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How Long to Cook Chicken on Charcoal Grill

Learning how long to cook chicken on charcoal grill is important for the best moisture and flavor. Summer is the perfect time to dust off the charcoal grill and whip up some delicious grilled chicken.

Grilling chicken can be confusing, it comes in many different forms: wings, thighs, breasts, whole, bone-in and de-boned. But how long should each one be grilled for? What temperature? Overcook and it is tough and dry, undercook, it could be unsafe to eat. Get it just right and it is flavorful, juicy, and safe to eat too. Grill marks add flavor and character, and there’s nothing quite like a juicy piece of grilled chicken.

That said, it can be tricky to get perfectly grilled chicken on a charcoal grill. Here are our tried-and-true guidelines to get you grilling with perfect results every time.

How Long to Cook Chicken on Charcoal Grill

Setting up a Charcoal Grill

It is critical to preheat the grill. Hold off putting the chicken on the grill rack until it is hot. Therefore, preheat for at least 15 minutes.

Stack your charcoal in a charcoal chimney. The chimney is a tool that makes it easier to start the coals without lighter fluid. Just fill the chimney with the charcoal, place it on the grill grates and light it. Once the coals are ready, use hot pads to pick it up and dump the hot coals right where you want them for the best grilling.

Create a direct heat and indirect heat zone. The easiest way to do this is to bank the coals to one side. This is the direct heat side which will be very hot. The other side without the coals is the indirect heat zone. This side will be a bit cooler.

Make sure that the grill grates are clean. Once the grill is hot, use a grill brush to make a few swipes back and forth to remove any burnt-on bits of food from the last time you were grilling.

Do oil the grill grates. Just dip a folded piece of paper towel in oil using a tongs and brush on the grates. This helps keep the food from sticking.

Add smokier flavor with wood chips. To do this, take 1/2 cup of wood chips, soak them in water for 30 minutes. When you are ready to grill, drain the water from the chips and add them to the hot coals.

What Temperature is Chicken Done?

It’s important to know the perfect internal temperature to cook your chicken until it’s fully cooked. According to the USDA, Poultry including chicken and turkey should be cooked until it reaches an internal temperature of 165 ºFahrenheit.

How Long to Cook Chicken on Charcoal Grill?

The answer really depends upon two things: the cut of chicken, thickness of the chicken, and the temperature of the grill.

The cooking times are the same whether you are using a charcoal grill or a gas grill.

Each part of the chicken cooks at a slightly different time and method for the best results. In general, dark meat takes longer to cook through than white meat. Additionally, bone-in takes longer to cook than a boneless piece.

If you use a meat mallet to pound your boneless chicken breasts to ½-inch before grilling, reduce the cooking time that is listed for a thick chicken breast as much as 50%. The thinner piece of chicken will cook much faster.

Grills impart a rich, smoky flavor that enhanced the taste of the chicken. We have put together a chicken grilling chart to help you grill the perfect chicken every time.

Grilling Chicken Thighs and Legs

Cut of ChickenCooking TimeTemperatureType of HeatCooking Technique
Boneless Chicken Breast8-12 MinutesMedium-High (400° F)Direct Heat5-6 Minutes per Side
Turning every 3 minutes
Chicken Tenderloin4-6 MinutesMedium-High (375° F)Direct Heat2-3 Minutes per Side
Chicken Thighs Skin on (Bone-In)30-40 MinutesMedium-High (400° F)Direct Heat then Indirect HeatSear chicken skin side until golden brown, about 3 minutes. Flip and grill 3 more minutes.
After searing move to indirect heat.
Medium-Low (300˚F)
Continue grilling 25-30 minutes
Boneless Skinless Thighs14-16 MinutesMedium-High (375° F)Direct HeatFlip every 3 minutes
Drumsticks30 MinutesMedium-High (400° F)Direct HeatFlip every 3 minutes
Chicken Wings15 – 20 MinutesMedium (350˚F)Direct HeatFlip every 3 minutes
Whole Chicken50 MinutesMedium-High (375° F)Indirect HeatButterfly Chicken. Place skin side up over indirect heat and turn once during cooking
chicken grilling chart

What does Resting the Meat Do?

Once meat has been removed from the heat source, it will retain the heat for a “Rest time”. During this time, the temperature will remain the same or continue to rise, which will help the juices seal into the meat.  Let chicken rest for 3 minutes before cutting for the juiciest and most flavorful chicken.

