Chicken is one of the most popular foods to grill, yet it causes more trouble than any other grilled fare. More often than not, people serve birds that are burnt on the outside and raw in the center. It’s understandable: A halved or quartered chicken with the skin on presents a twofold challenge.
The first problem is that the fat in the skin melts and causes flare-ups. The second problem is that, because it contains bones, chicken takes longer to cook than, say, steaks or burgers. And because of food safety issues, you don’t want to eat chicken anything less than well done.
To cook chicken halves or quarters to perfection, use the two-tiered method, which will enable you to control the heat by moving the birds back and forth over hotter and cooler sections of the grill:
1. If using charcoal: When you build your fire, pile the coals in a double layer on one side of the grill and in a single layer on the other.
If using a gas grill: Preheat one side to high, the other to medium. In either case, leave yourself plenty of room, so you can move the birds around to avoid flare-ups.
2. Season the chicken pieces with salt, pepper, or any other seasonings you plan to use.
3. After oiling the grill grate, place the pieces, skin side down, on the hotter section of the grill. Cook until the skin starts to brown, 3 to 5 minutes. Move the pieces to the cooler section of the grill and continue grilling until the skin is thoroughly browned, 5 to 7 minutes more. Watch carefully and use tongs to move the pieces away from flare-ups.
4. Turn the pieces and move them back to the hotter section of the grill. Brown the second side well (3 to 5 minutes), then move the pieces back to the cooler side of the grill to finish cooking. The total cooking time will be 16 to 24 minutes. When ready, the chicken will be crisp and golden-brown outside and the juices will run clear when the meat is pierced.
5. If the recipe calls for basting and you are using an oil- or wine-based marinade, you can brush the chicken continuously. If using a sugar-based marinade, start brushing it on during the last 5 minutes of grilling.
For the Chicken-hearted:
Bird without Flames
You can avoid the risk of flare-ups entirely by grilling halved or quartered chickens using the indirect method. Set up the grill for indirect grilling, placing a drip pan in the center, under the grate, and preheat to medium. When ready to cook, oil the grill grate. Place the chicken pieces, skin side down, on the hot grate, over the pan. Cover the grill and cook until the juices run clear, about 40 minutes for halved birds, 30 to 40 minutes for chicken quarters. (In general, breast pieces require less cooking time than leg pieces.) The advantage of this method is that it’s absolutely failproof the disadvantage is that the bird will lack the charred flavor you get cooking over direct flames.
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