Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Great Grilled Chicken

It's nearly summer time and that means grilling season is here. I love grilling. Though these days I have a gas grill, I'm a huge fan of cooking over wood or charcoal. Back in the day, I would go camping with my aunt and uncle and most dinners were cooked over a wood fire. It's hard to beat those memories.

Any grill from a little hibachi to a gas grill to a massive wood-burning combination grill/smoker can give great results. It helps to know some simple rules. Today I'm going to talk about chicken because it's the toughest thing to get right. Chicken is a flare-up just waiting to happen, if you cook it with the skin on. For this reason, chicken with the skin and on the bone needs to be grilled at a low temperature. It is not a fast cooking item. If you want fast-cooking, choose a pounded flat chicken breast, not whole parts. When you first put the chicken on the grill, you need to watch it for flare-ups and move the chicken to a non-flaming spot ASAP. If flare-ups engulf your grill when you put the chicken on, your fire is too hot. Those flames are bad, bad, bad. They create char and lots of nasty off flavors. Usually, the flare-ups die down after the first few minutes and you don't need to watch your chicken like a hawk (chicken hawk?) through the entire cooking time. Depending on the size of the pieces, they will take from 1 to 1 1½ hours to cook through (the juices will run clear when poked with a knife). Turn them halfway through cooking to get even golden crispyness but when you do the flip, make sure to be again vigilant for flare-ups.

If you are cooking skin-on chicken, the skin will keep the meat juicy. Marinade is optional here but it adds a lot of wonderful flavor. If you are cooking skinless chicken, a marinade is essential because the oil in the marinade keeps the meat moist.

To recap, grilling chicken
  1. Requires longer, low temperature cooking unless you are cooking thin boneless pieces.
  2. Flare-ups will occur, especially if you cook with skin on. Watch carefully to prevent charring and move if flare-ups occur.
  3. Marinades add lots of interesting flavors and are essential for keeping skinless chicken moist.
Simple Grilled Chicken
(serves 4-6, total cost is $6.15)

4 leg quarters, cut into drumstick and thigh pieces (3 ½ to 4 pounds)
½ cup vegetable oil (olive oil tastes great but it will solidify in the fridge)
3 Tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 6-inch sprig of fresh rosemary, leaves stripped off stem
¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper
salt and pepper

Line a large bowl with a large ziploc bag. Add oil, red wine vinegar, rosemary, and crushed red pepper to the plastic bag. Squish it around a bit. Add the chicken pieces and squish around again. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours and up to 2 days.

Preheat your grill, if using gas, or get the coals going so they gray all over.

Remove chicken from plastic bag, spread the rosemary leaves on the chicken, and discard the rest of the marinade. Season chicken pieces generously with salt and pepper. Place on the grill. If flare-ups occur, immediately move chicken to a non-flaming part of the grill. If there are flames everywhere, remove the chicken, reduce the heat (if using charcoal, you'll need to push some of the coals to the side, away from the chicken) and put the chicken back on the grill. Cook for about 35 minutes on one side, flip (again, watching for flare-ups), and cook until done, another 30-50 minutes, depending on the size of the chicken pieces. Serve hot.

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