To Grill, Or Not To Grill (Chicken that is)

Everyone has grilled chicken. And everyone has failed, at least a few times. Who hasn’t opened the lid of the grill to find little chips of carbon where your beautiful free-range chicken used to be? I got tired of tending the grill and having to deal with the constant flares of burning chicken fat, the skin stuck to the grill and, worst of all, a mouth full of dried, charred chicken.

Obviously, I am talking about high-temperature cooking, otherwise known as grilling. But, the trick to great chicken is simple — low-temperature cooking. I don’t mean the traditional low-temperature, long, indirect cooking that is the backbone of great barbecue. What I am talking about is a modification of barbecuing that allows the chicken to cook to perfection without drying or, even worse, toasting.

I start with the chicken cut into serving pieces. I usually cut the ribs out of the breasts and then cut each breast in half if they are large; otherwise, leave them whole. Trimming excess fat seems to be a good idea, if not for the cooking process, than certainly for my waistline. And that last bit of the wing? Clip it off! Who eats that?

The next step is what makes this dish work. I use my basic barbecue dry rub to season the chicken. Any dry rub will work; it doesn’t have to be traditional. As long as the rub has some sugar in it, you will be successful. Just put the chicken in a 1-gallon ZipLoc bag, along with your dry rub, and shake away! Make sure that the chicken is completely coated and then stick it in the refrigerator for a few hours to as long as a day.

Cooking is simple, and it doesn’t require constant tending. Just heat your grill to about 250 degrees. Most grills have 2 or 3 burners, so use just one of them. If you are using charcoal, pile it up on one side of the grill. Then put the chicken pieces anywhere on the grill except directly over the burner that is on. I try to keep the chicken as far away from the flame as possible. It’s okay if the pieces touch. Close the lid and cook for 10-15 minutes. Check how it looks, flip the pieces, and cook for another 15 minutes. Repeat. Total cooking time should be 45-60 minutes.

The sugars will slowly caramelize and create a nice crust. The meat will be amazingly juicy and tender, and most of the fat will have rendered. The nice thing about this technique is that if you cook the chicken for an extra 5 minutes, it won’t burn. If you want the chicken to be even crispier, just turn up the heat for a few minutes and open the lid. But be careful, that is the kind of cooking that ends by ordering a pizza.

I haven’t written a more formal recipe because it is difficult to make a mistake with this technique. I have varied pretty much everything and it has still turned out well. Just don’t cook over direct heat, and don’t cook at too high a temperature and you will be happy with the results.

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