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How Long To Grill Chicken

When it comes to grilling chicken there are a wide variety of cuts to choose from. Breasts, wings, thighs, legs, bone-in and bone-out, skinless, skin-on, stuffed and whole chickens. How long it takes to grill chicken varies based on the cut, its size, bones, skin, sauces and the grill’s temperature. 6-8 oz of boneless, skinless chicken breast takes 4-6 minutes per side over 350 °F direct medium heat. But 6-8 oz. of bone-in chicken breast takes 12-15 minutes per side over 350 °F indirect medium heat. Chicken is one of the harder meats to grill properly. Cook it for too long and the meat will dry out or burn. Too short and the inside will be under-cooked and unsafe to eat.

In addition to chicken’s grill times you also have to understand how to control a grill’s heat. Some chicken cuts need direct heat which means the meat is placed directly over the flame. But others requires slower cooking and indirect heat which requires placing the meat away from the flame. Generally the more bones a piece of chicken has the longer it takes to cook. So indirect heat is the better choice. For example drumsticks, thigh and whole chickens have the biggest bones so they need slow indirect heat to cook properly.

The final very important part of grilling chicken is the grill’s temperature. The higher the heat the faster your chicken will cook. But high heat usually burns the outside of the chicken and dries out the inside. A steady temperature of between 350 °F-450 °F is generally best. This is easy to achieve with a gas grill but harder with charcoal or wood.

In this article, we’ll discuss grilling different chicken parts, the temperature and time required, and a few factors that may effect grill times.

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Grilling Times For Chicken Cuts

Using the recommended time and temperature guidelines helps ensure the chicken is cooked to a minimum safe internal temperature. This is critical in preventing food-borne illness caused by eating under-cooked chicken. Always use an accurate meat thermometer to ensure proper doneness when cooking chicken.

The chart above is a guide for chicken grilling times including whole chickens and various parts. Cooking times are provided for grilled whole chicken, breasts, legs or thighs, drumsticks and wings. These are the most popular parts of a chicken that are grilled.

Here are a few average times and temperatures for grilling various size pieces of chicken:

  • Chicken Breast: 4 oz boneless cook 8 to 12 minutes per side @ 350 °F direct heat.
  • Chicken Breast: 6 to 8 oz bone-in cook 10 to 15 minutes per side @ 350 °F direct heat.
  • Leg or Thigh: 4 to 8 oz cook 10 to 15 minutes per side @ 350 °F direct heat.
  • Chicken Wings: 2 to 3 oz cook 10 to 15 minutes per side @ 350 °F direct heat.
  • Drumstick: 4 oz cook 8 to 12 minutes per side @ 350 °F direct heat.
  • Whole Chicken: 5 to 7 lbs cook 18 to 25 minutes per lb @ 450 °F indirect heat.

Keep in mind that these times may vary if you marinade your chicken or use sauces.

What’s The Best Internal Temperature For Chicken?

165 degrees F (75 °C) is the minimum safe internal temperature of chicken. However I prefer using a hotter temperature of 180 °F.

180 degrees F (79 °C) won’t overcook the chicken so it will still be juicy. But the extra heat helps ensure the chicken is cooked properly all the way through.

Some pieces of chicken are better at a hotter temperature than others.

  • Legs and thighs are darker meat and juicier than the breast. You can grill them much hotter with sauces to get a nice crust without sacrificing flavor. I usually grill chicken legs and thighs on high direct heat.
  • Breast is a white meat that’s very lean so it dries out quickly. I grill chicken breasts on medium direct heat.
  • Drumsticks have a bone and are darker meat so you can grill them hotter and longer without them drying out.
  • Whole chickens contain both dark and white meat and bones. They’re harder to grill without drying out. Use a high indirect heat to ensure the center reaches at least 180 °F without drying out.

Some cooks recommend cutting the meat and checking its juices. If they run clear some consider the meat safe to eat. However clear juices are not a reliable indicator of doneness. Check the internal temperature of chicken with a meat thermometer instead.

Check Grilled Chicken With A Meat Thermometer

Eating under-cooked chicken can be harmful to your health. It’s very important to cook chicken to a minimum internal temperature of at least 165 °F. I actually prefer cooking chicken a little hotter and recommend an internal temperature of 180 °F.

