I don't know about you, but at my house, Fourth of July plans are already well under way. The fireworks I can take or leave, but I'll never miss an excuse to fire up the grill. Chicken at cookouts often leaves me skeptical—think about all the dry, stringy grilled breasts you've come across in your life—but when you're doing the cooking, there's no need to worry. With the right technique on your side, your grilled chicken will be juicy, flavorful, and all-around delicious. These 22 recipes, from simple butterflied and barbecued birds to yakitori, Buffalo-style sausages, and Peruvian chicken sandwiches, will show you how to do it right for your July 4th bash.
The Best Juicy Grilled Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breasts
Boneless, skinless chicken breasts are far from our favorite cut, but if you treat them right, they can indeed be delicious. Pounding them to a uniform thickness, brining them, and using an instant-read thermometer to ensure they don't overcook will produce the juiciest possible meat. (And, if you still find them a little uninspiring on their own, try repurposing them in a loaded chicken sandwich.)
Grilled Butterflied Chicken
For the simplest grilled chicken, look to the same technique we recommend for roast birds: spatchcocking, or butterflying. Cutting out the bird's backbone and laying it flat helps the meat cook more evenly, as does using a two-zone fire, which allows you to start the chicken over a cooler temperature and finish over high heat for crispy skin. The result is meat so tender and flavorful, it won't need any seasonings besides a little kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.
The Best Barbecue Chicken
Conventional grilling works well for smaller chickens, but once you get above four pounds or so, it becomes difficult to cook the meat evenly. Bigger birds, of between six and eight pounds or so, are much better suited to barbecue—low-and-slow cooking is gentle enough to ensure every bit of meat comes out tender, not to mention wonderfully smoky. Finish it off with your favorite barbecue sauce.
Planked Chicken Quarters With Lemon and Herb
Not down with the added time and effort it takes to barbecue chicken? Cooking on planks is a good alternative for giving the meat a little bit of that wood flavor. The real flavor punch here, though, comes from a simple but powerful combination of olive oil, lemon juice, and herbs, which we use both for marinating and for basting—cutting slashes into the meat before grilling helps the marinade soak in thoroughly.
Thai-Style Grilled Chicken (Gai Yang)
I never thought grilled chicken was something to get excited about until I finally encountered a perfectly cooked one on a small island in the Gulf of Thailand. Marinated with fish sauce and sugar, the meat developed an intensely caramelized crust that immediately won me over. This version incorporates soy sauce and a host of aromatics into the marinade, too, for a complex sweet-and-savory flavor. Serve the chicken with sticky rice and sweet chili dipping sauce to get the complete experience.
Thai-Style Chicken Satay With Peanut-Tamarind Dipping Sauce
While gai yang is the Thai chicken preparation that has my heart, in American Thai restaurants, you're more likely to find satay on the menu. With this recipe, you can not only re-create the takeout classic at home but make it even better. It starts with marinating strips of chicken breast in a blend of coriander, white pepper, palm sugar, garlic, ginger, shallot, turmeric, lemongrass, and more—using a mortar and pestle, though it's time-consuming, is the best way to extract all the flavor from your aromatics. After that, simply grill and serve with a rich, tangy tamarind-peanut sauce for dipping.
Japanese Chicken Skewers With Scallion (Negima Yakitori)
Step into a traditional yakitori joint in Japan, and you'll be confronted with every cut of chicken you can imagine (and maybe some you can't). The variety is part of the fun, but if you're going to pick just one piece, thighs are a good choice—an abundance of connective tissue and fat means they tend to stay supremely moist and juicy. This simple recipe skewers diced boneless, skinless chicken thighs with scallion, which we grill over moderate heat, then brush with a homemade teriyaki sauce until it forms an intensely flavorful glaze. It's a perfect introduction to the world of yakitori.
Grilled Lemon-Garlic Chicken and Tomato Kebabs With Basil Chimichurri
If you don't have all day to marinate your chicken, turn to this recipe, in which the meat needs just five minutes to absorb the flavors of garlic, olive oil, and lemon zest and juice, with a touch of maple syrup for sweetness. From there, thread the chicken onto skewers and serve it with a fresh, summery basil chimichurri. We like grilled tomatoes alongside the chicken here, but prefer to keep them on separate skewers, since they require about half the cooking time.
Sweet-and-Sour Grilled Chicken Skewers (Yakitori Nanbansu)
Teriyaki may be the most obvious sauce for yakitori, but it's not the only choice: Nanbansu, a sweet/sour mixture of soy sauce, vinegar, mirin, and sugar, can be used as both a marinade and a dip and is well worth checking out. The sauce lasts about a month in the fridge, so I like to make a big batch and keep it on hand. If you like, a little shichimi togarashi sprinkled on the chicken after grilling adds a light heat.
Crispy Caramel Chicken Skewers
This recipe is a bit more complicated than just threading cubes of chicken on a stick, but the tangy, savory, crunchy coating makes it absolutely worth it. Inspired by Vietnamese gà kho, we first marinate the chicken in a blend of fish sauce, orange juice, and brown sugar. While the skewers grill, we brush on a glaze made from a similar lineup of ingredients, plus aromatics, rice vinegar, and a little honey—the combination of honey and brown sugar makes a decent stand-in for Vietnamese rock sugar—to build up a thick, sticky glaze. The final step is rolling the skewers in a mixture of sesame seeds, sliced almonds, and scallions, adding texture that makes these a welcome departure from standard cookout fare.