What is Direct and Indirect Heat?

Temperature control is essential when grilling chicken and learning how to use heat zones is important. Direct heat exposes the meat to the direct fire and flames, whereas the indirect heat uses the heat of the grill away from the hot coals and flame. The indirect heat cooks meat slower and more evenly, and the direct heat is great for creating sear marks.

Chicken breasts that have been pounded thin, chicken tenderloins, and wings are great for grilling over direct heat. Thicker chicken pieces such as a whole chicken or bone-in thigh will cook best over indirect heat as it needs more time to cook through.

Often, the best way to grill meat is start it on the direct side to sear the meat and get those lovely grill marks and moved to the side of the grill where the indirect heat is to continue cooking through.

Charcoal Grilling Chicken

Basting and Saucing Chicken for Grilling

Adding a barbecue sauce or other flavorful sauce takes grilled meat from delicious to fantastic. However, the addition of a sauce makes it easy to scorch. Therefore, it is best to wait to baste with sauce until the end of grilling.

Once the internal temperature reaches 160˚F it is time to start saucing the chicken. To do this, move the chicken to indirect heat and use a brush to baste on the liquid. We like to sauce then let cook 2-3 minutes and sauce again. This way, the sauce can thicken as a delicious glaze without burning.

What About Marinating Chicken Before Grilling?

We love a good marinade or spice rub. If you have the time, marinating chicken before grilling adds flavor and helps to tenderize the meat too. Plus, if there is oil in the marinade, and it helps keep the chicken from sticking to the grill grates.

There are many recipes for marinating chicken. Here is one of our favorites.

This is for 6 chicken breasts or 3-4 pounds of chicken

  • ½ Cup Olive Oil
  • ½ Cup Balsamic Vinegar, Cider Vinegar, or Rice Vinegar
  • ¼ Cup Soy Sauce  
  • ¼ Cup Worcestershire Sauce
  • ⅛ Cup Lemon Juice
  • ¾ Cup Brown Sugar
  • 2 Teaspoon Dried Thyme or Oregano
  • 2 Tablespoon Dijon mustard or Stone Ground Mustard
  • 1 ½ Teaspoons Salt
  • 1 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
  • 2 Teaspoons Garlic Powder

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together all the marinade ingredients. Pro Tip. If you would like to glaze the chicken while grilling, save half a cup of the marinade to the side.

Place chicken pieces in a large resealable bag and pour marinade over the top. Gently squish the bag to get the marinade all over the chicken pieces.

Refrigerate for a minimum of 30 minutes; 4 to 6 hours is best if you have the time. However, you can marinate this up to 24 hours.

Marinated Grilled Chicken

Pro Tips on How to Cook Chicken on a Charcoal Grill

Here are my tips on how to grill chicken with amazing results.

Don’t overcrowd the grill. The chicken will cook evenly when there is room for the heat to get around the meat.

Start on direct heat and move to indirect heat. The direct heat will help sear in the juices and give those beautiful grill grate marks on the meat. Moving it to the indirect heat allows the meat to cook at a bit lower temperature without the change of flareups. This will help keep the juices in too.

Heat to the correct temperature. Use a digital meat thermometer to make sure that the chicken is cooked to an internal temperature of 165˚F.

Let the chicken rest. Once the chicken is cooked through, remove it from the grill and let the chicken rest for 3-5 minutes before cutting into it. This resting time is important. It allows the juices to redistribute throughout the meat, making for juicier chicken.

How to Cook Frozen Chicken Without Thawing

I have found that using just a bit lower temperature and cooking the chicken longer than normal works perfectly when cooking frozen chicken without thawing first. Why? This way, the outside of the chicken does not burn before the inside is cooked through. Lowering the temperature to a medium heat 350°F is a great temperature to give you a great piece of juicy chicken. Just increase the cooking time by 50 percent.

How Long to Grill Chicken at 350?

When grilling 6-to-8-ounce boneless, skinless chicken breasts, at 350 degrees Fahrenheit, it will take approximately 10 to 12 minutes using direct heat.

The larger the breast, the longer it will take to cook. Additionally, chicken with the bone-in will take longer to grill. 350 degrees is a great medium heat. If you prefer cooking at this temperature, here is a great guide on how grilling times for various cuts of chicken.

