How To Grill Chicken Perfectly

This grilled chicken is pre-cooked in the oven (low and slow) before hitting the grill.  That way, you know it’s fully cooked and juicy so you can relax and enjoy your guests without worrying about feeding them under-cooked or dry chicken.

Recently I found a way to make grilled chicken foolproof. What do I mean? I mean, it’s a way of grilling chicken where you know for sure that the meat is cooked through, and you know for sure that it is tender and juicy, definitely not dry.

This method is great for if you’re having friends over because you can do most of it ahead of time. You can also make a big batch so if you’ve got a lot of friends, this recipe’s for you!

This grilled chicken is pre-cooked in the oven (low and slow) before hitting the grill.  That way, you know it's fully cooked and juicy so you can relax and enjoy your guests without worrying about feeding them under-cooked or dry chicken.

Here’s the key to perfect grilled chicken:

Precook it in the oven ahead of time so you know it’s fully cooked and ready for the grill. Cooking it ahead of time also lets you cook it slowly, which yields nice, juicy and tender meat.

Here’s a video showing how to grill chicken using this method:

How to Grill Chicken, Step by Step

Step#1

With a big group coming over, buy bulk packs of bone-in chicken thighs and drumsticks. I prefer skinless but skin-on works too. (Chicken breasts are not ideal for this method. If you really want to though, bone in and skin on chicken breasts are best. If you want to grill boneless, skinless chicken breasts, I have a separate post about that for you over here. They require a different method.

Up to two days before the party, season the chicken with a spice rub (see printable recipe at the bottom) and bake at 300ºF for about an hour.

Step#2

Then you remove the chicken from the oven and let it cool down a bit on the counter.

Step#3

Brush the chicken with your favorite barbecue sauce. I love this homemade basic barbecue sauce. It only has three ingredients but there are instructions for doctoring it up in different ways so you can customize it.

Step#4

Refrigerate chicken until dinner time.

Step#5

Transfer the chicken pieces to a medium-heat grill that is prepped for direct heat cooking. Cook, turning occasionally (I use nice, long tongs like these so that my hands don’t get too close to the heat), until there are grill marks on all sides and the meat is heated through, about 8 to 10 minutes total. You can baste them with sauce halfway through if you’d like but not that this can dislodge or hide the grill marks. I don’t usually baste midway through for this reason.

This grilled chicken is pre-cooked in the oven (low and slow) before hitting the grill.  That way, you know it's fully cooked and juicy so you can relax and enjoy your guests without worrying about feeding them under-cooked or dry chicken.

 

 

Step#6

Serve with lots of napkins.

Easy Grilled Chicken for a Crowd (the Make-Ahead Way)

Here are the printable instructions for pre-cooking grilled chicken:

Perfect Grilled Chicken

Ingredients:

  • 2 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. pepper
  • 1 tsp. garlic powder
  • 2 Tbsp. brown sugar
  • 6 lbs. skinless bone-in dark meat chicken (drumsticks and/or thighs)
  • BBQ sauce

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 300ºF.
  2. In bowl combine salt, pepper, garlic powder and brown sugar. Rub on chicken and then arrange in a single layer on a large rimmed baking sheet. Bake for 1 hour.
  3. Let cool for 15 minutes. Brush each piece with about 2 tablespoons of sauce. Cover and refrigerate up to 36 hours.
  4. Minutes before eating, prepare grill for direct cooking over medium-high heat. Add chicken pieces and cook until grill marks appear on underside, 4-5 minutes. Flip and cook until heated through, another 4-5 minutes. Baste with more sauce halfway through if desired but this isn't necessary and doing so can hide your beautiful grill marks.
Disclosure: This post contains an Amazon affiliate link meaning that if you click it and buy something I receive a small commission. This is at no additional cost to you. All opinions are my own and honest.
This recipe was originally published in July, 2014. It was revised and republished in August, 2017.

