Charcoal grills remain the top performers when it comes to producing tasty seared meat. Die-hard grill fans often prefer these traditional and natural grills to propane gas ones. Besides the better-tasting results, charcoal grills tend to offer higher operating temperatures at lower costs so you will spend less on your grill cravings.
In the mood for chicken BBQ? A charcoal grill is pretty ideal for such occasions, unlocking flavors you never experienced before with other chicken grills. With Covid-19 keeping us stuck at home, there has never been a better time to dust off and fire that grill so here’s how to BBQ chicken on a charcoal grill with ease;
Preparation time: 2 hours (both the chicken and fire).
Cooking time 1 hour – 1 and a half hours.
What You’ll Need;
7 to 8 lb. of chicken with bone (cut as you like)
1 recipe spice rub of choice
1 cup of apple juice or oil for basting (optional)
1 recipe barbecue sauce of choice
Notes to Ponder;
Chicken is usually hard to grill over an open fire. The soft skin, meat, and short cooking time usually mean that by the time it is cooked, half of it is burnt or, because it’s now burnt, it’s not properly cooked through. It takes time and skill to find that balance. The ideal chicken shouldn’t be dry, it should be well cooked to the point that it almost falls off the bone. Sure, you can rely on the best compact BBQ with gas for a near-perfect job, but remember; the smokiness from firewood or charcoal gives your chicken an extra layering of flavors that you can’t get from gas.
One way to have excellent barbecued chicken; one with juicy, well-cooked meat, and an almost crunchy skin is to reduce the heat of the fire and apply your sauce in the last minutes of cooking. Spice rubs are another essential aspect that will determine the final flavor. Find some of the best commercial BBQ rubs from your local store or, if you have time, get the ingredients and be creative with your own flavors. Apply the rub onto the bird and together with the smoke from the fire they will infuse the meat throughout the cooking process.
Preparing the Grill and Getting the Fire Ready
- To start, you need a clean grill. Use your detergent to scrub through, clean, and rinse out all parts of the grill inside out. This removes any left-over fat from previous grilling and any dirt which may spoil your meat.
- Make sure you wash away and wipe off any traces of cleaning detergent. Dry out all parts of the grill thoroughly before reassembling it so that there isn’t any trace of water that might dampen your fire source.
- Soak the charcoal briquets in lighter fluid for about three minutes before lighting them. You can substitute lighter fluid with wooden chips if you find the smoke from the fluid unpleasant as others do. If you have some pieces of wood around, you can add a few to the charcoal. Also, have some water close to the grill to dowse the flames if they get too much. Also, remember to put the grilling grate in such a way that you can add more charcoal or wood chips to the fire when needed.
- Light up your charcoal fire and let it burn until the actual fire is gone. What you want to use is the heat from the burning charcoal and not the flames. Once the charcoals turn white, it’s time to start grilling your chicken.
Pro tip: Place an open palm about 15cm over the burning charcoal. If you can’t keep it there for about 5 seconds, it’s still too hot. Wait until you can keep it for 5 seconds.
- Before you place the chicken pieces on the fire, oil the grate so that your chicken doesn’t stick to the grate. You can continue this oiling process throughout the cooking. Your regular kitchen-use oil is actually the best oil for flat top grills.
Preparing the Chicken
- You can either use a whole chicken or cuts, but cooking time might vary between the two. If you’re new to the BBQ scene, its best to use chicken cuts which are easier to manage.
- Wash your chicken, and place the pieces in a large bowl. Add a generous portion of the spice rub and some oil. Rub through the chicken until every piece is well-coated.
- If you decide to use boneless and skinless chicken breasts instead, note that they dry out easily so it is highly recommended to marinate them before placing them on the grill.
Pro tip: Always have your best knife set for home cooking handy for precision cutting. This ensures no bones are sticking out of the chicken and that you easily slice through the bone if need be.
Grilling the Chicken
Pro tip: The middle of the grill where the most coals are is where your chicken will receive high heat. As you move towards the sides, the severity and impact of the heat will lessen.
- You should place your cuts in such a way that they have the appropriate amount of heat. Remember, keeping the meat on the grill for long periods can dry it out. At the same time, you can’t expose chicken cuts to direct high or medium heat as the exterior will burn, but the meat inside will be uncooked.
- Having burnt, dried out or raw chicken can ruin the experience, so you need to be extra cautious when working the grill. If you are not sure how long to cook the meat, use a timer to have intervals for each side. Keep them short; 10 minutes a side should be enough.
- A thermometer can also be handy in this situation, especially if you’re more familiar with cooking in a controlled setting and are not entirely confident in your charcoal grill skills. Another point to note for amateurs is that you can use oil or apple juice to baste the chicken. This will help enhance the colors of the final result.
- Pro tip: Every time you change the side, baste the chicken with some oil or apple juice. You can infuse the oil with herbs or spices for an assortment of flavors.
- Continue to baste, changing sides (and oiling the grill) until your chicken is cooked through. Depending on the amount you have on the grill, a full rack of chicken pieces should take 1 and a half hours at most. A whole chicken can take longer
- As the chicken is cooking, you can shift the pieces around the grill if those closest to the heat seem to be in danger of overcooking or getting burnt.
- Check to see if your meat is well done with an instant-read thermometer after the appropriate time (not every 5 minutes!). Cooked chicken should have a temperature of 165°F in the meatiest part of the thigh or breast.
Pro tip: If you do not have a thermometer, don’t stress. Find a thigh or breast and cut through it. You will know if the chicken is done when the juices run clear after being cut into with a knife.
- Constantly check the heat being generated as well, adding more briquets when needed. If it’s not hot enough you might be stuck at that grill for longer. This is a patience game, and you will need a fair amount of it (or perhaps someone to keep you company or some beers to distract you).
Applying the BBQ Sauce
After the chicken is cooked, don’t take it off the grill just yet. Pour some of the barbecue sauce into a separate container – so that you don’t contaminate the whole batch – and lightly brush it onto the chicken.
Leave it for a few more minutes and allow the sauce to adhere to your chicken in a sticky glaze. At this point, you don’t want to leave the masterpiece unattended. Keep a close eye on the chicken and immediately take it off the grill if the sauce starts to get burnt.
- I know, the chicken probably looks mouthwatering by now and everyone can’t wait to have a bite but, do not serve immediately after taking it off the grill! Let it rest for a few more minutes so that the heat regulates. This will also give the juices and flavors in the chicken to set.
- If you grilled a whole uncut chicken, cutting it straight from the grill will make its succulent juices flow out, leaving the meat quite dry and chewy. If the chicken is dried out in certain places and moist in others, it will spoil the overall taste and texture of your grilled chicken.
Pro tip: Remember your knife set? Use that to effortlessly slice through your full chicken.
Using a charcoal grill may seem like an outdated cooking method, but the flavors of the meat that is barbequed over charcoal and its salivating aromas are what has kept this technique a hot favorite around the world for the longest time. The skill and patience required will also hone your grilling skills. In the end, anyone who can handle charcoal grills absolutely deserves the title of ‘BBQ Master’.
Grilling chicken over charcoal is a great test to prove your mastery. It will require a lot of practice (a few burnt portions of meat along the way), precision, and following all the preparation steps. Small mistakes such as leaving the grill unattended can easily spoil all your hard work. If the charcoal grill proves to be too much to handle, find the best gas grills with searing burners and hone in your skills since they are easier to manage before giving the charcoal one another shot. Good luck!