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That beautiful caramel shade with grill marks, oozing with delicious juices – grilled chicken breasts are, no doubt, the perfect meal! Whether you serve it with a side of fries, baked potatoes, corn on the cub, add it to pasta or salads, or make a mighty burger – it is an inexpensive, versatile and healthy addition to the menu.
When you bite into a grilled chicken dish, you expect to experience that tender, juicy goodness bursting with flavor. But, what if all you taste is bland, chalky dryness? Sadly, that is what happens when the chicken is overcooked. Grilling chicken breasts can prove to be challenging since the meat is slightly lean and without the skin or bones to insulate it. The chicken can quickly dry out or get overcooked. Grilling chicken on a charcoal grill may be more challenging for you, mainly if you are new to it. Charcoal grills are slightly complicated to master, but will give you the best tasting meat! Fortunately, with simple steps and tips, you can grill your chicken breast on a charcoal grill to its perfect juiciness.
Step 1: Prepping the Chicken Breast
The secret to grilling moist tender chicken breasts is all in preparation. The following steps will help you cook chicken on a charcoal grill with the best results:
Tenderizing the Chicken
First of all, you need to tenderize the chicken. Try to select breast pieces that are about the same size. If you are using frozen chicken, thaw it before getting started.
So how do you tenderize chicken? It is effortless. Take a plastic wrap or a parchment paper on the surface, place the chicken breasts on it, and then cover with another wrap or sheet. You can also place your chicken breasts in a freezer bag. This step is crucial if you don’t want to end up with meat splatters all over your kitchen counter. Grab a rolling pin or a meat mallet and start smashing! Start with the thickest area of the meat. Give it a few good smacks to even it out. Try to even out the chicken as much as you possibly can. This step is necessary to ensure that your chicken is grilled evenly and reduce the chances of it drying out in certain areas. You will be surprised to know how many people skip this step. The thickness of the meat determines the right cooking time of the chicken. I prefer to get a depth of ¾ inches. If you have selected smaller pieces, you might not need to smack them as much. Just enough to make them all about the same thickness.
Next is the marination of the chicken. You can mix your preferred herbs and sauces, depending on the meat flavor you want. You can get the simplest marinade by mixing the pepper, salt, lemon juice, vinegar, and olive oil. The oil is essential because it helps hold moisture during grilling. It also enhances those grill marks and ensures that the meat properly absorbs seasoning. If you want to take your grilling to the next level, experiment with different sauces. One of my personal favorites is the selection of delicious seasoning from the Grill Masters Club. Their box offers a variety of condiments you can soak your chicken in before you start grilling.
Whichever marinade sauce you choose, pour it in a medium-sized pan or bowl. Next, place the chicken breast inside to coat it with the mixture. Flip the chicken to cover the other side as well and put it on another platter. Repeat this step with all the breast pieces. Once done, place the marinated chicken in the fridge. Leave it there for at least 30 minutes or more. In comparison to pork and beef, you don’t have to marinate your chicken for too long, mainly if you have used acidic ingredients, like lemon juice and vinegar. It will take 30 minutes to three hours for the marinade to work its magic.
If you are planning on skipping this step, don’t! The marinade is how your meat will stay juicy and flavorful.
Step 2: Getting the Charcoal Grill Running
When dinnertime looming closer, start preparing the grill to cook the chicken. Here are the things you need to do to make sure your charcoal grill is ready:
Lighting up the Charcoal
Lighting up the charcoal is one of the most pressing questions people ask when cooking on a charcoal grill. It is easy to get overboard and stuff the barbecue with charcoal, but you will end up burning the chicken breasts within a few minutes. Adding tiny lumps will take ages to cook the meat.
Here are three ways to determine the amount of charcoal to be used and how to light it up:
Pyramid Style: Place the briquettes to create a pyramid and then add the lighter fluid and light them up.
Electric Starter: Arrange the briquettes to create a pyramid and then right in the middle of the coals, insert the electric starter. Plug the electric starter in and wait for the charcoal to light up, which typically takes about eight to ten minutes.
Chimney Starter: This is the most commonly used way of lighting the charcoal grill. Crumple up some paper and spread on the grill rack. Place the starter on top of the paper and then fill it up with briquettes. Light the paper up, and the coals will start burning up. Once they are ready, remove them from the chimney starter and spread on the grill.
Determining the Amount of Charcoal
The amount of charcoal you should use depends on the level of heat you need to cook the meat. If you want to grill on high heat, the chimney should be full (ideal for steaks and thin cut meats). If you are cooking with medium heat, fill up the stack halfway up (suitable for seafood, veggies, and chicken). For low heat, fill the chimney ¼ way up (ideal for smoking, larger roasts, whole poultry, and pork ribs). Since you are grilling chicken breast, fill up the chimney halfway and light the coals up. There are two ways of grilling meat – direct heat or indirect heat. If you want to feast on juicy chicken breasts, opt for a combination of indirect and direct heat.
Place all the charcoal on one side of your grill and light them up. Then, you will cook the meat on one side of the grill and move it to the other side for the best results.
Preheating and Oiling the Grate
You should never cook meat on a cold grill as you will end up overcooking it. You won’t get those beautiful grill marks either. Therefore, always preheat the grill for a few minutes before you start cooking. Oiling the grate is equally essential to prevent the meat from sticking to the grill. Keep in mind that you should always oil the grates before you place them over the hot coals for safety reasons.
Step 3: Starting the Cooking Process
Adding Chicken Breasts
Always wear gloves and use tongs when placing the chicken breasts on the charcoal grill. Once the coals start glowing red, begin cooking the chicken through both direct and indirect heat method. Begin with the indirect heat side. First, cook the meat for a few minutes on one side to seal the juices in. Close the lid to make sure the chicken cooks through. Flip to the other side and cook for one minute. Always utilize an instant-read thermometer to make sure the chicken is grilled to the right temperature; it will also prevent the chances of overcooking the meat. Once the thermometer reads 150 degrees, immediately move it to the direct heat side. Now, you have to keep a close watch on the meat. Keep rotating and flipping until you get that beautiful golden-brown skin.
Learning Vent Control
Since there are no dials or knobs on a charcoal grill to adjust the temperature, you can manage the heat of the coals by controlling the oxygen flow using the vents.
When you open the vent, the coals get more oxygen, and the grill becomes hotter. Adjust the vent accordingly, but avoid closing them all the way, or it will suffocate your fire.
Step 4: Savoring the Meal
Once you have cooked the chicken breasts, remove them from the grill and place it on the platter. Let the chicken sit for at least five minutes as this will ensure the juices inside will be distributed back in the meat instead of running on the plate. Take this time to set the table and finalize the side dishes. However, if you have more time, then make sure to cover your chicken with foil to maintain its tenderness. Serve the juicy grilled chicken with some mashed potatoes, grilled vegetables, or rice. Don’t forget a glass of wine to complement the meal. There is a range of artisan and high rated handcrafted wines you can order from California Wine Club, which would be great with the chicken. Delicious grilled chicken breasts make a perfect, not to mention, healthy alternative for the main course for any occasion. Grilled chicken can always be used in a variety of dishes. Best of all, the leftover chicken is perfect for making a sandwich, salad, or add to pasta for lunch the next day!
Grilling chicken on a charcoal grill is all about technique and timing. These steps will make sure that when you grill chicken breasts they will be moist and tender.