69 Responses to “How To Grill Chicken Perfectly”

  1. Katy K — July 18, 2017 @ 10:45 pm (#)

    Has anyone ever grilled their chicken to get the marks and THEN marinated it (once it cooled down a bit of course) and then finished it in the oven after it’s marinated for the appropriate time? My thought is to mark the chicken but avoid burning it with any marinade drippings. And then it could be baked and served fresh. I have a catering job where this would be a more logical option but would love input.

    • Christine Pittman — July 19, 2017 @ 9:11 am (#)

      Katy, I absolutely think you could do this with boneless skinless chicken breasts. I’m concerned that they might be dry in the end. But…pound them to an equal thickness (see how to do this, and more about grilling chicken breasts here http://cookthestory.com/how-to-grill-chicken-breasts-that-are-sooo-juicy/). Brush with cooking oil and season with salt and pepper. Then grill over medium-high direct heat until the marks show up. Put in a large container or ziptop bag with the marinade and refrigerate for 24 hours maximum. Remember that this chicken is not fully cooked so you need to be careful about it going bad. Now put it in a single layer on a pan and bake at 350F just until cooked through, probably 20 minutes.

      I actually think that the reverse method would be preferable: Marinade the raw pounded chicken breasts and then bake at 300F until cooked through, 25 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool and then refrigerate or while still hot, proceed with the next step. Put chicken breasts on hot grill and cook just for a minute or two on each side, just to get those nice marks and that bit of smoky char flavor.

      However, I’m guessing that this wouldn’t work as well for catering.

  2. Katie Kelly — June 29, 2017 @ 11:12 pm (#)

    Can I use boneless pieces to slices for sandwiches? 

    • Christine Pittman — July 3, 2017 @ 10:54 am (#)

      Yes, boneless dark meat (like boneless thighs) will work. But they won’t need to cook for as long in the oven. Check them after 30 minutes to see if they’re cooked through.

  3. Tonia Carter — June 12, 2017 @ 8:20 am (#)

    Do you think that after I cook in oven and cool it completely I can freeze for a week?

    • Christine Pittman — June 20, 2017 @ 8:19 am (#)

      Tonia, yes! Freeze in a single layer so that they defrost more quickly. Defrost in the fridge overnight, add sauce and then grill to heat through.

  4. Lori — May 30, 2017 @ 2:57 pm (#)

    My mother taught me to precooked chicken before grilling yrs ago. Have you ever cooked it and then froze it Before grilling? 

    • Christine Pittman — June 2, 2017 @ 1:44 pm (#)

      Lori, I haven’t but I bet it would work well. Defrost it first before grilling it though.

  5. Connie Noelle — May 13, 2017 @ 9:13 am (#)

    You solved my bloody-bone-vs-dry-meat problem. Although I marinated 6 larg quarters with 3 commercial marinades, and gave my family the choice, they didn’t notice the flavor differences compared to the all over perfect moist, tender, fully cooked, flavor-filled juicy yet crispy perfetion of this dish.

  6. Lisa Wilps — April 27, 2017 @ 2:57 pm (#)

    So I have questions on the mango lime chipotle sauce. Do you use one chipotle pepper from the can or one can of chipotle peppers in adobe sauce? Do you include the adobe sauce? Also I have frozen mango – do you think this will be ok to use and how much do you think would be equal to one mango? Thanks! Can’t wait to try this BBQ sauce on the make ahead then grill chicken!

    • Christine Pittman — May 2, 2017 @ 8:30 am (#)

      Lisa, the recipe calls for one chipotle pepper that is packed in adobo sauce. Just use one pepper and any sauce that is stuck to it. I do think that frozen mango will work. Go with 1 cup of small cubes. 2 cups if it is cubed larger.

