How Long to Grill Chicken (Without Drying It Out)

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If you’re wondering how long to grill chicken and don’t want to dry it out, you’re in the right place!

In this TheGrillingDad.com guide, you’ll learn: 

  • How long to grill different cuts of chicken
  • How to know when it’s done
  • And much more!
how long to grill chicken

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This Is How Long to Grill Chicken

The grilling time will depend on the temperature of your grill and the cut of the chicken, including its bone mass.

Different cuts of chicken require different amounts of time on the grill to ensure safety, a delicious flavor, and preservation of moisture.

As a general rule, the more bones a cut of chicken has, the longer it will take to cook. A cut with more bones like a leg or a wing will take longer to cook than boneless parts, like a chicken breast.

To properly cook your piece of chicken, it’s crucial to factor in its size and type.

If you have little to no experience in grilling chicken, start with the easier pieces. Thighs and legs will be much easier to grill than breasts.

It is also important to avoid cooking at temperatures that are too high because your chicken will overcook on the outside and remain raw on the inside, which can lead to a risk of a salmonella infection if you eat it.

It is also good to cook your poultry as soon as you buy it. Freezing chicken to keep it fresh will lead to a tougher texture.

If you don’t have time to cook it immediately, freezing it won’t hurt, but if you’re going for a juicy, tender piece of grilled chicken, cook it as soon as you can.

How long you grill your chicken also depends on the heat of your grill. If you’re grilling on low heat, it will need more time, and higher temperatures will need less.

Let’s get into the different chicken parts, and look into the time and temperature required for grilling each different part.

Knowing the varying times and temperatures will ensure that you are cooking in the correct window time.

Remember, the goal is a moist, charred, and delicious meal for your family and friends.

Chicken Cut

Weight (in ounces)

Required Time for Grilling (in minutes)

Temperature

Skinless, boneless chicken breast

6 – 8

8 – 12

over direct medium heat (350 °F)

Chicken breast (with bones)

10 – 12

30 – 40

over indirect medium heat (350 °F)

Boneless, skinless thigh

4

8 – 10

over direct high heat (450 °F)

Thigh with bones

30 – 40

over indirect medium heat (350 °F)

Chicken wings

2 – 3

18 – 20

over direct medium heat (350 °F)

Whole chicken

31/2 – 41/2

90 – 120

over indirect medium heat (350 °F)

Note: If you alter the chicken or add marinade or sauce to it, that can change the required grilling time.

how long to grill chicken fact

How Long to Grill Different Cuts of Chicken

Grilling chicken is a great way to cook up something delicious, but it can be tricky to know how long to grill each cut of chicken.

From whole chicken to breasts and thighs, here’s a handy guide that tells you how long to grill each cut of chicken, so you can get perfectly cooked meat every time!

How Long to Grill Whole Chicken

Grilling a whole chicken can take anywhere from 1 to 2 hours depending on the size of the bird, the quality of your grill, the temperature in your location, and how much fat is on your chicken.

A smaller bird will cook faster than a larger one. It’s best to keep an eye on your chicken throughout the process just in case any issues could cause it to burn or overcook.

When grilling a whole chicken, the preferred temperature range for your grill is 200 to 300 °F. It’s a slow cooking process that needs your patience but yields perfect results.

There are various tips and recommendations for grilling whole chickens, from laying it on its side to using a setup to keep it upright during the cooking process.

Always be sure to test the temperature of your chicken before serving it.

For a whole chicken, insert the thermometer all the way into the thickest part of the chicken. As an extra precaution, you can check different spots in the meat to make sure everything is fully cooked.

Can Spatchcocking a chicken reduce its cooking time?

Spatchcocking, a process that opens up the chicken at the spine and removes the backbone and rib cage, can lower the cooking time. Doing so reduces the thickness of the meat, allowing the heat to penetrate the inside and cook it more quickly.

How Long to Grill Chicken Breast

A whole chicken breast is a single muscle that weighs from 5 to 8 ounces. The cooking time will depend on its size and thickness.

However, grilling boneless chicken breasts usually only takes 12 to 15 minutes over direct medium heat.

It is best to flip the breasts about halfway through to evenly cook both sides and avoid burning them.

Chicken breasts are skinless, so it’s important to thoroughly clean and season your grill before cooking them.

It will take longer to grill bone-in chicken breasts, most likely around 25 minutes.

How Long to Grill Leg Quarters

The legs and thighs, which are the largest cuts, will take longer to cook than breasts or wings.

Chicken legs and thighs can take 30 to 40 minutes over indirect heat, and you’ll have to turn them about every 15 minutes.

Once cooked, you can grill the leg quarters over direct heat for a few minutes to get a crisp outer layer.