The best way to check the internal temperature of grilling chicken is with an accurate meat thermometer. They’re cheap, highly accurate, fast and easy to use.

Simply stick the probe end of the thermometer into the center of the fattest area of chicken and wait for a reading. It generally takes just a few seconds. If the center of your chicken is hot enough, remove it from the heat. If not, cook it a little longer until it’s done.

Always check the center of the thickest part of the chicken. If you take the temperature of an outer layer of meat you could get a false reading. The meat closest to the surface are always hotter than the center.

What Happens If Chicken Doesn’t Reach 165 Degrees F (75 °C)?

Eating under-cooked chicken that doesn’t reach an internal temperature of at least 165 °F (75 °C) can be dangerous to eat. Salmonella and other harmful bacteria are destroyed by heat. If chicken isn’t cooked properly all the way through the center bacteria may not be killed and can make you sick.

Chicken isn’t like beef. With beef, rare and medium-rare is generally considered tastier with a better texture than well done. However, rare chicken is soft, mushy and tasteless. It’s not something anyone enjoys eating.

In addition to being safe to eat, to create flavor and the right texture chicken needs to reach at least 165 °F (75 °C).

The chicken grilling times listed throughout this article are to reach an internal temperature of 180 °F (79 °C). I recommend cooking chicken a bit hotter than the minimum safe temperature of 165 °F (75 °C).

Understanding Grill Temperatures

Many recipes will say grill over “medium” or “high” heat and not give a specific temperature. This is because most grills are harder to regulate than a conventional oven or stove top.

To check the temperature of your grill buy a grill thermometer called a surface temperature gauge. Lay the gauge on top of the grill’s grate and it will give you the exact temperature inside the grill right where the food is.

The following guide shows the average grill temperature ranges listed in most recipes:

  • Low Heat: 250 to 275 °F
  • Medium Low Heat: 300 °F
  • Medium Heat: 350 °F
  • Medium High: 400 °F
  • High: 450°F +

Learning how to regulate a grill’s temperature is a very important part of cooking chicken.

When a grill is too hot the outside of the chicken burns but the inside meat stays under-cooked. The center of a chicken takes time to cook and requires a lower temperature. But set the grill too low and you won’t develop a nice skin.

The perfect temperature for grilling chicken is between 350 °F to 450 °F with a combination of direct and indirect heat.

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Direct Vs Indirect Heat

When you grill there are two types of heat, Direct and Indirect.

  • Direct Heat means the food is placed directly over the fire or heat source. This is a great way to cook the outer layers of a chicken. But use too much direct heat and the skin will burn before the inside is done cooking.
  • Indirect Heat means placing the food away from the heat source or fire. Another way to say indirect heat is ambient heat. Even though indirect heat is still very hot, it’s less intense than direct heat. This is a great way to cook thick meat or meat with bones because there’s less chance the skin will burn.

Direct heat is more intense and has a higher chance of burning the skin and/or outer layers of chicken.

Indirect heat is less intense so there’s less chance the outer layers will burn. But it’s not great for crisping a chicken skin.

In general, direct heat is better for smaller pieces of chicken like drumsticks, wings, legs and breasts. Indirect heat is better for whole chickens because its a slower cook.

Is It Best To Grill Chicken With Direct Or Indirect Heat?

Both direct and indirect heat is great for grilling chicken. Direct heat is better for small pieces while indirect heat is used for whole chickens.

Smaller pieces of chicken like drumsticks, breasts, legs and wings, should be cooked on medium direct heat of 350 °F. But they should be turned over to avoid burning. Since the pieces are smaller the inside will cook along with the outside.

For larger pieces like bone-in breasts, leg quarters and whole birds, use indirect heat of 450 °F. Large pieces of chicken need a longer cook time to allow heat to penetrate deep into the meat. Direct heat would burn the outer layers while leaving the inside under-cooked.

Pro Tip: When I cook a chicken with high 450 °F indirect heat I always move the meat to direct medium 350 °F heat at the very end to char the skin until its crispy. But I only do this once I make sure the internal temperature is at least 180 °F.

Does Weight & Thickness Make a Difference When Grilling Chicken?

