As I travel around the country, I notice there’s one major grilling dilemma that consistently confounds outdoor cooks: how to keep boneless chicken breasts from drying out on the grill. You can blame it on the grill’s dry high heat, which gives food an intense flavor but also has a tendency to dry out lean cuts of meat. Fortunately, there’s more than one solution to this problem. My strategies include coating the chicken breasts with rubs and glazes, soaking them in a quick brine, pounding them thinly, or grilling them under a brick—a real conversation starter. Each method will help keep your grilled chicken moist and flavorful and make it the star of your summer barbecues.
The three rules of great grilling
Whenever I grill chicken breasts (or anything else, for that matter), I use the following guidelines to minimize sticking and maximize flavor and grill marks:
Keep it hot. Heat your gas grill to high or build a “three Mississippi” fire in a charcoal grill. For the latter, hold your hand about four inches above the grate. Start counting “one Mississippi, two Mississippi…” and by “three Mississippi,” the intense heat should force you to snatch your hand away.
Keep it clean. Scrub the hot grate thoroughly with a stiff wire brush. This dislodges any debris and minimizes sticking. If you don’t have a grill brush, use a crumpled ball of aluminum foil and hold it with tongs.
Keep it lubricated. Roll a paper towel into a small ball, dip it in vegetable or olive oil, and using tongs, rub it over the bars of the grill grate. Oiling the grill helps prevent sticking, and it helps you get great grill marks.
1. Rubs and glazes add flavor fast
A rub is a mix of herbs and spices that gives meat a savory crust. It can be “dry” (made with dried or powdered seasonings) or “wet” (with vinegar, oil, beer, or other liquid added). A rub is a handy way to add flavor quickly, since it can be patted on just before grilling. For richer, more complex flavor, I’ll let the rub season the meat for an hour or two before grilling.
A glaze is usually a syrupy mixture of butter or oil, a sweetener (like brown sugar or honey), and often a spirit (like bourbon or rum). I like to apply glazes to chicken halfway through grilling. They serve a dual purpose: They add an extra layer of flavor, and they give the finished chicken a shiny, browned appearance.