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A delicious deep dive into BBQ Chicken basics from Big K

An illustrated entire BBQ chicken lies in the foreground while embers fly off a burning charcoal pile and hot grill

Why did the chicken cross the road?  To get to the nearest grill, because once it had heard that we were sharing all our BBQ chicken knowledge, our feathered friend was instilled with a stoic sense of calm, knowing that it would truly go out in a blaze of glory. If our somewhat surrealist scene setting has you scratching your head in bemusement, no need to worry. Basically we’re digging into the Big K info vault to bring you all the BBQ chicken insights, ideas and recipes you’ll ever need.

Let’s start with the BBQ chicken basics

Perhaps some of you are thinking that this is a little basic right?  After all, you took your poultry-based stabilisers off your BBQ bike a long time ago. Congrats are in order. However for many it is new territory and actually, once you peck beyond the surface, a world of BBQ chicken intricacies emerges into view. We’re talking about grilling and marinade times relating to body part, on the bone versus breast, the apex moment to add BBQ sauce and so much more. Feeling plucky? (OK no more terrible puns we promise…hopefully) Let’s go.

How long to BBQ chicken perfectly?

It could be argued that BBQ chicken flies a little under the radar, and there may be some truth in that. Think about it, chicken gets lumped into the classic grill pantheon alongside hotdogs and hamburgers.  And therein lies the problem. BBQ chicken takes more time to cook than these other classic characters and it requires a lower heat, however it is often thrown on the grill at the same time. This can often lead to an undercooked pinky nightmare or an over-charred black-tastrophe. BBQ chicken is a different animal…literally. Here come some essential points for your cerebral sponge to absorb.

BBQ chicken skewers sizzle gently on the grill

How to cook chicken on your BBQ grill? It’s all about heat and timing

BBQ chicken 101 here people. You need to go low and slow, not hot and fast. This means moderating the heat output of your barbecue and avoiding direct grilling for the most part. Don’t waste time looking for a non-existent knob (unless you have a gas grill), you regulate the heat output by how you arrange your hot coals. So how to cook chicken on charcoal? Simply set the coals all on one side, so that you create a cooler indirect heat area for your BBQ chicken. Alternatively you can place your chicken on the top rack of the grill, farther away from the heat (see our previous blog for more charcoal-centric heat output insights). Not to sound too dramatic, but the ultimate fate of your BBQ chicken lies in your charcoal’s hands. So make sure you have high quality charcoal that delivers. It’s a good thing that we’ve got all the charcoal you could ever dream of to get the job done perfectly – whether you’re starting out or a BBQ veteran.  This isn’t hyperbole. It’s what we do. Explore our charcoal range for yourself. 

To achieve a crisply coated skin and internal succulence, you are looking at a cooking time of between 1 and 2 hours depending on the thickness and the body part of your chicken. Remember you want low and slow, rather than hot and fast. So to summarise you can indeed grill a chicken breast, but thighs, wings and legs crave some temporal TLC so relax, slow down and let the indirect heat do the work.

A cluster of colourful BBQ chicken legs sprinkled with garnish nestle in tin foil

How Long to BBQ chicken? Check the grilling times

Chicken breast, bone-in – 10 – 12 ounces – 30 to 40 minutes over indirect medium heat.

Chicken leg or thigh, bone-in – 30 to 40 minutes over indirect medium heat.

Chicken wing, bone in – 10,12 ounces 20-30 mins over indirect medium heat.

Chicken breast, boneless, skinless – 6 – 8 ounces – 8 to 12 minutes over direct medium heat.

A few quick notes here, chicken breasts are best grilled using direct heat. Low and slow tends to dry out the breasts leading to rubbery and jaw-ache inducing pieces of sadness. To skin or not to skin? That is the culinary question. We would suggest keeping the skin on your BBQ chicken pieces. It acts as a barrier trapping in all the flavour, moisture and succulence needed for mind-meltingly good BBQ chicken. You can always peel it off before serving if you wish.

How can I tell when my BBQ chicken is done?

Ah yes, the quintessential BBQ chicken question. Clear juices versus red juices. White meat versus pink meat. There are several rough approximations we can make with the eye, however none of these can ensure total accuracy all of the time. You need to be sure your chicken is cooked to perfection otherwise you may be giving your BBQ guests a serious serving of sickness.

