The chicken was domesticated 10,000 years ago for fighting, not eating. Even well into the 20th century most chickens were found around farm yards and backyards pecking for food and laying eggs. That changed after World War II and by the 1990s chicken consumption had flown past beef. Americans eat some nine billion birds per year – about 30 for every man, woman and child.
Chicken is the favorite cut of meat to grill by some counts and grill masters must stay vigilant to keep the lean birds moist and tender against the drying forces of high heat. Here are 5 ways to grill chicken to perfection:
1. Rubs and Glazes
A “dry” rub is a blend of spices massaged into the meat to inject flavor and produce a savory crust; it is applied between one and two hours before reaching the grill. A “wet” rub features oil or vinegar or even beer and can be applied right at the grill. Wet rubs not only lock in juices but also keep the chicken from sticking to the grill grate. Sweet-flavored glazes are brushed on during grilling to deliver that magazine-cover look to the finished bird.
A bath of no more than three hours in a salt solution is a time-honored way to keep the juices flowing once the chicken hits the grill. Complex flavors beyond brine can be introduced through marinating – coffee, brown sugar, citrus, red pepper, cinnamon and chili powder are all candidates to be drafted into the game here.
3. Under A Brick
A brick – or any chicken breast-sized heavy object – is a potent weapon in a grill master’s arsenal. Wrapped in aluminum foil and placed on top of a chicken breast, the brick performs three duties: it compresses the meat into a consistent thickness for even cooking; it helps keep juices inside by covering them up; and presses killer grill marks into the meat.
4. Beer Cans
When grilling whole chickens over indirect heat (the proper way to cook the bird), using a half-consumed can of beer with puncture holes to prop the bird off the fire is a showstopper technique. The chicken browns magnificently and the fat drains away to leave a crunchy, flavorful skin. The vertical roasting also cooks both dark meat and white meat to proper temperatures since the legs (requiring 180 degrees) are closer to the heat than the breasts (requiring 160 degrees).
The best way to grill chicken is in parts but the next best thing for whole birds is to “butterfly” the bird with three knife cuts to spread out the chicken like an open book. This configuration promotes even cooking across the breast, thighs and legs of the bird.