Simple, Failproof Way to Tell When Grilled Chicken Is Actually Done

grillingI love food cooked on the grill, but I hate actually USING the grill, because I have such a hard time figuring out when the grilled meat is DONE! It's not so difficult with seafood like shrimp or even salmon, but when it comes to a nice steak or -- hardest of all -- chicken breasts, my cooking is totally hit or miss. What's the secret?

Since my husband has cottoned on to the fact that I do actually know how to operate the grill and therefore can't try to shirk grilling duty on to him all the time (rats!), I decided to do some research and solve the mystery once and for all. But first I should probably confess my horrible grilling technique ...


I turn the grill on as high as it goes, plop the seasoned chicken on, and run back in the house to work on a salad (or my glass of wine!). When I come back, quite often everything's burnt to a crisp on the outside or literally ON FIRE. ("Is it supposed to be doing that?" is a common refrain heard from my daughter. No, no it's not.)

So I turn it all down, then put the lid of the grill down, and try to "bake" the inside of the chicken while hoping somehow the outside can not cook any further. Eventually I start to think it "looks" done, and I put a piece on a plate and slice it open, only to find that it's TOTALLY RAW in the middle. So into the inferno it goes again.

Don't you want to come over for dinner tomorrow? Ha. Actually, my full-steam-ahead technique results in fairly tasty chicken about half the time. The other half, it results in either fairly tasty but dried out chicken, or fairly tasty but -- gag! -- not quite done in the middle chicken that has to get cooked more, even though we're already sitting at the table and I've turned off the grill ... nooooooo! Dark meat is a lot more forgiving, especially when BBQ sauce is involved, but white meat is much harder and, as my husband will be happy to tell you, is basically ruined by being overcooked.

As you may have already spotted, I'm already making two of the worst grilling mistakes: using too hot of a flame and not attending to my meat while it's grilling. But even if you use a more reasonable heat (medium for chicken!) and stand there STARING at it the ENTIRE time, how are you supposed to know if it's done on the inside without committing the cardinal sin of slicing into the meat to check? I did some research on the Internet and then asked my good friend Jennifer Stafford, who is an incredible cook. It's pretty simple, and I feel stupid that I haven't been doing this ...

Use an instant read meat thermometer. I know. Duh. Take the chicken off the grill for a minute, put it on a plate, and take that baby's temperature. It's done if it's 165 degrees for dark meat, 160 degrees for white meat.

Well OK then. Don't have a meat thermometer, like this Good Grips Analog Instant Read Meat Thermometer ($11.99 at (Or tend to irrationally distrust them, like I do for no good reason?) You can also make a TINY slit in one breast to see if it's still pink. Not as ideal, but if it's tiny, it won't wreak too much havoc on the overall juiciness. Or, even better, Jennifer tells me you can poke the meat (with a skewer, ideally), and see if the juice that comes out is clear. If it's still pink, pop it back on the (not blazing hot!) grill for a bit longer.

I know -- it's not rocket science, but the ability to figure out when grilled chicken is done has been eluding me and making me truly dislike grilling anything but nice, easy veggies. Knowledge is power, people!

Do you enjoy grilling?


Image via eddie.welker/Flickr

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