  7. Rose — April 23, 2017 @ 11:50 am (#)

    Cover the chicken that’s in the oven with tin foil??? I would think it would be dried out if not…?
    thanks

    • Christine Pittman — April 24, 2017 @ 10:46 am (#)

      Rose, No, there is no need to cover it. You’re cooking it at a low temperature and it’s dark meat. It turns out juicy and delicious. Covering wouldn’t hurt it though. It just isn’t necessary at all.

  8. Nancy Daigle — April 18, 2017 @ 10:41 pm (#)

    Yes, I did use bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs and drumsticks. The skin didn’t get too crispy, probably because I was afraid I would burn the sauce by turning the direct heat on the grill beyond 300. I also fear fare ups. My husband didn’t eat the skin, to save on added calories and saturated fat, so I should have made it exactly as you stated in your recipe i.e. “skinless”.  Next time! Great recipe.

    • Christine Pittman — April 21, 2017 @ 8:16 am (#)

      Nancy, Thanks for the info. I appreciate it. Glad you liked the recipe!

  9. Nancy Daigle — April 13, 2017 @ 9:48 pm (#)

    I made it! It came out perfectly. I placed on grill with sauced skin side up first then flipped at 4-5 minutes. I kept grill at 300 direct.

    • Christine Pittman — April 17, 2017 @ 11:47 am (#)

      Nancy, So glad you liked it. You used chicken with skin on it? I usually use skinless for this because I’m afraid the skin won’t crisp up well. What did you think? How did it turn out?

  10. Nancy Daigle — April 13, 2017 @ 12:02 pm (#)

    Do you grill the chicken side side up for the first 4-5 minutes and then turn the sauced skin side down for the final 4-5?
    I think that is what you meant by “underside” grill marks first.

    .

    • Christine Pittman — April 17, 2017 @ 11:46 am (#)

      Yes. Exactly.

  11. Grenville Noronha — March 16, 2017 @ 10:52 pm (#)

    Hey, it’s me again.

    We tried out this recipe last evening and I’m happy to say, it was a big hit!
    You were right about the long baking time at 140C. It did not dry out the chicken!

    I was a bit concerned though about the taste. You see, we’re Indians and in fact I’m writing this from India. So as you know, it’s all about flavors mostly revolving around spice and how spicy you can make it. So considering the chicken had just salt, pepper and garlic powder, by Indian standards you’re missing out on the most important ingredient – chili!

    And the BBQ sauce was the simple one you had posted (ketchup+mustard+honey). Again, BBQ sauce is not a staple here in India, although it is starting to pick up. But you won’t find it in the average Indian’s home.

    The sauce though was amazing.

    I’m so glad I stumbled across your website. I’m going to try out more recipes from this!

    • Christine Pittman — March 26, 2017 @ 3:13 pm (#)

      Grenville, You can definitely add more spices to the chicken roasting in the oven. I keep it basic because the barbecue sauce has a lot of flavor. You can also add more flavor to the sauce, if you’d like. I love spicy food too! Thanks for the comment and let me say that it is so cool to know that you are cooking and eating my recipe from so far away!!!

  12. Grenville Noronha — March 15, 2017 @ 5:02 am (#)

    We’re gonna try this recipe tomorrow and I’m already excited about it.

    Just one question though. The one hour baking time. This is a dry rub mix. Won’t that dry the hell out of that chicken? I mean there is no liquid base in the marinade. Just the BBQ sauce that comes after the 1 hour + fridge time.

    • Christine Pittman — March 15, 2017 @ 2:42 pm (#)

      Grenville, No, it doesn’t end up overcooked but is tender and juicy. This is because it is a low and slow method. It is cooked at a low-ish temperature and it is dark bone-in meat, which is moist. Do not use breasts for this. Do come back and let us know how it turns out.

  13. G Ramsay — February 15, 2017 @ 5:18 pm (#)

    You recommend a sauce to be added ahead of time then chilled, then in the recipe for the sauce you say add at the last minute?

