If you just want a quick dinner, throw some boneless, skinless chicken breasts over direct heat, and 15 minutes later, dinner’s ready. But bone-in chicken parts deliver much more flavor. This episode shows a few tricks for grilling bone-in chicken parts so they cook all the way through without getting burnt on the outside. The secrets are a brine that adds both flavor and moisture, as well as a two-zone fire.
A buttermilk brine for tenderness and flavor
This buttermilk-brined chicken recipe is inspired by classic Southern fried chicken, including a traditional soak in buttermilk. That tradition has very solid roots in food science: the calcium in dairy marinades (including yogurt as well as buttermilk) activates enzymes in the meat that start to break down the proteins, tenderizing the meat in the process. The salt in the brine helps to tenderize, and also seasons the chicken through to the bone. After soaking the chicken overnight in the brine, pat it dry thoroughly before grilling; too much buttermilk clinging to the meat will slow down the cooking.
Combination cooking: Essential for bone-in chicken
While thin, boneless cuts cook up quickly over a hot, direct fire, bone-in chicken parts require a slower cooking method so the outside doesn’t burn before the inside cooks fully. The solution is a combination cooking method: you start the chicken out over a direct fire to brown the outside and crisp the skin, then move the chicken to the cooler zone to complete the cooking with indirect heat.
During the indirect cooking, be sure to keep your grill lid closed, to maintain a constant temperature; the grill thermometer should stay close to 325° F the whole time. Large bone-in chicken breasts will roast for about 40 to 45 minutes in this manner; if you’re substituting chicken legs or thighs, start checking earlier.
When an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the chicken breast or thigh reads 165° F, brush the chicken with your favorite barbecue sauce, and put it back over the direct fire for a few minutes more to caramelize the sauce.
The final step is to let the chicken rest for at least 5 minutes after it comes off the grill. This lets the juices redistribute, so the chicken meat is evenly moist throughout.