7 Common Grilled Chicken Mistakes and How to Fix Them. Have you ever tried a really great version of grilled chicken? I remember the first time I ever tried a perfectly grilled specimen: fully cooked, juicy chicken with a slightly smoky flavor from the grill. Served with a side of corn on the cob and homemade potato salad, it was a simple but highly memorable meal.
Unfortunately, I’ve also experienced the flip side of the equation, which sadly seems more common: poorly prepared grilled chicken. It might look perfect on the outside, but then when you bite into it, it’s still pink and uncooked on the inside. Or maybe the inside is cooked, but the outside is charred beyond taste recognition. Or perhaps the chicken is delivered flavorless, dry, and stringy.
So what makes some grilled chicken great, but the rest so deeply underwhelming? The proper technique. Grilling chicken is different from grilling steak and burgers, and shouldn’t be treated exactly the same. Grilling chicken can be fraught with inconsistency if you try to grill it the same way you would other meat.
To help amp up your summer grilling, here is a roundup of some of the common things that go wrong with grilling chicken–and how to fix them.
7 Common Grilled Chicken Mistakes and How to Fix Them. These are some of the most common errors that result in underwhelming grilled chicken. Happily, each of them are easy to remedy, and easy solutions are outlined.
1. You don’t add flavor. There’s a reason why grilled chicken has a reputation as being bland: because people forget to add flavor! They focus so much on the pomp and circumstance that goes with lighting and laying the chicken on the grill that they forget to season the meat with salt and pepper.
Fix it: It’s great to have perfect char marks, but the chicken will miss the mark if it has no flavor. Don’t forget to liberally season with salt, and pepper before grilling. When I say “liberally”, I mean be generous: coat the surface of the chicken. Some people will even soak their chicken in a salt water mixture before grilling. Not only will seasonings like salt help seal in moisture, but they will impart a ton of flavor to your finished chicken.
2. You add barbecue sauce before you put the chicken on the grill. Now, this might get confusing when I just told you to amp up the flavor of your chicken. Yes, you should season your chicken before cooking–with salt and pepper. But don’t slather on the barbecue sauce until you’re nearly finished cooking the meat.
Why? Typically, barbecue sauces contain sugar, which brown more rapidly than the meat. This can give a false visual indication of doneness on the chicken. Even if it looks perfectly browned on the exterior, it might be undercooked inside. Then again, if you keep cooking until your chicken reaches the the FDA-approved internal temperature of 165 degrees F, the exterior may have progressed past cooked and into charred territory.
Fix it: Add the bbq sauce when you have just a minute or so left to cook. You’ll be rewarded with flavorful, non-burned chicken with bbq sauce.
3. You have the temperature set too high. Unlike steak, which requires a high heat to sear and quickly cook on a grill, chicken will burn on the outside while not fully cooking on the inside if the heat is too high. Chicken will cook more evenly and thoroughly with a lower temperature.
Fix it: Medium-low on a charcoal grill, or medium on a gas grill, are ideal settings for letting your chicken cook at the appropriate pace. Shifting the chicken midway through cooking can help compensate for hotter spots on the grill.
4. You walk away from the grill. While a lower temperature and slower cook time is the way to go with grilling chicken, don’t get bored and walk away from the grill. The difference between just right and overdone, meaning dry and stringy chicken, can be mere moments. Staying nearby and keeping an eye on the chicken so you can see if certain parts are getting too hot, you can keep things moving on the grill and ensure even cooking.
Fix it: Stay by the grill. By keeping an eye on the grill at all times while you cook your chicken, you will be better able to monitor the progress of the grilling chicken, so that you’ll know when to flip or shift the chicken before it scorches or dries out. This “babysitting” the grill can help you produce perfect batch of grilled chicken.
5. You cook chicken with and without skin the same way. Chicken with skin should be treated differently than chicken that does not have skin. Think of the chicken with skin as having a lot more insulation. If you’re cooking a boneless, skinless chicken breast, it will need to cook for slightly less time than bone-in or with-skin chicken cuts, or it will dry out. The bone-in or with-skin cuts will need a little more time to cook, and will be a little more forgiving with cook time.
Fix it: Cook boneless, skinless chicken for slightly less time than bone-in or skinned varieties.
6. You rely only on visual cues to determine doneness. Relying on what you see on the grill is not always the most reliable way to tell if your chicken is done.
There are different visual factors that can give false indications of doneness, such as pronounced char grill marks, sugary sauces darkening before the meat is cooked, or a too-high temperature on the grill, which has cooked the outside of the chicken while the inside remains raw and pink.
Using an instant read meat thermometer is a sure fire way to know if the chicken has cooked to the FDA-approved internal temperature of 165 degrees F. You can take the chicken off the grill once it reaches 160 degrees F or so, as the temperature will continue to rise slightly even after it is removed from heat.
Be sure to let the chicken rest for a few minutes before serving so the cooking can complete. Don’t want to use a meat thermometer? Well, it might turn out fine, it might not. Is it worth the risk?
Fix it: Get a good, instant-read meat thermometer.
7. You use low quality meat. Tempted by cheap chicken? Don’t be. When you’re grilling, since you’re treating the ingredients quite simply, the true flavor of the meat will shine through. This means that the better quality the meat you use, the better your end result will be. Even if you’re the best grill-master in the world, if you use meat of dubious quality, the finished results will be unpredictable.
Fix it: Purchase the best quality chicken you can, from a trusted source. Even subtly different wordings on labels can have very different meanings in terms of where the meat comes from and how the chickens are raised. Educate yourself on commercial chicken labels to learn what terms like organic, free-range, and pesticide-free mean in terms of the poultry you are buying.
Perfectly grilled chicken is accessible to anybody. While it’s not difficult to do, there is definitely an art to the proper technique. By learning about these common grilling chicken mistakes and how to fix them, you’re now better educated to hit the world grilling, with delicious results.
Do you have a favorite tip for grilling chicken?