I’m sorry to disappoint you if you ever believed otherwise, but only a fraction of the recipes on this site come from a place of adoration — i.e. I’ve always loved this dish, thus we all need to make it at home. A far greater amount come from befuddlement that people are so into something I find so unspecial. Maybe it’s not as bad as it sounds. I mean, would you rather get a recipe for a dish from someone who loved it to the moon and back and may not see its flaws or from a deep skeptic that had to be convinced by an exceptional version? Or so I tell us as a long windup to the fact that there are probably few summer dishes I like less than grilled chicken. Let’s take something that already leans dry and cook it for what is usually way too long and make it more dry! Here’s a thick sweet sauce that almost guarantees there will be little texture or color on the outside. I’m not saying that good grilled chicken doesn’t exist (I like this and that one, for example, and yours, yours is fantastic), it’s just far less common than bad grilled chicken.
This recipe is for all three of you who have not left the room after reading the above. Like last week’s raspberry crumble tart bar recipe, it was inspired by Ruth Reichl’s list of favorite recipes from her Gourmet years, however, it’s less an adaptation of the 2003 recipe from John Willoughby and John Schlesigner’s recipe and more a “Yay! That’s my favorite way to grill chicken too!” What we all agree on is that perfect grilled chicken — I mean, exceptional grilled chicken, grilled chicken that’s forgiving of human (whoops I left it on a couple minutes too long), grill (my grill suggests heat more than it blasts it), and chicken (look, I got what the grocery store had in stock that day) imperfections — has three distinct steps: brining the chicken, grilling it, and then tossing it in a brightening vinaigrette or sauce to finish. It makes the kind of grilled chicken I want a second piece of, which is unprecedented enough that my husband dropped his jaw when I reached for it. It makes the kind of grilled chicken I want to make twice a month for the rest of the summer. It makes the kind of chicken I think would make all of our weekends more delicious.
See also: My slow-and-low dry-rub oven chicken also begins with a brine.
One year ago: Garlic-Lime Steak and Noodle Salad
Two years ago: The Red and Black
Three years ago: Cucumber Yogurt Raita Salad and Chicken Gyro Salad
Four years ago: Pasta Salad with Roasted Tomatoes and Picnic Pink Lemonade
Five years ago: Nancy’s Chopped Salad
Six years ago: Lobster and Potato Salad
Seven years ago: Rhubarb Snacking Cake
Eight years ago: Strawberry Summer Cake and Spring Salad with New Potatoes
Nine years ago: Creamed Chard and Spring Onions, Avocado Salad with Carrot-Ginger Dressing and Homemade Pop Tarts
Ten years ago: Slaw Tartare and Strawberry Shortcakes
Eleven years ago: Cherry Cornmeal Upside-Down Cake and Molly’s Dry-Rubbed Ribs
Twelve years ago: Coconut Pinkcherry Yogurt and Strawberry-Rhubarb Crumble
And for the other side of the world:
Six Months Ago: Chocolate Caramel Tart, Falafel and Baklava Babka
1.5 Years Ago: Salted Butter Chocolate Chunk Shortbread
2.5 Years Ago: Spinach Sheet Pan Quiche and Chocolate Caramel Crunch Almonds
3.5 Years Ago: Roasted Leek and White Bean Galettes, and Date Breakfast Squares
4.5 Years Ago: Cranberry Pie with Thick Pecan Crumble and Twice-Baked Potatoes with Kale
Exceptional Grilled Chicken
- 2 quarts cold water
- 2 tablespoons granulated or brown sugar
- 1/4 cup Diamond kosher salt (use half if any other brand)
- 3 1/2 pounds chicken parts with skin and bones
- Oil for grill
- One of the three vinaigrettes, below
Make your vinaigrette: Whisk together one of the ingredient combinations below in a large bowl, and set aside.
Prepare your grill: If using a gas grill, heat all burners to high for 10 minutes, then adjust to moderately high right before you add the chicken. If using a charcoal grill and you have room enough to do so, leave about one-quarter of grill free of charcoal and heat the rest of the charcoals until they’re grayish-white, about 15 minutes.
Grill your chicken: Lightly oil your grill racks. Arrange chicken on racks, cover with lid, and cook until well=browned, turning over once, about 6 to 8 minutes total for smaller parts (wings, thighs, and drumsticks) and 8 to 10 minutes for breasts.
Once chicken is well-browned, if you’re using a gas grill with multiple sections, turn off the center heat and move chicken pieces onto it. If you’re using a gas grill with one heat control, reduce it to medium. If you’re using a charcoal grill and have left an area free of charcoal, move the chicken onto it.
Cook browned chicken, covered with lid, moving chicken around grill as needed and turning over occasionally, until cooked through, anywhere from 12 to 20 minutes (less for smaller parts, of course; gas grills tend to take longer) or until a thermometer inserted into the deepest part of your piece of chicken is 160 to 165 degrees.*
When chicken is almost done, place lemon or lime halves, if using, cut sides down, uncovered, over lit burner until grill marks appear, about 2 to 3 minutes.
To finish: Transfer chicken to bowl with vinaigrette and toss to evenly coat. You can also cover this bowl with foil to keep it warm until needed. Serve grilled chicken with grilled lemons or limes, if using, and any extra vinaigrette on the side.
About temperatures: The USDA recommends 165 degrees F, but the heat will continue to rise after you take the chicken off the grill, so I take mine off at 160 degrees.
About thermometers: A good recipe is one thing, but nothing will more quickly help you perfect any cooked meat dish, grilled or roasted, than a thermometer. For years, I somewhat resisted recommending my favorite (a Thermapen) because it was expensive; it makes sense for people who cook or develop recipes for a living. However, they released a much less expensive one a few years ago (ThermoPop), and it works just as well — I immediately bought one and often buy it as a gift. Not sponsored, but I hope that goes without saying for every single thing on this site.
- Garlic-lime-herb: Whisk 2 tablespoons lime juice, 1 tablespoon fish sauce, 1 minced garlic clove, 1/2 teaspoon dark brown sugar, Sriracha (to taste) together in a bowl. Slowly drizzle in 1/4 cup of a neutral oil, whisking the whole time. Stir in 1/4 cup chopped mint or cilantro, or a mix thereof. Have two limes, halved crosswise, ready to grill and serve.
- Lemon-herb: Whisk 2 tablespoons lemon juice, 1 minced garlic clove, 2 teaspoons minced fresh rosemary or oregano, or a mix thereof, 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, and 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes together in a bowl. Slowly drizzle in 1/4 cup olive oil, whisking the whole time. Stir in 2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley. Have two lemons, halved crosswise, ready to grill and serve.
- Salsa verde: Blend 1 cup roughly chopped herbs (ideally mostly parsley plus a mix of mint, cilantro, thyme and any other herbs you’d like with chicken) with 2 cloves garlic, 1 anchovy, and 1 teaspoon capers with 1/4 cup olive oil in a food processor. (Or, finely mince everything by hand.) Add the juice of half a lemon. Adjust to taste, adding more lemon or olive oil as needed. If you wish, have two lemons, halved crosswise, ready to grill and serve.