The minimum internal temperature to consume chicken is 165°F, but since legs and thighs are dark meat and contain bones, you’ll get better results cooking them to around 180°F or 190°F.

At 165 °F, the meat is safe to consume. However, these particular cuts of chicken become more flavorful and tender at higher temperatures.

How Long to Grill Drumsticks

Grilled drumsticks typically take at least 40 minutes to properly cook. There are two suggested methods for this cut.

One technique is grilling it on direct heat at 450 °F. For this method, take note to avoid burning by turning the chicken every 5 minutes. The second method is using indirect heat for 30 minutes. Then, brown it off by grilling over direct heat for the last 10 minutes. If you’re going to add sauce, it is best to do so during the last 10 minutes, so it doesn’t burn.

If you want to achieve the perfect tender juicy goodness, extend the internal temperature to 180 °F or 190 °F like the leg quarters.

How Long to Grill Chicken Wings

Grilled wings are a great option for an easy weeknight dinner. Cook them on direct medium heat for 20 to 25 minutes.

With your grill’s lid closed, start the process by leaving the wings inside for 3 to 4 minutes. You may need to turn the wings every few minutes to evenly cook all sides.

Based on a 15-minute grilling time, you should check the wings if the internal temperature registers 165 ºF.

You want a light char on all sides, but not a deep char — the wings should be perfectly browned but not burned.

Read More >> How to Reheat Chicken Wings

Grilling Chicken: Temperatures, Thermometers, and Food Safety

Cooking a juicy, tender, and perfectly cooked chicken starts with checking the internal temperature of your chicken.

A quality digital thermometer will help you monitor the temperature in real-time so that you never serve undercooked or overcooked chicken again.

There are other methods to check for doneness, like checking the color of the meat or juices.

However, a digital thermometer is highly accurate, fast, and reliable. It can quickly tell you if your chicken is done or if it needs to cook for a few more minutes, without you having to do any guesswork.

It’s a perfect way to check the internal temperature of your grilled poultry without spoiling its presentation. If you don’t have one yet, stop by your local grocery or grab one from Amazon.

Once you have your thermometer, the next step is to know the guidelines and internal temperature requirements for a perfectly grilled piece of chicken.

The Best Internal Temperature for Grilled Chicken

To make sure it is fully cooked, heat the chicken to an internal temperature of 165°F (75°C) and when the juices run clear.

Making sure your chicken reaches this temperature will ensure that any harmful bacteria is killed and the chicken is safe to eat.

A backup method is to check the center of the chicken and make sure there is no remaining pink meat. The outcome will be a moist, tender, and juicy slice of chicken meat that is both delicious and safe to eat.

Checking the internal termpature of chicken is the only way to ensure it is done.

Other methods, like exclusively checking the skin to see if it is puckered or observing that the juices are running clear are not reliable methods and are only good indicators when paired with a thermometer reading.

Insert the thermometer into the thickest part of the chicken to get an accurate reading. Make sure it reads at least 165°F, and you’ll be good to go!

What Is the Outcome of an Overcooked Chicken?

Chicken is one of the leanest meats and is less forgiving than red meat. Lean meats have a tendency to dry out faster than other kinds of meat.

If you cook chicken for too long it can become dry, tough, and difficult to eat.

If your chicken is cooked directly over high heat, the skin can turn brown and crispy, but the meat becomes tough and flavorless.

Check your chicken regularly as it cooks to ensure you’re not overcooking it. It’s better to check the temperature several times than to let the meat cook for as long as you think it needs and realize that you’ve overcooked it.

What Happens if the Chicken Is Undercooked?

Properly cooked chicken should reach an internal temperature of 165 °F. If it doesn’t reach this temperature, it will be unsafe for consumption.

Other meats can be cooked to varying donenesses according to different preferences, but chicken can never be cooked rare. Undercooked chicken carries the risk of salmonella infection. It’s also unappetizing.

Food Safety

It is strictly recommended to properly cook the chicken to kill off salmonella and other bacteria that could be present in raw chicken.

If your poultry’s temperature is at or above 165 °F, you can safely eat it knowing that any harmful bacteria have been destroyed.

Palatable Meal

When grilling chicken, you want it to be as delicious as possible for yourself, family, or friends.

However, if your chicken is not fully cooked, it will be soft, mushy, and unsavory. We know you want to serve one that is cooked to perfection!

About Average Grill Temperatures

Often, food packaging will have instructions recommending that you cook your food at certain temperatures.

For chicken, the packaging will often say to cook it on medium heat. If you’re only pan-frying your chicken, these instructions make sense. But if you’re grilling it, then what does medium heat mean?

If your grill doesn’t have low, medium, and high settings, how do you know when it’s at medium heat?

