How to Grill Chicken Parts

How to Grill Different Chicken Pieces

The Spruce / Alison Czinkota.

Grill Different Chicken Parts

Leah Maroney

The advantage of grilling different types of chicken pieces—like the breast, leg, thigh, and wing—is that everyone eating can pick the piece they want the most. The problem, however, is getting all the pieces grilled perfectly so that no one piece is over or undercooked. Understand how to handle each cut of chicken:

  • Boneless Breast: Split each boneless chicken breast into halves. A juicy chicken breast should be rubbed in olive oil and pounded so the breasts are flat and even.
  • Drumsticks: Separate the drumstick "leg" from the thigh, if attached, into two parts and cut through the joint with a sharpened knife. Drumsticks can be sprinkled with seasoning like pepper and garlic.
  • Leg Quarters and Thighs: Typically boneless, this type of dark meat is easy to prepare by simply arranging it skin side up.
  • Split Breast: Remove moisture from the breasts with paper towels and then spread a mixture of herbs and seasonings, like olive oil, oregano, and garlic, over them. This is a good cut for those who don't want to cook a whole chicken.
  • Whole Chickens: A whole chicken can be cut or cooked fully, including parts like drumsticks, thighs, split breast, and more. Whole chickens can be seasoned generously.
  • Wings: This white meat is the boniest part of a chicken made from three sections. The first is considered a "drummette." Wings will need to be rinsed under cold water, blotted dry, and coated in flour and seasonings. Wing tips should be cut off of whole chicken wings and then cut again between the joint.

Gather Chicken Supplies

Leah Maroney

When cutting up a whole chicken, the first thing you want to do is decide on the flavor combination. For instance, you could prepare your chicken with a simple poultry rub and add barbecue sauce at the end. Alternatively, you can use a flavoring method like a lemon herb pan sauce, mustard-based taste, mint-lime combo, or a spice-rubbed tang.

Get ready to cook with the following supplies:

Prepare the Pieces

Leah Maroney

Prepare chicken pieces for the grill by looking for large clumps of fat (and other loose and unnecessary pieces of skin) to trim off. Trimming helps reduce the risk of flare-ups on the grill and can help create more presentable pieces of chicken.

It's also a good idea to wash chicken pieces by patting them dry with paper towels before seasoning.

Season the Chicken

Leah Maroney

Apply a poultry rub to the chicken before you start grilling to add flavor and create a crispy skin. The secret is to get the rub on as much of the actual meat as possible—the skin will keep the flavor out, so working herbs and spices under the skin is key.

There are many ways to season chicken, but a spicy barbecue rub is particularly tasty when grilling. Combine the following ingredients for a homemade seasoning:

  • Allspice
  • Black pepper
  • Brown sugar
  • Cumin
  • Ginger
  • Red pepper
  • Salt

Clean the Grill

Leah Maroney

It's important to clean the grill before you start cooking chicken. Make sure that the cooking surface is clean and there's no grease in the bottom. Flare-ups are most often caused by what you grilled last than what you're cooking now. You can double check that there's no drippings in the bottom of your grill, and that they're completely burned off, by preheating the grill on high.

Cleaning your grill makes your food taste better and lets your grill last longer. It shouldn't take more than 15 minutes to do:

  • Disconnect the propane and soak the grates, ensuring that the dials are in the off position.
  • Scrub under the hood and clean the inside walls.
  • Clean and rinse grates, the inner metal plate, and the drip pan.
  • Wash the exterior and clean out the cabinet (if you have one).

Heat the Grill

Leah Maroney

Larger pieces of chicken will cook slower than smaller pieces. Adjust for this by putting the large pieces on the grill first and adding the remaining parts until everything is cooked properly. However, this isn't necessary if you can make one side of your grill hotter than the other:

  • On a charcoal grill, bank the bulk of the hot coals to one side of the grill to create a hot side and a warm side.
  • On a gas grill, set one burner to high and the other to a lower temperature.
  • If you have three burners, turn the back burner to high, the middle burner to medium, and the front burner to low.
  • Get your grill up to temperature and adjust the heat down to around 350–375 F (177–190 C).

Place the Chicken on the Grill

Leah Maroney

Put the chicken on the grill by placing larger pieces closer to a higher temperature and smaller pieces further away. Move pieces closest to the heat in the following order:

  1. Breasts (closest to the heat)
  2. Thighs (close to the breasts)
  3. Legs (close to the thighs)
  4. Wings (in the corners of the coolest side of the grill)

Everything will cook evenly, and nothing will burn, when chicken pieces are placed appropriately. With this arrangement, the total cooking time will be determined by the largest pieces (the chicken breasts). Expect about 45 minutes of grilling total.

Deal With Flare-Ups

Leah Maroney

Cooking chicken pieces on the grill can cause flare-ups. As the chicken heats up, fat turns into a fine liquid and begins to drip into the grill. Since you're keeping the chicken away from the hottest part of the grill, you shouldn't encounter too much flame.

However, flare-ups happen. Take control of them whenever you move chicken on the grill. Take the chicken part to a corner you're not using (and has the lowest heat) and give the piece a good shake. This drops the grease where it can burn off harmlessly and reduces the chance of any serious flare-ups.

If you do have a large flare-up, remove the entire chicken from the grill, and leave the lid of the grill up to let the fire die down. Once the flare-up is over, return the chicken to the grill, and continue cooking.

Turn the Chicken

Leah Maroney

After 15 minutes, check the chicken for turning. As chicken cooks, it becomes firmer. Look for a brown color and firmer meat on the bottom side of the chicken. Once you have this, it's time to turn the chicken over:

  • Flip the chicken and rotate the pieces so that the top side closest to you is now the bottom side farthest from you. This way you get even heat on each piece of chicken.
  • As you turn the chicken, check to see how the pieces are cooking. Move more cooked pieces away from the higher heat and less cooked pieces toward the heat. If the chicken appears to be browning on the outside, but is not firm in the middle, turn down the heat so that the inside can cook without burning the surface of the chicken.
  • About 30 minutes in, the chicken should be mostly cooked and ready for sauce. If you're not going to put barbecue sauce on your chicken, continue cooking until the internal temperature reaches 165 F (74 C).

Add Barbecue Sauce

Leah Maroney

If you are putting a barbecue sauce on your chicken, start when the chicken is nearly done:

  • Reduce the heat of the grill by turning down the burners (on a gas grill) or closing down the vents (on a charcoal grill) until the temperature goes below 265 F (128 C). This is the burning temperature of sugar.
  • After you reduced the heat, slather on several layers of sauce. This will give the chicken a thick and sticky coating.
  • The secret to a good coating is to let the sauce cook onto the chicken. Apply the sauce to one side of the chicken and close the lid of your grill for about 5 minutes. Then open the grill, turn the chicken, and sauce the other side. Continue this until you have a good coating of barbecue sauce on each side.

Check the Temperature

Leah Maroney

You can't tell whether meat is safely cooked by just looking at it. Ensure your chicken is done by seeing if it's reached an internal temperature of 165 F (74 C):

  • Check all pieces of chicken to be certain that each one is cooked properly.
  • Once you hit the target temperature, remove chicken from the grill.
  • If some pieces are done before others, move those to the coldest side of the grill until all are done.
  • Cover and allow chicken pieces to rest for about 5 minutes before serving.