You've got friends coming over for a Memorial Day cookout and chicken will be on the menu. You'll marinate some boneless, skinless chicken breasts in your favorite Italian dressing then throw them on the hot grill.
Stop right there! Before you head to the store and prep for the party, scratch boneless, skinless chicken breasts off your shopping list.
"My bottom line: Chicken breast is always going to be dry because it has no fat in it," says chef Dave Esau of Dave's Specialty Foods in Mount Prospect. "Chicken breasts on the grill are just lousy."
"The chicken breast ... neither excites nor offends anyone with its steady, predictable performance," write David Zinczenko and Matt Goulding in "Grill This, Not That!" (Rodale, 2012).
So look beyond the breast, to the thighs, legs, even the whole bird.
"I'm a chicken leg man, or even boneless, skinless chicken thighs," Esau admits. He says the dark meat contains more fat and is better suited for the high heat of the grill.
Esau suggests a marinade of orange juice concentrate (not too acidic) and ginger. When it comes to marinades, he says, avoid salt, lemon juice (lemon zest is fine) and wine that end up drawing moisture from the chicken and breaking down the texture.
"A little olive oil, some herbs ..." Esau says.
"Toss the thighs in a bowl with the marinade, it will be nice and thick with intense flavor, and them put them on the grill ... charcoal is best."
He says thighs will take about 10 minutes to cook.
"Never, ever, ever walk away from the grill. It will take 10 minutes (of direct heat), not that long at all," he says.
To tell if the meat is cooked through, he says, use a long-handled tong to tear off a small piece to test for doneness.
Boneless meat, he says, cooks more evenly because "by the time you cook the meat at the bone, it's so dried out."
The key to grilling meat on the bone is to cook it over low to medium coals, not directly over glowing briquettes.
Skin-on pieces, however, are a good option as well because the skin crisps and much of the fat drips off during cooking.
If you decide to forge ahead and pick up chicken breasts anyway, Zinczenko and Goulding suggest splurging for antibiotic-free and free-range birds.
"The reason 'it tastes like chicken' became such a popular phrase is because most chicken tastes like nothing at all," they write. "Most chicken is pumped full of so many drugs it's more science experiment than supermarket staple."