Common Grilled Chicken Mistakes and Tips

Brooke Newberry
(Photo: )

We’ve all heard celebrity chefs say, “just don’t overcook your chicken.” Yeah…thanks.

Chicken, which is one of the more versatile proteins, can be prepared a number of ways.  Some of these methods are more difficult to master than others – like grilling. 

Chicken is lower in fat than other types of meat, which means it just needs a little extra care to prevent the Christmas Vacation dry-out. Dark meat will always be easier to keep moist than white meat.  Stop dreading the boneless chicken breast dry out: these mealtime staples can absolutely be grilled properly to retain their moisture.  It’s all about manipulating grill temps.  

Don’t be chicken – learn about your mistakes and gain back some cookout confidence.

The Mistakes


Fat left on the chicken can drip into the grill fire, causing flare-ups.  These flames can engulf the meat, charring its skin while the insides are left uncooked. To avoid this – don’t cook chicken over high heat. With charcoal grills, use medium-low heat, and for gas grills, go for medium. The skin should be crisped with the insides left to remain tender.

Tip: If cooking boneless chicken breasts, take the meat off the grill five minutes before it’s cooked through.  The heat will carry over during the resting time and allow the piece to finish cooking off the grill without drying out the juices inside.

Super High Temps:

Indirect heat is best for grilling chicken, no matter what the cut. Find the cooler spots on your grill by just waving a hand over the grates to locate the hot zones. It’s best to establish two temperature zones on your grill. 

For gas grills: set one side to medium-high and keep the other on very low heat. 

For charcoal grills: push coals to one side and build a fire on just that side of the grill.

Forgetting to Rest:

Let the chicken sit for five minutes after removing from the grill. The juices you worked so hard to control will seep out if the meat is cut too soon.

Not Using a Proper Thermometer:

No, don’t eyeball it and don’t cut open the chicken while its still on the grill to check for doneness.  Get an instant read thermometer.  It’s the no-fail method (white meat should be 160, dark at 165).

Seasoning and Sauces:

Don’t forget to season your chicken with salt and pepper, right before you grill it. And remember not to add your sauce too soon.  Sauces and basting methods should be the very last thing you put on your bird.  Sauces will burn and dispense bitterness if added too soon.



Get to know your grill. You’ll start to notice the areas of the grate that get hot the fastest.  Over time you’ll start to notice which areas of your grill brown the food faster than others; learn to move the chicken around in accordance.

Chicken tastes better brined.  A brine is a salt and water solution that helps keep chicken breasts moist through the process of osmosis.

Use 1 Tablespoon salt and 1 Tablespoon sugar for every 1-cup water. Brine boneless chicken breasts for 2 to 3 hours.  Try not to soak them for much longer as overbrining will give it a rubbery and over-salted taste.  Or, try this herby, boozy dark lager beer brine recipe.

If you must check for doneness by slicing open your meat, the juices should not be pinkish in any way. If you see pink, let the meat cook a little longer.

Last but not least, get a good piece of poultry.  A happy bird equals happy meat.  Buy free range, antibiotic free birds.