By Lisa Rhea
With Memorial Day this weekend, grilling season is officially upon us. Grilling is simple and that’s what makes it great, but there are some methods that will up your grilling game, especially when it comes to our favorite lean meat – chicken.
Chicken can be especially temperamental, but with these tips and recipes, you can have juicy, tender grilled chicken every time!
Pound it Out
If you’re grilling chicken breasts, unless you buy the thin-cut chicken breasts, they’re going to be thicker in some areas, thinner in others. This leads to either under-cooking the thick portions or over-cooking the thinner areas. Take the time to pound them out and you’ll be impressed with how much easier it makes the grilling process.
Place your chicken breasts in a sealed, plastic bag. Depending on the quality of said bag, you may want to cover with a paper towel before pounding, just to prevent breaking or splatting chicken juice all over. Then proceed to beat the chicken into submission aka about 3/4” thickness. You can use a meat pounder or a rolling pin can also work.
The thinner the meat, the quicker the cooking time, so keep that in mind.
Chicken is a lean meat, especially chicken breasts, so it doesn’t have the protection of fat or skin to help keep the moisture in. For that purpose, taking the time to brine your chicken or marinate it can make a world of difference.
Brining is simply letting it soak in a water, salt and sugar (optional) solution for at least 30 minutes before cooking. Some people use milk instead of water, molasses, maple syrup or honey instead of sugar, but the key is to let the chicken absorb additional moisture to that it remains juicy during the grilling process. You can also add seasonings to the brine.
A simple brining recipe is 6 cups water, 1/4 cup salt, 1/4 cup sugar. Let the salt and sugar dissolve in the water, add the chicken and soak for 30 minutes or more.
Another option is to marinate your chicken breasts. We have all seen the pre-made marinades in the grocery store, but an even better, healthier way to add loads of flavor and moisture, is with a plain yogurt marinade.
Depending on your desired flavor, there are a ton of recipes out there for different yogurt-based marinades. The great thing about most yogurt marinade recipes is that they are not too acidic, meaning you can leave the chicken in them longer (overnight or all day).
Clean, Oiled and Hot
Yes, we’re still talking grilled chicken here. A clean, oiled grill makes more much better grilled chicken. We all know the frustration of having food stick while cooking it. Clean grates, and a little oil go a long ways, along with having the grill pre-heated to medium-high (375-450 degrees).
Don’t Overdo It
It should only take a few minutes cooking on each side. No matter how much you prep, if you overcook the chicken, it’s going to dry out. Consider having your grill set with two levels of heat – so you can sear it on one side, and let it continue to cook through on a lower heat setting if need be.
Using a meat thermometer is the safest method for ensuring your meat is cooked through (at least 150 degrees), or if you’re worried, you can cut into a piece to check it, just know you’ll lose some of the juiciness doing this. Also, the chicken will continue to cook after it’s removed from the heat, so keep that in mind.
Grilled chicken can be extremely boring if you don’t mix it up, but it can also be incredibly flavorful and a great go-to, healthy meal. I love cooking up extras and eating them throughout the week in various different meals. Take the extra time to make the most of your grilling.