How to BBQ Chicken on a Charcoal Grill

Fire up the grill and grab the barbecue sauce! Learn the basics of how to bbq chicken on a charcoal grill, including wings, thighs, legs, and more.

barbecue chicken on platter with watermelon wedges

Andy Lyons

Barbecue chicken is a cookout essential, right up there with hotdogs and hamburgers. But if you’ve ever spent an afternoon marinating, seasoning, and saucing up your chicken, only to have it turn out dry when it comes off the grill, you already know how important it is to get the timing and temperatures just right. Especially when you’re cooking over charcoal with a high heat, it can take a little skill to cook tender, juicy chicken. Luckily, with just a few tips, it’s easy to learn how to cook chicken on a charcoal grill, whether you’re grilling up a whole bird, just a few wings, or a delicious chicken breast.

How to BBQ a Whole Chicken on a Charcoal Grill

To cook a whole chicken on the grill, you’ll want to butterfly it first so more of the meat is in contact with grill grates. This allows the chicken to cook more quickly and will also help prevent the chicken from overcooking. Cut along each side of the backbone and remove it, and turn the chicken breast-side up. Open the two sides of the chicken, similar to a book, and lay it flat. Firmly press down to break the breast bone, and tuck the wing tips under the wings. Season the chicken as desired.

Set up the grill for indirect grilling. Place the seasoned chicken skin-side down on the center of the grill over indirect heat. Cover and grill the chicken for 25 minutes, then turn (if you’re using a glaze, brush on extra when you turn the chicken). Cover and grill for another 25 to 30 minutes, or until the chicken reads 180°F on an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh. Remove the chicken from the grill and brush with extra glaze or sauce, if using. Let the chicken rest for at least 10 minutes before slicing and serving to keep it tender and juicy.

How to BBQ Chicken Breast on a Charcoal Grill

Chicken breasts can overcook quickly, so it’s important to keep a close eye on them as they grill. If you want, marinate the chicken before grilling for extra flavor and juiciness. To grill, place boneless chicken breasts on the grill directly over medium heat. Cover and grill for 15 to 18 minutes, turning once halfway through the grilling time. The chicken is cooked when it registers 165°F on an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the breast, and when the juices run clear.

How to BBQ Chicken Thighs on a Charcoal Grill

Grilling chicken thighs is a great place to start for beginners, because the dark meat cooks more slowly, tends to stay juicier than white meat, and is a little more forgiving on the grill. To grill boneless chicken thighs, season as desired and place on the grill rack over medium heat. Cover the grill and cook for 12 to 15 minutes, turning once halfway through cooking.

To cook bone-in chicken thighs on a charcoal grill, season the chicken and place on the grill rack over direct, medium heat. Cover and grill for 30 to 35 minutes, turning three or four times as the chicken cooks. If you’d rather set up your grill for indirect heat, cook the thighs for at least 50 to 60 minutes, turning once during the cook time.

How to BBQ Chicken Legs on a Charcoal Grill

Cook bone-in drumsticks over indirect heat; the bone will cause them to cook more slowly, and cooking over direct heat could dry out the chicken before it’s completely cooked through. Set up your charcoal grill for indirect cooking by igniting the charcoal on just one side of the grill, or around a drip pan. Place the chicken legs on the grill grates over the drip pan. Cover and grill for 50 to 60 minutes, or until the chicken is no longer pink and registers 180°F.

Mix 'N' Match Chicken Wings
Andy Lyons

How to BBQ Chicken Wings on a Charcoal Grill

Marinate or season the chicken wings as desired, then arrange medium-heat coals around a drip pan on a charcoal grill. Place the wings on the grill rack over the drip pan. Cover and grill for 20 to 25 minutes, turning the wings once about halfway through the cook time. Once the wings are cooked, toss in a barbecue sauce if desired before serving.

Cooking chicken over charcoal is easy! The trickiest part is knowing how long to cook chicken on a charcoal grill, especially since the cooking times change based on which pieces you’re grilling, and whether they have a bone or not. Now that you’ve got it all covered, test out different seasoning combinations, like tamarind BBQ, traditional barbecue sauce, and honey garlic. There won’t be any leftovers at your next cookout, guaranteed!

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