Chicken is ideal for grilling. We never tire of the smoky essence that infuses its mild-flavored meat or of the wonderful aroma as it finishes to a crispy turn before our eyes. Chicken cooked over hot coals is not only exceptionally flavorful, but it also suits todayís health-conscious cooking because grilling is a dry-heat method that requires very little added fat.
Whether you use a simple grate set across a pile of rocks or an elaborate barbecue kettle, the goal is the same: to balance time and temperature so that the food cooks up moist and tender. But a good grill cook also depends on visual clues: Is the food cooking evenly? Should it be turned so it wonít burn? Grilling is very interactive; it requires your attention. Thatís what makes it fun to do and to watch.
The steps on these pages demonstrate how to properly start a charcoal fire for both direct- and indirect-heat cooking. Your recipe will specify which method to use. Always preheat the upper grill over the ash-gray coals for a few minutes and brush it with oil so food wonít stick to it. Afterwards, scrape it clean with a wire grill brush for the same reason.
These grilled recipes are also suitable for gas grills. The same temperatures should be used for both charcoal and gas grills.
Arrange the charcoal briquettes in a pyramid in the center of the lower grill rack. If they are self-lighting, ignite them with a match. If they are regular briquettes, use an electric starter or chimney device, or squirt them with lighter fluid and then ignite.
Briquettes for Direct Heat
For direct-heat grilling, use long-handled tongs and spread the hot coals in a single layer across the grate. Food will cook more evenly if the coals are arranged with about 1/2 inch of space between each briquette.
Briquettes for Indirect Heat
For indirect-heat grilling, arrange the hot coals around the edge of the grill, leaving a space in the center. Set a disposable foil drip pan in the middle so that it is surrounded by briquettes. The food is placed over the drip pan, then the grill is covered so that heat and smoke circulate evenly.
Testing Heat of Coals
Check the temperature by holding your hand, palm-side down, at about the height at which the food will cook. If you must pull your hand away after 2 seconds, the coals are hot; 3 seconds, medium hot; 4 seconds, medium; 5 seconds, medium slow; 6 seconds, slow. When grilling with indirect heat, the temperature of the coals should be one level hotter than the desired temperature over the drip pan.