The Classic Grilled Chicken Problem
How many times have you tried to grill bone-in chicken on your trusty grill, only to dry it out while the meat is still underdone on the bone?
You are not alone. In fact, it’s a common dilemma.
But the good news is that it’s not entirely your fault. And in this article, I will show you the simple secret to grilling chicken that's fully cooked, yet tender all the way through, with delicious crispy skin.
Note: When I refer to chicken in this post, I’m talking about bone-in chicken halves, quarters, thighs, or legs with the skin on.
One way to solve this problem is to precook the chicken in water on the stove. Then before it’s done cooking, remove it from the water and finish it off on the grill. But just think, how degrading is it to cook the chicken in water? I mean hey, we’re talking barbecue. On second thought, let's just forget I said that.
A more legitimate solution would be to simply cook it in your offset smoker and give it a good dose of indirect heat. Unfortunately, this just causes another problem—rubbery skin. Even running your smoker "hot and fast" doesn't necessarily make the skin edible every time unless you can hit it just right.
There is a better way. Two, actually.
Offset the Fire
Most of the grills out there are not designed to grill chicken, or rather a full grate of chicken. The grate is way too close to the fire. But don’t get worried. If you have a plain ole’ grill, such as the Weber Kettle grill, you can build a fire on one side, put your meat on the other side, and close the lid. Or build a small fire on both sides and put the meat in the middle. (If you’re cooking with gas, just use one burner.)
Add some wood to make a little smoke, and now you’ve got a cross between direct heat and true indirect. Cook the chicken on the side for a while, then finish it directly over direct heat to crisp up the skin. You will turn out some great barbecue.
But how is this going to work if have 30 or 100 or even 500 people to feed? That’s where a big pit comes in.
Into the Pit You Go, Birdie
The easiest and best way to cook the most amazing bone-in chicken is maintaining enough distance between the fire and the meat—still direct grilling, but not as direct as on a regular grill.
That's why you see people laying up pits with concrete blocks for chicken barbecues at fund-raisers, auctions, open houses, etc. Sometimes they even wire two grates together and have two big guys flip the whole rack by hand instead of flipping each piece of meat separately.
So you stack up a couple rows of 8" concrete blocks on a flat area, build a hot fire in it, set some grates on top, and get to loadin’ the chicken. It seems we’re really on to something until the fire starts flaring up, the skin is burning, and the chicken is drying out—and wait a minute—there’s still red juice on the inside!
Believe it or not, this is normal. Same frustration as on that grill you picked up at your local chain store.
You see, your chicken is still too close to the fire. If your pit was tight with vents and lids, a foot would be enough space, but you're cooking on an open pit with cracks and no easy way to fine-tune the fire.
Simply build your pit up to about 32" deep with a couple more rows of blocks, and now you have the setup you need to feasibly crank out amazing grilled chicken without too much worry of flare-ups and frantic chaos while you try to flip chicken "90 miles an hour".
The goal is to crank out grilled chicken that is fully cooked on the bone, but not tough and dry on the outside—crispy perfect skin and juicy meat all the way through. Cooked uniformly from east to west, north to south.
And now you can do it!
There are also other secrets to grilling perfect chicken, such as seasoning it, flavoring the meat with wood smoke, knowing when it's done, etc, but using the right grill is the key to avoiding frustration and enjoying the process.
The Coolest Grill Ever
Speaking of equipment, Meadow Creek Chicken Cookers make it easy to grill perfectly done chicken for crowds. There is no better way to grill chicken known to man!
Known as the "Chicken Cookers", Meadow Creek's grills with rotating sandwich grates take barbecue fund-raising and backyard grilling to a whole new level.
Double-sided easy-turn grates make it easy to turn the entire rack of meat with one hand. The stainless steel grates never rust and are easy to maintain, for many long years of use.
Meadow Creek Chicken Cookers come in a variety of sizes, from backyard patio models to road-ready trailers with multiple pits you can pull behind your truck. Imagine arriving on site with your pit intact and ready to fire up, instead of arriving with a load of blocks you have to set up and take down every time!
Stewart Ellis (above) from Clear Brook, VA has 60 years experience in cooking barbecue, and this is what he said about his experience cooking on a Meadow Creek Chicken Cooker:
"I started cooking barbecue chicken with my dad in the late 40's and 50's. He would cook for our church and fire company fundraisers. After my father died, I started barbecuing chicken for the churches or any other fundraiser. I have cooked chicken for Relay for Life and for band camps, but mostly for churches. I purchased my Meadow Creek cooker in 2005. This is one of the best investments I have ever made. This would be a great business for someone. The best reward is when someone comes up and tells me, 'That is the best chicken I ever had; how do you keep it so good and moist?' Thanks, Meadow Creek!"