The size and weight of a whole chicken definitely matters. The heavier the bird, the longer it takes. This is why our chart shows a cook time per pound. So for large chickens you need to know the temperature, time and weight of the bird.

On average, a whole 5-7 lb grilled chicken requires 18-25 minutes per pound @ 450 °F indirect heat.

Heat must have enough time to penetrate through the skin, meat and finally the bone before it’s fully cooked through. The thicker the meat, the longer the process takes.

With smaller pieces of chicken like drumsticks, wings, breasts and thighs, cook times don’t usually change much. But if you have an especially large chicken breast or leg, cook it a minute or two longer per side.

I recommend cooking chicken to an internal temperature of 180 °F which leaves a little room for error. The minimum internal temperature have to cook chicken is 165 °F.

How Long Does It Take To Grill A Whole Chicken?

Grilling a whole 5-7 lb chicken takes 18-25 minutes per lb with 450 °F indirect heat. That’s a total time of 75-175 minutes or 1 1/4 to 3 hours.

The BBQ you’re using and the starting temperature of the chicken contribute to the overall cooking time. I recommend grilling chicken when it’s fully thawed and at room temperature.

Whether you grill it upright in a beer can or on its back, the best temperature range for your grill is 450°F high indirect heat. This is a long, slow cook that will reach an internal temperature of at least 180 °F without burning the skin or drying out the bird.

If you spatchcock a whole chicken, the overall thickness of the bird is cut in half. This cooks it faster and more evenly. The cook time of a spatchcocked chicken is generally half that of a regular whole chicken.

Remember to check the chickens internal temperature with a meat thermometer before removing it from the grill. The internal temperature should reach at least 165 °F to be considered safe to eat but I recommend 180 °F. No matter how long the chicken’s been cooking on the grill, don’t remove it until it’s cooked properly all the way through.

How Long Do You Grill A Chicken Breast?

Grilling a chicken breast between 6-8 oz takes 10-15 minutes per side with 350°F medium direct heat. This is enough time to achieve an internal temperature of 180°F. At 180°F the inside will still be juicy and flavorful and there’s no chance it’ll be under-cooked.

It doesn’t matter if the skin is on or off or if the breast has a bone. The cook time and temperature remain the same.

Even though a chicken breast requires about 10-15 minutes of cook time per side, I turn the meat about every 5 minutes. This helps prevent burning and gives me a more even cook.

How Long To Grill Chicken Leg Quarters?

Legs and thighs have the biggest bones so it takes longer to cook them than breasts or wings. Grill chicken leg quarters over 450°F indirect heat for 30-40 minutes. Turn the meat every 10-15 minutes. Finish cooking the last 10 minutes on 350°F direct heat. 5 minutes per side. This last step gives the chicken a nice char on the skin.

Because of the dark meat and bones you can cook legs a bit hotter inside and they’ll still stay juicy and flavorful. I cook chicken legs to around 190°F inside. I also use lots of sauce on my legs which tastes better on a hotter grill.

How Long Do You Grill Chicken Thighs?

Chicken thighs have a short bone running through the meat. But the bone isn’t that big and the meat isn’t that thick. So you can cook thighs with medium 350°F direct heat.

Cook 4-8 oz chicken thighs with medium 350°F direct heat for 10-15 minutes per side. I like to turn my thighs every 5 minutes to prevent burning. If you use sauce, put it on during the final 10 minutes. This prevents all the sugar from burning off.

Cook thighs to an internal temperature of at least 180 °F for the best flavor and tenderness. At 190 °F the meat should start falling off the bone. Thighs are a darker meat than breasts so cooking them hotter won’t dry out the meat or ruin it’s flavor.

How Long Do You Grill Chicken Drumsticks?

Chicken drumsticks have a bone running through the meat. The bone is average size for a chicken but the meat isn’t that thick. So you can cook drumsticks with medium 350°F direct heat.

Cook 4-8 oz chicken drumsticks with medium 350°F direct heat for 10-15 minutes per side. I like to turn my drumsticks every 5 minutes to prevent burning. If you use sauce, put it on during the final 10 minutes. This prevents all the sugar from burning off.

