Here are the best chicken cuts for grilling: chicken thighs, chicken drumsticks, chicken wings, and chicken breasts. However, there’s a subtle difference between white and dark chicken meat. Yes, you can grill almost any chicken part, but each cut requires a slightly different preparation and cooking approach. While dark meat has more flavor and more fat, white meat has less fat but is not as flavorful.
In this article, I’ll explain the differences between each chicken part and which one is better for grilling from best to worst. At the end of the article, there’s a detailed grilling guide pointing out things to keep in mind when grilling chicken breasts and other parts.
Best chicken cuts for grilling
Here’re four of the best chicken pieces for grilling:
1. Chicken thighs: the best overall cut for grilling
Chicken thighs come from the top part of the chicken leg. It’s dark meat chicken because it’s a well-exercised area. It contains more tendons than other parts; however, the meat is packed with flavor and has an excellent texture when grilled.
Chicken thighs are easy to grill and hard to overcook. It also packs incredible flavor and is moist and tender. For an amateur cook, it’s an absolute dream.
It comes boneless and skinless, bone-in and skin-on or boneless or skinless. Although it’s better to use bone-in and skin-on chicken thighs as it’s more tasty and juicy.
2. Chicken drumsticks
Chicken drumsticks come from the leg quarter. You can purchase leg quarters as a whole or separately as thighs and drumsticks. It’s also dark chicken meat because legs are used constantly, developing dark meat and rich flavor.
Chicken drumsticks are excellent for grilling. They are tasty, juicy, and hard to overcook. Drumsticks come with a bone and are easy to prepare.
3. Chicken wings
There are three types of chicken wings – the whole wing, flat, and drumette. Chicken wings are white meat, a cut that does not get much exercise. It’s juicy and flavorful if not overcooked.
Chicken wings are perfect for grilling. They cook fast, are cheap to buy, and are easy to prepare. Wings are excellent for parties or any occasion.
4. Chicken breasts
Chicken breast is a lean cut of meat from the pectoral muscle on the underside of the chicken. Breast is white meat; unlike dark meat, it’s not as flavorful and tender. It costs a bit more than other chicken parts; however, it’s perfect for grilling, especially if you want a lean cut packed with protein.
Grilled chicken breast tends to dry out; marinating or dry brine is essential to ensure the meat stays moist and tender.
How to grill chicken
For this recipe, I’m using chicken breasts. The exact cooking process applies to other chicken parts; however, since breasts are harder to keep moist and tender, I’ll show step-by-step how to keep them juicy on the inside and crispy on the outside.
- Kosher salt;
- Freshly ground black pepper;
- Chicken seasoning (optional);
- Light olive oil or any other oil with a high smoke point.
- Charcoal grill (use a gas grill if you do not have a charcoal one);
- Paper towel;
- Meat thermometer.
- Season the chicken. Place chicken breasts in a bowl, add chicken seasoning and kosher salt and pour over buttermilk. Let it sit in a fridge overnight. Both salt and buttermilk will tenderize the chicken, making it tender and moist. You can use the same brine for other chicken parts;
- Bring chicken to room temperature. Take the chicken out of the fridge and bring it to room temperature. It’ll allow the chicken to cook evenly throughout;
- Prepare grill for two-zone cooking. Prepare the grill for direct heat and indirect heat cooking. Cooking over direct heat will allow for forming a golden brown crust on the chicken exterior, while indirect heat is perfect for finishing cooking meat without drying it out;
- Pat chicken dry. Using a paper towel remove excess moisture from the chicken’s exterior. When it’s dry, rub it with light olive oil;
- Grill chicken breasts. Place chicken breasts over direct heat and grill for at least 3-5 minutes on each side until caramelized crust forms. When the crust has formed, move chicken breasts to the indirect heat side of the grill and continue cooking covered until the internal temperature is 160 degrees Fahrenheit. Chicken breasts continue to cook for another 5° Fahrenheit when off the heat. It’s called carryover cooking.
- Rest. Once the breasts are cooked, leave them to rest for at least 10 minutes. Resting will allow juices to redistribute throughout the meat’s interior, making it moist and tender.
- Slice and serve. Once chicken breasts have been rested, slice them and serve with your favorite side dishes.
What cut of chicken is the most tender?
Chicken tenderloin or inner fillet is the most tender part of the chicken. It’s a thin muscle attached to the underside of the breast and is considered one of the most tender cuts when cooked properly.
What type of chicken is easiest to shred?
Boneless skinless chicken breasts are the easiest to shred. Also, boneless and skinless things are quite easy to shred if you give them enough time to cook.