If you own a charcoal grill and this is your first time cooking boneless chicken breasts, do not fret because you can learn how to do it like a pro. Even though you can learn how to grill boneless chicken breasts, out of all the different types of meat you can grill, they are the hardest to cook.
If you have grilled boneless chicken breasts or know what happens when you grill them incorrectly, this guide will prevent you from repeating or making common grilling mistakes. You will know that the boneless chicken breasts have not been cooked perfectly when they are chewy, dry, and taste like cardboard.
You will also not run into this problem again if you follow these tips on grilling juicy and delicious boneless chicken breasts on a charcoal grill every time:
1. Do Not Buy Boneless Chicken Breasts that Are too Big
You do not want to buy large boneless chicken breasts that are over 10 ounces. They take several hours to cook in the charcoal grill. Instead, you need to buy boneless chicken breasts that are between 5 and 8 ounces because they will not only cook quickly, but will also retain more moisture.
2. Pound the Boneless Chicken Breasts Before You Grill Them
As mentioned before, grilling boneless chicken breasts is a challenging task. You have to keep track of the temperature throughout the grilling process because if it exceeds its desired temperature, it will begin to dry out immediately.
The shape of the boneless chicken breasts also does not help because its uneven height indicates that you cannot cook its thick middle without overcooking the thinner parts of the chicken first. By pounding the chicken breasts, you can make its height even.
You can place the chicken breasts in a plastic bag to pound it. The thick plastic will not rip and will contain the mess. Beat it with a meat pounder or heavy skillet. Bash the thicker parts of the meat until they match the height of the thinner parts. The height should be around three-quarters of an inch. If you pound the chicken breasts too thick, it will become prone to drying out when placed over high heat.
3. Brine Your Boneless Chicken Breasts for Additional Moisture
Brining your boneless chicken breasts will prevent them from drying out too much. When you salt the meat, it will change the protein and retain the moisture during grilling. This ensures that your boneless chicken breasts will remain juicy even if they are slightly overdone. You need to brine your chicken for about 30 minutes. Turn your charcoal grill up to heat it while the chicken is brining.
Should You Use Wet Brine or Dry Brine?
- Wet Brine– Dissolve salt in water, add the boneless chicken breasts to them, and soak them. Wet brine will plump the chicken breasts and make the meat juicier. The disadvantage is that your meat will be less flavorful, and increased moisture slows down browning.
- Dry Brine– Sprinkle salt over the boneless chicken breasts and allow the meat to rest for at least an hour. This salt will enter the meat. If you are trying the dry brine, do not cover it and place it on a wire rack on top of the rimmed baking sheet for maximum air circulation around the entire meat.
Dry brine allows the chicken to maintain its natural moisture, but the meat will not be very juicy or plump but still moist enough. It will also have a deep chicken flavor and will easily brown due to the surface drying during the dry brining.
Another thing you should do before you brine them is to create shallow gashes in the meat. The marinade can enter the meat through them. You can try this technique with chicken with bones as well. Create 1/4 inch to 1/2-inch-deep cuts into the boneless chicken breasts to allow the marinade to enter through them.
The method you choose to brine your boneless chicken breasts depends on your preference. Most people prefer dry brining over wet brining, but you can try both to see which one you like better.
4. Grill Your Boneless Chicken Breasts Correctly
Before you add your boneless chicken breasts to the charcoal grill, clean and oil it. Since the skinless chicken breasts have no fat on them, there is nothing to protect them from the heat. This means that they will easily stick to the charcoal grill, which cleaning and oiling the grill beforehand can prevent.
Next, you need to set the temperature of the charcoal grill. If the charcoal grill gets too hot — 500 degrees Fahrenheit and above — it can cause the boneless chicken breasts to dry out quickly. You also do not want to keep the temperature of the charcoal grill too low either.
A low temperature means no browning, just a pale boneless chicken breast. Keep the fire at medium high— 375 degrees Fahrenheit to 450 degrees Fahrenheit — to create a golden crust without drying out the chicken breasts.
Lastly, cook the chicken breasts for 2 to 3 minutes per side over direct and medium to high heat to brown and cook the meat. Use a two-zone fire by piling the coals on one side of the grate. When the chicken is almost cooked, put it on the cooler side of the charcoal grill and cover it to prevent the chicken breasts from burning.
Use an instant-read thermometer when you cook your chicken breasts to ensure it is well done. You can measure the temperature of the chicken breasts by creating a small slit in them. Look through the slit to see if the center of the chicken is fully cooked or not.
If you are using a thermometer, the desired temperature you are looking for is 150 degrees Fahrenheit. Just make sure the chicken maintains that temperature for 3 minutes because if it does not, it means it is not safe to eat.
*Tip: Since skinless, boneless chicken breasts have more chances of drying out, consider leaving the skin on. Grilled, boneless chicken breasts will stay juicy with the skin becoming crispy. However, know that finding boneless chicken breasts with skin is difficult to find at stores, which is why you may need to buy chicken breasts with bones and split them on the bone.
You can ask your local butcher to debone the chicken breasts unless you know how to do it yourself. Do not throw away the bones though because you can use them to create stock another day. You can also grill the chicken breasts with bone in.
5. Select the Right Heat Level
Cook the boneless and skinless chicken breasts over high heat to allow them to retain their moisture. If you are grilling chicken breasts on the bone or large chicken breasts that have not been pounded will need to be grilled over medium-high heat. They will be cooked slowly, so the outside of the chicken breasts does not burn while the inside of the meat reaches its desired temperature.
6. Know When You Need to Open and Close the Charcoal Grill
Once you close the charcoal grill, it will heat your meat more evenly. Closing the lid is good if you have large chicken breasts with bone, which you have not pounded. If you leave the lid open, the heat will collect at the bottom of the charcoal grill, which is a good idea for thinner boneless chicken breasts. Leaving the lid open allows the chicken breasts to get a hood char without drying the meat from the top.
7. Glaze the Boneless Chicken Breasts
If you want to glaze your boneless chicken breasts, brush the glaze on them about 2 to 3 minutes before the meat is completely cooked. This will prevent the chicken breasts from overcooking and glaze from becoming burned. Do not rush this step because if you do, your glaze might get burned on the charcoal grill.
8. Dress Your Boneless Chicken Breasts Up
Once you have grilled evenly cooked and moist boneless chicken breasts, you can decorate it with sauce. You can choose from several different sauces, such as arugula pesto or cheese or any other type of sauce you like.
You can top the boneless chicken breasts with mango and habanero barbecue sauce, chimichurri, and cilantro pesto. You can even create an intense brine that will add flavor to the boneless chicken breasts. You can then create a nice spice rub or an apple brine.
If you want to cook boneless chicken breasts on your charcoal grill, follow these steps to cook moist and juicy boneless chicken breasts.