How To Grill Chicken Perfectly
Learn how to grill chicken perfectly by pre-cooking 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!
The key to perfectly 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. And, it gives you time to put your feet up during grilling season because most of the work is done beforehand.
How to Grill Chicken Video:
How to Grill Chicken, Step by Step
With a big group coming over, buy bulk packs of bone-in chicken thighs and drumsticks. I prefer skinless but skin-on works too. I find that the skin doesn’t get really crispy on the grill no matter what I do. However, skinless can be either hard to find or more expensive. So get it with the skin on, cook it in the oven, then see the tip in Step #2. (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 300°F for about an hour. After an hour of baking, test with an instant-read thermometer. The chicken should be at least at 165°F internally. If it’s over that, it’s ok. It’ll still be juicy!
Then you remove the chicken from the oven and let it cool down a bit on the counter.
NEW TIP! – I just discovered this and had to edit this recipe to tell you about it! After the chicken has cooled a bit, but before adding sauce, simply pull the skins off if you don’t want them on. As I explained in step #1, I prefer skinless, but this is a great hack for when you can’t find them or there’s a sale on skin on!
Extra Tip – Use a pair of clean kitchen scissors (called kitchen shears) to snip away any skin that is attached to the bone.
Extra Extra Tip: These kitchen shears come apart for better washing, which is especially good for when we use them on chicken to make sure they’re sanitized.
This method of removing the skin after cooking is WAY easier than skinning the chicken before cooking and the skin also helps retain some moisture and adds flavor to the chicken meat while cooking. Win-win!
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.
Refrigerate chicken until dinner time.
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.
Serve with lots of napkins.
Here are the printable instructions for pre-cooking grilled chicken:
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.
- 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
- Preheat oven to 300°F.
- 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.
- Let cool for 15 minutes. If your chicken is skin on, carefully remove the skin before grilling. For skin that is attached to the bone, cut it off with kitchen shears.
- Brush each piece with about 2 tablespoons of sauce. Cover and refrigerate up to 36 hours.
- 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.
Video by Leigh Olson. Article, photos and recipe by Christine Pittman.
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 July 2020.