Thursday, July 09, 2009

Grilling Chicken

I am going to tell you a secret- I can't cook chicken without the help of my trusty friend the meat thermometer. I have an unhealthy attachment to it- to the point where I get very nervous and anxious when I have to cook chicken without it. I love Mr. Meat Thermometer and he helps me weekly to make moist, but appropriately cooked poultry. We usually do this together by my preparing the meat, sticking the thermometer in the biggest piece, and then he alerts me when my chicken is a recommended 170 degrees. Easy as that.

It's not as easy on the grill, because if you stick a big hole in your chicken while it's caramelizing it's going to lose all its juices. So, like a child without a security blanket, I stress that from the grill either my chicken is going to give us all a foodborne illness or else be chalk dry or rubbery. Well, no one does grilling like Texans, so it's fitting that I found this article about how to grill perfect chicken on your BBQ- bone in even! It even involves the use of my best friend meat thermometer at the very end just to make sure the chicken is at the right temp. A good compromise, I think. Here is the article!

How to grill bone in chicken breasts

I can grill up a burger, hot dog or even a swordfish steak with the best. But truth be told, perfecting the chicken breast — juicy in the middle, caramelized exterior — is a nerve-racking experience.

But it can be done with a little grill sense.

First, forget the image of Tony Soprano standing at the gas grill, lid open, a stogie in one hand and the other constantly poking at the meat with an oversized fork. Other than the cigar, he's breaking all the rules.

Unlike tossing a burger on the grill for a few minutes, cooking bone-in chicken breasts to a tender finish requires slow cooking (an hour or more) with indirect heat — cooking near the flame, not over it.

Why bone-in breasts? I think they are more tender than boneless, especially when grilled slowly over low heat. If you prefer to go boneless, note that the cooking time is significantly less (about 20 minutes) and uses direct heat.

To skin or not? I leave the skin on because it keeps the chicken moist and, frankly, it tastes great, especially when it's crispy and infused with a smoky sweetness from grilling. Plus, once cooked it's easily removed, if desired.

Let's take this step by step.

Step 1 — Clean your cooking grate! It's not a badge of grilling honor to have a caked up grate; it's unhealthy.

Elizabeth Karmel, a competitive barbecuer and author of "Taming the Flame" offers this tip: Heat the grate before cleaning it. This helps loosen the grit, which then is easily removed with a wire brush. A clean grill also reduces sticking.

Step 2 — Prep the chicken while your grill is heating. And if you're using charcoal, don't use lighter fluid. It will affect the flavor. I prefer using a chimney starter, but all you really need are two pages from a newspaper and a match.

While chicken can be marinated hours ahead, remember that it won't be any more succulent if you dry it out on the grill. I prefer giving the chicken a simple run of oil, salt, pepper and sugar just before grilling.

For fans of barbecue sauce: Wait until the final 20 minutes of cooking to apply it, otherwise it will burn.

Step 3 —Once the coals on a charcoal grill are a gray-white ash, you're ready to cook. Using a poker, divide the coals into two piles, pushing each to one side of the grill.

On a gas grill, turn off the middle burner and lower the heat on the side burners to medium. Place a pan between the coals or flames beneath the grate to catch fat drippings and help prevent flareups.

Don't use a spray bottle to battle the flames because the spray could get on the chicken. It also causes unwanted steam. Removing the chicken from the grill before spraying could affect cooking time and tear the skin.

Step 4 —Arrange your chicken with the skin side up over the center of the grill so the pieces are not over the flames or hot coals. Cover the grill, leaving any vents open, and walk away.

If you have that Tony Soprano urge to poke, consider this: Piercing the skin of the chicken allows the juices to run out. Turning the meat too soon causes it to stick. Lifting the lid reduces the temperature and increases cooking time.

So I repeat — walk away from the grill.

Step 5 —Depending on the size of the pieces and outdoor temperature, you'll learn to predict how long it'll take the chicken to cook. For now, turn after about 30 minutes. Then 30 minutes later, use an instant-read thermometer to check the temperature. Insert the thermometer at the thickest part of the chicken without touching bone.

Step 6 —Remove the chicken from the grill when the white meat has reached a temperature of 165 F. Let the breasts sit for 10 minutes before serving to let the juices settle and allow the meat to continue cooking (thanks to residual heat) to the federally recommended 170 F.

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