Cook drumsticks to an internal temperature of at least 180 °F for the best flavor and tenderness. At 190 °F the meat should start falling off the bone. Drumsticks are a darker meat than breasts so cooking them hotter won’t dry out the meat or ruin it’s flavor. Higher heat also softens and melts some of the connective tissue in the drumstick which makes them easier to eat.

How Long Do You Grill Chicken Wings?

Chicken wings have a small thin bone running through the meat. The bone is small and the meat isn’t that thick. So you can cook wings with medium 350°F direct heat.

Cook 2-3 oz chicken wings with medium 350°F direct heat for 8-12 minutes per side. I like to turn my wings every 4 minutes to prevent burning. If you use sauce, put it on during the final 10 minutes. This prevents all the sugar from burning off.

Cook wings to an internal temperature of at least 180 °F for the best flavor and tenderness. At 190 °F the meat should start falling off the bone. Wings are a darker meat than breasts so cooking them hotter won’t dry out the meat or ruin it’s flavor. Higher heat also softens and melts some of the connective tissue in the wings which makes them easier to eat.

Should You Marinate, Brine Or Rub Chicken Before Cooking? Does It Affect Cooking Time?

Marinades and brine add flavor but can increase the cooking time for skin-on chicken a bit. This is because it takes longer for the skin to dry before it can brown when it’s been soaked in liquid.

Boneless skin-off chicken takes the same amount of time to cook whether its been marinated or not.

Dry chicken rubs help dry the skin and don’t affect cooking time.

Salt and pepper are the simplest yet best seasonings for grilled meat. Smoke from the charcoal can overpower delicate flavorings like herbs. And, if you use sauce you’ll mask flavors from the marinade or rub.

It’s best to keep it simple when grilling. Use one method of flavoring the meat and some extra salt and pepper if it needs it.

What Happens If Chicken Cooks Too Long?

What happens when you overcook chicken depends on the part of the chicken you cooked.

Chicken is generally a lean meat that dries out quickly. Overcooking it will make it dry and chewy. Skin-on chicken over direct heat can burn and taste charred. However chicken still contains some fatty areas. Darker meats like the drumsticks, winds and thighs can be cooked longer and are harder to over-cook.

Overcooking chicken results in a dry, chewy meat with a burnt flavor.

If you over-cook chicken there are a few things you an do:

  • Cut up the chicken into small bits and toss it in a sauce. Sauces add flavor and moisture back into the chicken.
  • Turn the meat into a sandwich. Use other ingredients like lettuce, tomato, pickles, onion, cheese, or sauces to add flavor and moisture.
  • Make a salad. Most dressings contain acid which will soften the meat while adding flavor and moisture.

Overcooked chicken can be turned into a variety of delicious meals. But you shouldn’t eat it all by itself. Without some other sauces or foods to go with it, the meat will be dry and chewy.

Summary: How Long To Grill Chicken

When it comes to grilling chicken there are a wide variety of cuts to choose from. Breasts, wings, thighs, legs, bone-in and bone-out, skinless, skin-on, stuffed and whole chickens. How long it takes to grill chicken varies based on the cut, its size, bones, skin, sauces and the grill’s temperature. 6-8 oz of boneless, skinless chicken breast takes 4-6 minutes per side over 350 °F direct medium heat. But 6-8 oz. of bone-in chicken breast takes 12-15 minutes per side over 350 °F indirect medium heat. Chicken is one of the harder meats to grill properly. Cook it for too long and the meat will dry out or burn. Too short and the inside will be under-cooked and unsafe to eat.

In addition to chicken’s grill times you also have to understand how to control a grill’s heat. Some chicken cuts need direct heat which means the meat is placed directly over the flame. But others requires slower cooking and indirect heat which requires placing the meat away from the flame. Generally the more bones a piece of chicken has the longer it takes to cook. So indirect heat is the better choice. For example drumsticks, thigh and whole chickens have the biggest bones so they need slow indirect heat to cook properly.

The final very important part of grilling chicken is the grill’s temperature. The higher the heat the faster your chicken will cook. But high heat usually burns the outside of the chicken and dries out the inside. A steady temperature of between 350 °F-450 °F is generally best. This is easy to achieve with a gas grill but harder with charcoal or wood.

If you have any questions or comments about grilling chicken email any time.

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