Grilling from frozen? Increase grilling time by 50 percent.

Average Grilling Times for all Chicken Cuts at 350 Degrees Fahrenheit

Use this as a reference for average grilling times for various size pieces of chicken

Chicken breast, boneless, skinless. 6 to 8 ounces. Grill using direct heat between 8 and 12 minutes (350°F)

Thigh, boneless, skinless. 4 ounces. Grill using direct heat 8 to 10 minutes (350°F)

Chicken wings. 3 ounces. Grill using direct heat 18 to 20 minutes medium heat (350 °F)

Chicken breast, bone-in. 10 to 12 ounces. Grill using indirect heat 30 to 40 minutes medium heat (350°F)

Leg or thigh, bone-in. 6 ounces. Grill using indirect heat30 to 40 minutes (350°F)

Whole chicken. 4 to 5 Pounds. Grill using indirect heat 1 1/2 to 2 hours (350°F)

What to Serve with Grilled Chicken?

Grilled chicken is a summertime staple. It’s easy to make, and it’s so delicious! If you’re looking for the best grilled chicken recipe, you’ve come to the right place. I’m going to share my favorite recipe with you today.

Creamy Cucumber Salad

Side Dishes for Chicken Wings Recipes

Best Side Dishes for BBQ Chicken

Make your own BBQ Sauce. Baste this on the last few minutes of cooking. It will turn into a thick and delicious glaze.

Grape Jelly Barbecue Sauce

The Best Grilled Chicken Recipe
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The Best Grilled Chicken Recipe

Grilling is one of the easiest and most delicious ways to cook chicken. Here is one of our favorite chicken recipes. It is sure to be a hit with your family and friends. The marinade adds delicious flavor and keeps the chicken moist, while the grilling adds a nice smoky flavor.
Prep Time10 mins
Cook Time10 mins
Marinade Time4 hrs
Total Time4 hrs 20 mins
Course: Dinner, lunch, Main Course
Cuisine: American
Keyword: 30 minute meal, easy recipe, Grilling Recipe
Servings: 6 Servings
Calories: 564kcal

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Ingredients

  • 6 Chicken Breasts or about 2 Pounds of Chicken

The Best Chicken Marinade Recipe Ingredients

  • ½ Cup Olive Oil
  • ½ Cup Balsamic Vinegar Cider Vinegar, or Rice Vinegar
  • ¼ Cup Soy Sauce
  • ¼ Cup Worcestershire Sauce
  • Cup Lemon Juice
  • ¾ Cup Brown Sugar
  • 2 Teaspoon Dried Thyme or Oregano
  • 2 Tablespoon Dijon Mustard or Stone Ground Mustard
  • 1 ½ Teaspoons Salt
  • 1 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
  • 2 Teaspoons Garlic Powder

Instructions

  • For quick cooking and tender chicken. Pound the chicken breasts to ½-inch thickness. To do this, place them one at a time in a gallon size plastic bag. Use a meat mallet to pound to the desired thickness.
  • In another gallon size plastic bag add the olive oil, vinegar, soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, lemon juice, brown sugar, dried thyme or oregano, mustard, salt, black pepper and garlic powder. Mix together and add the pounded chicken breasts to the bag massaging the marinade into the meat to coat evenly.
  • Seal the bag and place it in a pan or a bowl in case of any leaks. Place that in the refrigerator for 1 to 4 hours. This can be marinated overnight.
  • Prepare the grill by starting the charcoal. Once the coals are ready, oil the grates. Place the chicken breasts on the direct heat on the grill and cook for 4 minutes. Pro Tip. When pounded thin, chicken breasts only need 2 to 3 minutes per side.
  • After removing the chicken from the grill, let it rest for 3 to 4 minutes before cutting into it. This will help keep the juices in and retain the meat’s moisture.

Your Own Private Notes

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Nutrition

Calories: 564kcal | Carbohydrates: 35g | Protein: 50g | Fat: 24g | Saturated Fat: 4g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 3g | Monounsaturated Fat: 15g | Trans Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 145mg | Sodium: 1601mg | Potassium: 1041mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 31g | Vitamin A: 95IU | Vitamin C: 6mg | Calcium: 67mg | Iron: 3mg

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