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.

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!

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

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. 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!

Step #2

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!

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.

Step #6

Serve with lots of napkins.

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

Print

How To Grill Chicken Perfectly


  • Author: Allie McDonald
  • Prep Time: 10 minutes
  • Cook Time: 70 minutes
  • Total Time: 1 hour 20 minutes
  • Yield: 8 servings

Description

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.

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

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 300°F.
  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. 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.
  4. Brush each piece with about 2 tablespoons of sauce. Cover and refrigerate up to 36 hours.
  5. Minutes before eating, prepare grill for direct cooking over medium-high heat.
  6. 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.
How To Grill Chicken Perfectly

79 responses to “How To Grill Chicken Perfectly”

  1. Mike S. says:

    Always grill first then finish in oven. Use an in-oven thermometer to ensure doneness. Grill drumsticks until perfect color then finish in oven at 250 to 300. 

  2. J-Rad says:

    This is similar to how I prepare my Jerk Chicken. I find thighs and legs when they’re $0.99 per lbs, then rub generously with Walkerswood Jamaican Jerk Paste (as authentic as you can get without making Jerk sauce from scratch) and let the chicken marinate for a FULL DAY to let all those great Caribbean spices penetrate every piece of the chicken. Then I bake covered for 2 hours at 250 degrees, remove the chicken and refrigerate for at least 4 hours to allow the chicken to firm back up. Then it’s time for the grill (if you go straight from the oven to the grill your chicken will fall apart on the grill). Once cooled down I grill on medium heat carefully turning each piece to crisp the skin and not burn it. Crisp skin is what gives this chicken the perfect texture and flavor. You can feed an army for cheap and I can guarantee your guests have never tasted better grilled chicken.

  3. Donna says:

    Love this recipe, do you think i could grill them day before using and then put them in crock pot on warm to heat them up before serving, thanks

    • Christine Pittman says:

      Thanks for the question, Donna. You might be ok, but they could also end up drying out from being heated so long. I think you’d be better off cooking them gently in the oven (at 300F for 20-30 minutes, until just cooked through) and then putting sauce on them and refrigerating, then grilling to reheat them. I have this recipe (https://cookthestory.com/how-to-grill-chicken/) which does that for dark meat pieces (legs and thighs) and it’s amazing!

  4. Lindsay White says:

    I try not to use my oven unless absolutely necessary. I have a gas stove with an electric ignitor. And literally have to hold the knob in until it lights up. Is their any way I could like partially boil the chicken or something before grilling it???

    • Christine Pittman says:

      You could poach the chicken, Lindsay, but I’ve only ever poached breasts though so I’m not sure how it would be with other pieces. If you’re trying to avoid the oven, I recommend grilling the chicken. So ahead of time, get the grill to a medium temperature, around 300F. Put the seasoned chicken on and close the grill. Flip it over every 5-10 minutes until cooked through, then sauce it and refrigerate like in the recipe.

  5. Arlene says:

    Are you referring to an outdoor grill for the last step?

    Sounds wonderful, I have about twenty coming and thought I’d try this!

    • Christine Pittman says:

      I use an outdoor grill, yes. But you can also use a stove top or electric grill, or you can even broil it. You’re just trying to get that little bit of color. The outdoor grill will give you some smoky flavor too. But it’s not that important.

  6. Nina says:

    Made this for a backyard party with 60 people…totally no stress since it’s completey cooked the day before and everyone LOVED it! I’ve already gotten so many requests for the recipe!

  7. Blanca Romo says:

    Tried your baked and grilled method again – marinaded in Italian dressing with salt and pepper for an hour.  Baked at 350F for 30 minutes and then grilled 4 minutes each side and then basted with Very Very Teriyaki Marinade and Sauce for last 2 minutes.  This marinade is awesome and smells so yummy!  Used drumsticks with skin on. Obviously, both times my chicken was cooked through and what a grilling time saver!  Thanks

    • Christine Pittman says:

      Blanca, I’m delighted that you like this method. I love it too. Sooooo easy and failproof! Thanks for letting me know.

  8. This is absolutely magnificent, scrumptious, delicious, super yummy grilled chicken. My husband would love it! Thanks for sharing Christine!

  9. Katy K says:

    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 says:

      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 https://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.

  10. Katie Kelly says:

    Can I use boneless pieces to slices for sandwiches? 

    • Christine Pittman says:

      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.

  11. Tonia Carter says:

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

    • Christine Pittman says:

      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.

  12. Lori says:

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

  13. Connie Noelle says:

    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.

  14. Lisa Wilps says:

    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 says:

      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.

  15. Rose says:

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

    • Christine Pittman says:

      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.

  16. Nancy Daigle says:

    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.

  17. Nancy Daigle says:

    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 says:

      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?

  18. Nancy Daigle says:

    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.

    .

  19. Grenville Noronha says:

    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 says:

      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!!!

  20. Grenville Noronha says:

    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 says:

      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.

  21. G Ramsay says:

    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 says:

      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.

  22. Will Powers says:

    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

  23. Leigh says:

    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!

  24. Allan says:

    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 says:

      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.

  25. shirley jackson says:

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

    • Christine Pittman says:

      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.

  26. Allan says:

    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 says:

      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.

  27. Gigi says:

    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.

  28. lois says:

    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 says:

      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 says:

      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.

  29. […] make those chicken drumsticks, I followed the basic method for Easy Make Ahead Chicken for a Crowd. Except, instead of grilling them, I put them under the broiler for a few minutes, just until the […]

  30. Amy says:

    Use boneless skinless thighs and no worries on drying out!

    • Christine Pittman says:

      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.

  31. Cathy says:

    Do you know what the time and temp for chicken breasts

    • Christine Pittman says:

      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!

  32. […] Grilled Chicken for a Crowd – Cook the Story […]

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  34. […] For a great recipe to serve this sauce with, be sure to also check out my grilled chicken for a crowd recipe. […]

  35. Michele says:

    do you think I can use legs WITH skin on?

    • Christine Pittman says:

      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!

  36. […] A great make-ahead dinner that you can serve as the main course with this trifle recipe is grilled chicken. Be sure to also check out my make-ahead grilled chicken for a crowd recipe. […]

  37. […] Looking for more great grilling recipes?  Be sure to also check out my recipe on grilling chicken for a crowd. […]

  38. […] my favorite easy chicken recipe for entertaining is my Make-Ahead Grilled Chicken. It’s slow-roasted ahead of time and then finished on the grill just before serving. So easy! […]

  39. […] Number 11: Grilled Chicken for a Crowd […]

  40. […] you like the idea of these ribs, you’ll also love this recipe for Make-Ahead Grilled Chicken for a Crowd. It’s the same basic technique but with chicken. And the result is beyond juicy! Easy Tender […]

  41. […] you’re looking for more make-ahead chicken recipes for a crowd like this one, try this Make-Ahead Grilled Chicken for a Crowd. You bake the chicken pieces first, slowly. Just before serving they get finished on the grill. […]

  42. Sheila says:

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

  43. 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! :)

  44. Wendy says:

    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!

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

  46. 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!

  47. Jen says:

    I love grilling steak!

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

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