To know if chicken is cooked, we need to think in terms of temperature. Why?  This is because it is the heat that ultimately destroys all the harmful bacteria within the meat.  So the most fool proof way to know when your BBQ chicken is done is to insert a well-calibrated instant-read thermometer into the meat as you approach the end of your approximate cooking time. Just ensure that you are not hitting any bone when you insert the thermometer.  If it reads between 165°F (74°C) and 175°F (80°C), your bird is good to go.  You should cook your breasts at 165°F for maximum juicy goodness, any higher and you’ll be entering dusty Dry Ville – and no one wants to live there.  Thighs, legs and wings usually straddle the 170-175°F zone. This temperature sweet spot always delivers flavours and textures that burst onto the palette.

A close up shot of a BBQ chicken leg and thigh covered in BBQ sauce

When is it time to get saucy with my BBQ chicken?

Let’s recap. Now you’re up to speed with BBQ chicken cooking times and techniques. And you know the best way to check that your chook is perfectly cooked. What’s next?  Enter the BBQ sauce. Yes this sweet, tangy and luscious liquid lies waiting to be lathered, taking your chicken into flavour overload. But when is the best time to sauce things up? Some simply can’t wait, channelling the spirit of Jackson Pollock and unleashing splatters of BBQ sauce left, right and center before even firing up the grill. This is understandable but perhaps not the best approach.

Essentially the goal is to create crispy, golden brown and well-seasoned skin with amazingly juicy meat on the inside.  News flash, drowning your chicken in BBQ sauce before grilling will make this end goal unreachable. It’s basic culinary chemistry. The water in the sauce will affect the Malliard reaction don’t you know? This is just a technical way of saying that the process of browning and crisping will be seriously affected by your pre-grill BBQ sauce bathing.  In fact, there is a high probability that (once you light things up) your sauce will burn up into the fiery ether way before your BBQ chicken is ready to be eaten.

As with so much of the advice we give you, it all boils down to basic common sense. That being said, the best time to sauce your grilled chicken is just before it is cooked. Feel free to season your chicken, coat it in butter oil or read it a final bedtime story before the blazing begins. However save the saucing for when the chick is a few minutes off being done and dusted. Remember, you’re not trying to cook the sauce. You want it to simply bind with the skin, which takes no more than a few minutes. Ballpark we’re talking about a few coats, exposed to heat for about 30-60 seconds each. This will ensure that your BBQ chicken sauce reduces and forms a gorgeous glaze. Now you didn’t think we’d leave you and your taste buds salivating in a pool of drool without a quick pay off?  Here’s a smother-tastic and stupendously sticky BBQ sauce recipe just for you. You’re welcome obvs.

How to marinate chicken for your BBQ

Marinades can add a touch of taste-based mystery and foundation flavour to your BBQ or grilled chicken.  Recently, we went into some serious details on marinades, so we’ll just do a quick review. Basically, chicken is a relatively thin and light protein. This means that its structure is less dense than that of pork or beef, so marinades get to work and penetrate the meat fairly quickly. This is where people go wrong, soaking their chicken for an eternity forming either a soggy sob story or a terribly tough time for teeth, depending on whether the marinade is enzymatic or acidic respectively. BBQ chemistry is awesome! No need to maraud through the mist of ambiguity.

Here are some facts and figures on chicken marinade times to clear things up.

 

Cut Minimum Maximum
Whole chicken 4 hours 12 hours
Boneless, Skinless Breasts 30 mins 2 hours
Bone in, Skin on breasts 1 hour 4 hours
Skinless thighs (bone in) 1 hour 4 hours
Wings (skin on) 2 hours 6 hours
Legs (skin on) 2 hours 6 hours

 

A succulent and salivating BBQ chicken recipe

Well that’s the theoretical and the informative covered thanks to these BBQ chicken ideas. But tasty lies in the tangible. It’s time to put your knowledge into practice. To give you a helping hand, here’s a quick Greek BBQ chicken recipe to bring a slightly herby twist into the mix. If you give it a go, why not let us know and social and we’ll share your pics and vids with the wider Big K family.

That’s all from us for now. We’re sure you are equipped to tackle any BBQ chicken challenge with all this information and insight stored in your memory bank. Stay tuned for more content.