    • Christine Pittman — February 22, 2017 @ 8:42 am (#)

      I just reread the post and recipe. In both it says to brush the chicken with sauce before refrigerating (step #3 in both) and that you can add more sauce halfway through grilling if you want but that it is unnecessary. Perhaps I don’t understand your question.

  14. Will Powers — February 1, 2017 @ 10:04 am (#)

    Hi Christine-

    I hope this post finds you well and in good spirits.

    Did you ever try the ‘crispy wings’ recipe? You communicated you’d post by 5/22/15 and I didn’t see it.

    Also would the reverse (grill chicken to char skin, refrigerate for 2days, then bake) work?

    Regards,
    Will

  15. Leigh — December 3, 2016 @ 6:58 pm (#)

    What a great idea! I usually do the cooking when we have company and I have a great method. However when its just the two of us I usually have him cook and its usually under cooked. He refuses to even listen to my method. I am man, I know how to grill conversation every time. Do you know how to precook, let cool and have it look like its still raw? Lol. Just kidding. It would end up well done lol. Thanks for the recipe!

    • Christine Pittman — December 5, 2016 @ 9:20 am (#)

      Leigh, lol. Enjoy!

  16. Allan — August 30, 2016 @ 1:59 pm (#)

    I was just wondering 300Deg F is about 150 deg C, which is not the required temperature for chicken to cook through fully, which is 165 deg C. Is it ok to cook chicken partially and then store it for a day or two? Do you achieve full cooking temperature on grill.

    • Christine Pittman — August 31, 2016 @ 11:52 am (#)

      Allan, Nothing to worry about. The safe temperature for chicken is actually 75 deg C (165 deg F). So cooking the chicken at 300F for that long definitely gets it safely and fully cooked.

  17. shirley jackson — August 23, 2016 @ 4:14 am (#)

    if using boneless skinless thighs does the time for precooking in the oven change

    • Christine Pittman — August 24, 2016 @ 1:17 pm (#)

      Shirley, I’ve never done boneless skinless thighs at such a low temperature but I’m guessing it would be around 30-40 minutes. I’d say give them 30 minutes at 300F and then test them with an instant read thermometer or cut into a bigger one and make sure it’s no longer ping inside.

  18. Allan — August 9, 2016 @ 4:08 pm (#)

    Can you please let me know the temperature of refrigerator? Do you freeze them in freezer or just the normal 40 deg F temperature? If you freeze them, how long can you keep them and how to thaw? Thanks for your recipe

    • Christine Pittman — August 10, 2016 @ 11:18 am (#)

      Allan, My refrigerator is at about 36F. You can refrigerate them for up to two days after baking. Alternatively, once they’re cool, put them in a single layer on a tray in the freezer. This keeps them separate so they don’t freeze in a clump. Once frozen, put them in a freezer bag. They are good in the freezer for a month. To defrost, put the bag in the refrigerator overnight. Grill as instructed in the recipe. You might want to add more sauce before grilling though.

  19. Gigi — June 7, 2016 @ 10:38 am (#)

    This is great for camping! Did the pre baking 2 days before and didn’t have to worry about raw chicken on the fire. My family says I need to do this every camping trip. Thank you for sharing.

    • Christine Pittman — June 9, 2016 @ 9:23 am (#)

      Gigi, I’m so happy it worked out for you! Thanks for letting me know :-)

  20. lois — May 5, 2016 @ 5:28 am (#)

    Can you do this recipe with skin on chicken thighs. I have to cook for a motorcycle run for 150 to 200 riders.

    • Christine Pittman — May 6, 2016 @ 1:00 pm (#)

      Lois, I’ve never tried it but I worry that it wouldn’t be as good. I think the chicken is cooked at too low of a temperature in the first stages and the skin wouldn’t get crisp. Then it’s not on the grill for long enough to get crispy either. I don’t think it would be bad, just not as good.