Peruvian-Style Grilled-Chicken Sandwiches With Spicy Green Sauce
Peruvian-style grilled chicken—a spatchcocked bird rubbed with salt, cumin, paprika, pepper, garlic, vinegar, and oil—is one of my favorite summertime dishes, and it might be even better in conveniently portable sandwich form. You can choose to grill a whole bird or buy cutlets that are ready to go; the really important part of the finished product is the spicy, creamy, herbal sauce, made with mayo, sour cream, jalapeños, and cilantro.
Grilled Chicken and Peach Saltimbocca Skewers
Saltimbocca is a traditional Italian dish made of sautéed veal rolled up with prosciutto and sage. This skewered variation swaps out the veal for down-to-earth chicken breast, marinated with white wine and sage and threaded with prosciutto and peaches. The sweet peaches nicely balance out the salty, rich pork and give these skewers a summery feel—but make sure to use semifirm ones, so that they don't turn to mush on the grill.
Making true Jamaican jerk chicken at home is tricky—the marinade of allspice, thyme, and Scotch bonnet peppers is simple enough, but finding the pimento wood that's traditionally used to smoke the meat is tough. While it's possible to order the pimento wood online, you can also take the easy route: replacing it with bay leaves and whole allspice berries, which will impart a very similar flavor.
Grilled Chicken With Za'atar
Growing up in an Arab-American household, as I did, meant eating za'atar—a spice-and-herb blend incorporating sesame seeds and sumac—on basically everything. Za'atar isn't a staple of my diet anymore, but it's still one of my favorite seasonings for grilled chicken. To balance out the earthiness of the za'atar, we like to serve the chicken with a creamy aioli flavored with sumac and mint.
Greek-Style Grilled Chicken With Oregano, Garlic, Lemon, and Olive Oil
The first time we heard about the Greek technique of sprinkling chicken with lemon juice as it grills, we thought it was a great idea—until we tried it. It turns out that while the juice does add tons of flavor, it also keeps the skin from drying out fully and crisping up before the meat overcooks. A much better option is to make a lemony vinaigrette that you can use as both a marinade and a sauce.
Tandoor-Style Grilled Chickens or Cornish Hens
The high heat of a tandoori oven (or a roaring fire on the grill) is great for giving chicken an intense char and smoky flavor, but it's also easy to dry out the meat that way. For that reason, a Cornish game hen or small chicken works best here. Our version of a tandoor-style marinade uses a base of tenderizing yogurt, seasoned heavily with paprika, cumin, turmeric, toasted coriander, and a number of other spices. The signature vibrant-red color you often see on tandoori chicken comes not from cayenne, as some chefs say, but from achiote powder or food coloring—either one is an optional add-in here.
Hawaiian Huli Huli Grilled Chicken Wings
These grilled wings get their sweet-and-tangy flavor from a mixture of pineapple juice, soy sauce, light brown sugar, chicken stock, ginger, garlic, and sriracha, used as both a marinade and a glaze. If you've never grilled chicken wings before, it just might become your new favorite way to cook them—a two-zone fire leaves them tender, crisp-skinned, and smoky.
Grilled Spicy Chicken Wings With Soy and Fish Sauce
Don't let the ingredients in the name put you off, since these wings don't taste at all fishy—fish sauce, a powerful umami bomb, simply enhances the chicken's savoriness. We pair it here with Shaoxing wine, soy sauce, and dried chili peppers to make a marinade for the wings. The recipe calls for 15 red peppers; if you're cooking for people with lower spice tolerances, you might want to use only five or so.
Grilled Hoisin-Glazed Chicken Wings
Simply grilling marinated wings over a two-zone fire will get them reasonably crispy, but you'll get even better results if you sprinkle the wings with baking powder and salt, then let them rest overnight in the refrigerator to dry out their surfaces and raise their pH. Here, we toss the air-dried wings with a sweet/salty glaze of soy sauce, honey, and hoisin.
Grilled Cajun Chicken Wings
The air-drying technique described above won't work with a typical wet marinade—but it does work with dry seasonings. In this Cajun-inspired recipe, that means adding paprika, garlic powder, thyme, oregano, cayenne, and more to the salt and baking powder that'll help the skin crisp up. We finish the wings with a twist on Buffalo-style sauce—made with a Louisiana-style hot sauce, like Crystal, instead of Frank's.
Buffalo Chicken Sausages
Anyone who can't get enough Buffalo wings will fall in love with this chicken sausage that's infused with classic Buffalo flavors. Making it isn't quite as easy as mixing Buffalo sauce with ground chicken—the butter in the sauce has an unfortunate tendency to make the sausages explode. Instead, we use Frank's Buffalo Wing Sauce (this is one occasion when fake butter is better!), spiked with extra Frank's and a few tablespoons of paprika.
Roasted-Garlic and Feta Chicken Sausage
Another unexpected alternative to the pork- and beef-based sausages more commonly seen at cookouts, these are made with juicy skin-on chicken thigh meat, sweet roasted garlic, and tangy feta cheese. Be gentle with the other flavorings—shallots, oregano, vinegar, and lemon juice—so that you don't end up overshadowing the chicken.
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