticky BBQ chicken goodness.