Use our guide below for average grilling temperatures and a wireless thermometer to make sure you’re grilling at the proper temperature.

  • Low heat means 250 to 275 °F
  • Medium-low heat means 300 °F
  • Medium heat is 350 °F
  • Medium-high is 400 to 450 °F
  • High heat means 500 to 650 °F

Do take note that cooking chicken too fast or too hot will burn the skin and undercook the meat. For a tasty, tender piece of poultry with crispy skin, cook it at a medium temperature.

Do Thickness and Weight Affect Cooking Time?

If you’re planning to grill an entire chicken, it’s important to understand that the thickness and weight of the bird will impact the cooking time. A large chicken will take longer than a small one.

Because of this, it’s essential to know the chicken’s weight and size in order to determine its cooking time.

A general rule is that it takes approximately 18 to 25 minutes per pound to cook a whole chicken.

Heat must penetrate all the layers of meat, the skin, and bones for a whole chicken to be cooked properly. This takes longer for thicker cuts of meat.

The distance from the heat will also affect how long it takes.

Cooking chicken on indirect heat will help it retain moisture, but also slow down cooking time. Be sure to know how long it will take to cook your particular chicken or cut of chicken before you start, so it doesn’t take you by surprise.

Direct or Indirect Heat — Which is Better

Both direct and indirect heat have their advantages when grilling chicken.

Direct heat is best for cooking chicken quickly and getting a nice sear on the outside, while indirect heat is better for low-temperature cooking and keeping the meat juicy.

You can also use both methods by using a two-zone fire or a rotisserie rig. Both of these methods will help you cook your chicken evenly without drying it out.

The best way to decide which method is best for you is to consider how long you want to grill your chicken and how much time you want to spend on it.

Also, consider the cut you’re grilling. For example, drumsticks and wings do well on direct medium heat. The thickest part of the meat is shielded by the bones of these cuts.

Whole chickens or leg quarters are best grilled over indirect heat. They require slower cooking to penetrate the entirety of the chicken.

After about half of the cooking time, you can move the chicken to direct heat to brown the skin or complete the cooking process.

Read More >> Buffalo Chicken Dip Recipe

Does Marinating, Brining, or Rubbing Affect the Cooking Time?

Although adding a wet or dry marinade may give you that extra flavor you’re looking for, it may increase the grilling time because of the moisture.

However, marinating, brining, and rubbing don’t affect the grilling time for boneless cuts of chicken. The piece will take the same amount of cooking time.

If you can’t afford to wait for longer, you can use a dry rub like salt and pepper. These will help dry the skin faster and won’t affect the grilling time.

Salt and pepper are simple and classic tastes that complement grilled foods well.

A little fresh or dried thyme or rosemary can add an interesting twist, too.

Once you’ve gotten the hang of grilling chicken without it sticking or drying out, you can liven things up with your favorite marinades, barbecue sauces, or by adding an extra layer of flavor like herb butter.

Remember: the point is to keep it exciting, so don’t get too set on any one method for cooking chicken.

Play around, try different techniques and recipes, and most of all, have fun!

Read More >> How to Thaw Chicken (Quickly and Safely)

Final Thoughts on Grilling Chicken

Chicken is on the top of the list for lean cuts for a good reason — it tastes great, cooks fast, and is very affordable. There are almost endless ways to prepare chicken, but one of the most popular is to grill it.

Everyone loves BBQ chicken, but most make quite a few mistakes trying to grill the perfect piece. For me, a properly cooked piece of chicken is easy to pull off! It’s juicy, packed with flavor, and doesn’t dry out.

A perfectly grilled piece of chicken will be well-rounded on all fronts.

However, grilling chicken can be tricky. Many amateur grillers find that it’s pretty easy to dry out the chicken and make it taste like charcoal briquettes, or not cook it all the way through.

There is more to grilling chicken than just slapping it on the grill and letting it cook until the outside is brown.

The best part of grilling perfect chicken is that it isn’t a difficult task. It requires only a bit of preparation and patience once it hits the grill.

Be sure to use fresh chicken, and you can always opt for chicken thighs if you are looking for more flavor than white meat can offer.

Take a deep breath, relax and get ready to knock out some grilled chicken meals using our advice and tips. Happy grilling!

Shawn Hill

Shawn Hill

Hey, I'm Shawn and I run this site. With a wife and 7 kids, I get most of my grilling practice from feeding my own family. I'm here to help you learn more about grilling, smoking, and backyard BBQ! With almost a decade of manning the grill and helping over 25,000 aspiring grill masters, you're in great hands! I've tried just about every type of grill, accessory, and gadget you can imagine. Because of that, I am here to help guide you to the best of the best and help you save time and money by avoiding the junk.

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