    • Christine Pittman — May 10, 2016 @ 2:13 pm (#)

      Lois, I just had an idea. I bet if you followed this method over here http://thecookful.com/bake-chicken-wings-crispy/ for baking crispy chicken wings, but use drumsticks or thighs, you could go with the skin on. You’ll need to cook the chicken at the high temperature specified in the wings recipe. Cook it just until the chicken is cooked through. Then let them cool and refrigerate. Don’t sauce them yet. When ready to grill, sauce the chicken pieces and grill until heated through. I think I’m going to do a thorough test of this method this week. If it turns out well, I’ll post about it on May 22nd. if your event hasn’t happened by then, come check and find out.

  21. Amy — July 9, 2015 @ 2:52 pm (#)

    Use boneless skinless thighs and no worries on drying out!

    • Christine Pittman — July 13, 2015 @ 11:23 am (#)

      Amy, Great tip. Yes, I would definitely advise that if people don’t want bone-in chicken they go with thighs rather than breasts for this one. Chicken breasts are great on the grill but not as good when pre-cooked in the way described in this recipe.

  22. Cathy — June 26, 2015 @ 1:30 am (#)

    Do you know what the time and temp for chicken breasts

    • Christine Pittman — June 29, 2015 @ 10:23 am (#)

      Cathy, I haven’t tested it. Honestly, if I was doing boneless skinless breasts I probably wouldn’t use this method. Instead, I’d flatten the breasts to an even thickness (put them one at a time in a ziptop bag, unzipped, and bash the thickest part with a rolling pin until it is as thin as the thinnest part. Repeat with remaining breasts. Then they only take about 3-4 minutes per side to grill and since they’re even thickness you don’t end up with half of the breast dried out waiting for hte thicker part to cook through. Baste with BBQ sauce halfway through grilling. You could just bake the breasts (300F for about 30 minutes, I’m guessing). But I’d worry about them being dry if you then grill them as well. As to bone-in breasts, I would guess about 45 minutes at 300F. But do cut in and check to make sure they’re not pink in the middle. I am concerned that these will be dry as well. White meat doesn’t stand up to the slower cooking the way that dark meat does. If you try any of the above, let me know how they turn out. Have a great day!

  23. Michele — May 20, 2015 @ 12:37 am (#)

    do you think I can use legs WITH skin on?

    • Christine Pittman — June 18, 2015 @ 11:52 am (#)

      Hi Michele, Sorry for the delay. Here’s the thing. I’m worried that the skin will still be rubbery after the slow cook in the oven. It will crisp a bit on the grill but not a ton. I would suggest adjusting the recipe so that the chicken cooks at a higher temperature for a shorter time (400F until cooked through, about 35-40 minutes). Then proceed as instructed. Let me know how it turns out!

  24. Sheila — July 8, 2014 @ 9:32 am (#)

    Great tips for summer entertaining. It is a must to be able to do as much prep ahead of time!

  25. addie | culicurious — July 6, 2014 @ 10:53 am (#)

    What a great idea! Grilling chicken is one of the most challenging things in the BBQ world. Good solution. :) Also, I love your recipe in the Mango cookbook. I also have one in there for a crab salad! :)

  26. Wendy — July 4, 2014 @ 11:24 pm (#)

    Thanks for this tip! So obvious yet I never thought of precooking chicken for the grill! This makes so much sense, especially when you are cooking for a crowd and would rather be spending time with your guests not standing at the grill!

  27. Jess @ whatjessicabakednext.com — July 3, 2014 @ 11:32 am (#)

    This looks delicious! Grilled chicken is the ultimate BBQ food!

  28. kristy @ the wicked noodle — July 3, 2014 @ 10:05 am (#)

    What a great way to make cooking chicken easier! I have never heard this tip but I absolutely love it and am going to try it soon!

  29. Jen — July 2, 2014 @ 11:30 am (#)

    I love grilling steak!

  30. Becca from It's Yummi! — July 2, 2014 @ 9:54 am (#)

    I love grilling fresh veggies… but this chicken is just downright drool worthy!

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