Your Guide to The Best Grilled Chicken
Does cooking chicken breasts on the grill give you nightmares of dry, overcooked meat? Not with our solution! We’ll show you how to brine your chicken before you grill, and how to make a great BBQ sauce to enhance the flavor. Feel free to follow along with the videos, and continue reading below.
What Does a Brine Do?
A brine is a salt-based product used to enhance the flavor of your meat and helps to keep it juicy and tender. A dry brine is a salt heavy rub that you can use for most meats on the barbecue (for example dry-rubbed ribs). A wet brine has salt and sugar dissolved in water, which helps to tenderize the meat as it breaks down proteins. The sugar also helps give those beautiful grill marks as it caramelizes. A brine is different from a marinade, as it gets rinsed off the meat before it is cooked so it isn’t overwhelmingly salty.
What Goes in a Brine?
We’ve put together a simple brining solution with items you likely already have on hand. The general ratio for a brine is one cup of salt per one gallon of liquid. We are making a smaller batch, so for our recipe, we’re mixing 1/4 cup of salt, with 28 oz of apple juice, 1 tablespoon of garlic, and a few cracks of black pepper. Many recipes will add sugar to the brine, but since we are using apple juice instead of water, our mixture is sweet enough. If you use water for yours, half to a full cup of sugar can be mixed into your brine. Other items like onions, herbs, or spices can also be used for additional flavor. Since we’re also applying a BBQ sauce as the chicken cooks, we didn’t want too many competing flavors in our recipe.
Our Brine Recipe
- Apple juice
- Kosher salt
- Freshly cracked black pepper
First, you’ll need to find a suitable container for your chicken and brine – a plastic container, large bowl, or a zip-top bag are all good options. Make sure it is large enough that your chicken will be fully submerged in the liquid. Add your chicken and the brine ingredients to the container, ensuring that the salt is dissolved in the liquid. You can boil your water and add the salt and sugar to ensure they’re fully dissolved, but you will need to wait for the water to come to room temperature before adding your meat. Once everything is mixed in, pop the container into the fridge for a few hours or overnight.
Make the BBQ Sauce
While the chicken is brining, we’ll put together a BBQ sauce tastier than anything you could get at the grocery store. Once again, we’re using ingredients you likely already have in your cupboards.
- 1 Cup ketchup
- 1/2 Cup white vinegar
- 1/4 Cup butter
- 1/4 Cup brown sugar
Use Preferred Quantity:
- Worcestershire sauce
- Kosher salt
- Fresh cracked pepper
- Onion powder
- Garlic powder
- Cayenne pepper
The first four ingredients are the base of the recipe, giving us a sweet, tangy, creamy BBQ sauce. The remaining ingredients can be modified to suit your tastes: mustard adds some more tang, Worcestershire adds umami flavor, paprika for some sweet and smoky notes, and cayenne pepper if you like some heat. Salt, pepper, onion, and garlic of course are the classics. There are so many variations you can use – maple syrup, apple cider vinegar, Dijon mustard, hot sauce, liquid smoke – feel free to experiment!
Add all ingredients to a saucepan, and whisk until just combined. Add your pan to a heat source (your grill can be used if you’ve already got it heating) or a stovetop burner. Simmer over medium heat until the butter is melted, the other ingredients are well mixed in, and the sauce has thickened – this should take about 10 minutes. Once the sauce has cooled down, it can be stored in an airtight container, and used for so many other meals – ribs, burgers, meatloaf, even a dipping sauce. But for now, we’re going to turn our attention back to the chicken.
Prepare Your Chicken for Grilling
Once your chicken has finished chilling in the fridge, our next step is to rinse off the brine. This removes the excess salt, but will still keep its flavor and remain juicy when cooked. Make sure that you pat the chicken dry – this is an important step to ensure we get those grill marks. Wet skin will just steam instead of sear.
Sear the Chicken
We’re going to be using both direct and indirect heat on the grill. The high direct heat will give us that nice sear, and finishing the cooking on indirect heat will ensure that the chicken comes up to temperature without drying out. We got our grill up to 600 degrees Fahrenheit, and used some homemade smoker pouches for additional flavor while cooking. When you add your chicken to the grill, resist all temptation to poke, prod, or move it for at least three minutes. When the chicken is ready to be flipped, it’ll easily lift off the grates. At this point we don’t want to bake the chicken, so we’ll be searing it with the lid up. Once each side has been seared, we’re going to remove them from the grill and add our homemade BBQ sauce.
Add the BBQ Sauce
We’re adding the sauce after the initial sear, as we didn’t want to risk it burning. Once your chicken has been sauced up, it is going to go back onto the grill, this time over indirect heat. We have the flame going under our smoker packets, so we’re going to place the chicken on the opposite side, with the thickest part of the chicken breast towards the heat source. At this point we’re looking for the chicken to come up to temperature so it’s safe to eat. We’re going to use a programmable thermometer, set at 160 degrees Fahrenheit, and close the lid. 165F is the safe temperature for chicken, but it will continue to cook when it is removed from the grill. Add some more BBQ sauce to the meat while it rests, then dig in! Your chicken should be tender, juicy, with tangy smoky flavor.