Grilling bone-in cuts of chicken can be challenging. Especially if you’re just learning your way around a grill. You need to make sure that the interior of the meat is safely cooked all the way down to the bone, without drying out of burning the exterior of the chicken.
When you cook bone-in cuts of chicken in an oven, you mostly only have to deal with time and temperature. The automated system inside the oven maintains a consistent temperature Then you just have to apply seasonings and wait until the meat deep down by the bone hits a safe temperature of 165 degrees.
When you take those same bone-in cuts of chicken to the grill, you have to contend with other factors. Not the least of which is that unless it’s a Wood Pellet Grill or smoker, the heat is coming primarily from below.
This means you have to deftly move the piece of chicken. Most likely needing to flip it to make sure the meat on the bottom doesn’t burn before the meat at the top is fully cooked.
Of course, grills also have a knack for being a little inconsistent with temperature over time. Especially charcoal grills that are prone to flare-ups as their fuel source starts to burn low. Though even gas grills can be inconsistent if you’re always opening the lids to check the temperature of the meat.
While you’re working on all these variables and mastering the technique of hybrid Grilling over low heat, before searing off the chicken skin to get it crisp, it helps to have a forgiving piece of bone-in chicken to work with.
Bone-in Chicken Thighs
Chicken Thighs are the most forgiving cut of bone-in chicken for Grilling. They fell out of favor in the 1980s when everyone fell in love with the massive chicken breasts of Cornish cross chickens. Though these days the low price per pound of bone-in chicken Thighs has helped them make a comeback on the American grill.
As dark meat bone-in chicken Thighs have a lot of flavor. There’s also only one bone in them, which is easy to cut around when you’re eating.
The challenge with Grilling bone-in chicken Thighs is that they have a lot of connective tissue. If you grill them over high heat to get the internal temperature of the meat to 165 as fast as possible, you’ll end up with a tough hunk of bird.
Easiest Way to Grill Bone-In Chicken Thighs
Bone-in chicken Thighs need to be grilled at lower temperatures for a longer period of time. Setting the grill at 250 degrees, and placing the chicken Thighs away from direct flame will give the tough collagen in the meat time to render down into succulent juicy gelatin.
After 30 to 45 minutes the internal temperature should be around 165 degrees. Then you can quickly flip the chicken Thighs over the heat to crisp the skin, or glaze them with your favorite sticky barbecue sauce.
Bone-in Chicken Drumsticks
Chicken drumsticks need the same slow & low-temperature technique as bone-in chicken thighs. However, they tend to have small pin bones that are attached to connective tissues. If you don’t give the drumsticks the time they need to render the connective tissues inside the meat, you’ll have a difficult time eating them.
Easiest Way to Grill Drumsticks
The easiest way to grill chicken drumsticks is to set them off the flame in a 250-to-300-degree grill. Then rotate the drumstick a quarter turn every 10 minutes. This helps the entire drumstick to cook evenly. This helps you avoid connective tissues and pin bones on just one side of the drumstick. When the internal temperature of the meat by the bone reached 165 degrees, you can move it over the flame to crisp up and finish the skin.
Chicken Leg Quarters
Leg quarters tend to have the cheapest price per pound of any type of bone-in chicken. It’s essentially the thigh and drumstick with the joint completely intact. This is a great bone-in cut of chicken for times when you’re grilling on a budget, or you want to host a big cookout
Easiest Way to Grill Bone-in Chicken Leg Quarters
This called for the slow and low technique again. Though it helps to do some careful cutting to let you open up and express the joint for even cooking. You can then straighten out the joint a little making it easier to flip every 10 to 15 minutes at 250 degrees.
Bone-In Chicken Breast
Bone-in chicken breast is sort of the Cadillac of bone-in cuts of chicken. To that point, there are even “Airline” cuts of chicken breast that leave the first wing bone attached to somehow add prestige. Though what really matters is that you can get bone-in chicken breast for a much lower price per pound than its dried-out sister the boneless, skinless breast.
These days everybody still loves white meat. So bone-in chicken breasts on the grill can be a great way to impress cookout guests. Even if someone isn’t a fan of cutting the meat off the bone, you can easily use a steak knife to separate the bulk of the meat from the ribcage without shredding it.
Easiest Way to Grill Bone-In Chicken Breast
The easiest way to grill bone-in chicken breast is to fire up the grill to around 300 to 350 degrees with the breast sitting off the heat with the skin side up for 10 minutes. This gives the meat near the bones a little bit of a head start.
Then move the chicken breast over the heat for another 7 to 10 minutes, before flipping over to crisp the skin for another 5 to 7. By this point, the internal temperature should be nearing 160 degrees, and you can finish it skin side up to 165. If you want to slather it with barbecue sauce this would also be the time for that.
Bone-in Chicken Wings
Chicken wings are the most challenging bone-in chicken cut you can take to the grill. They are also the most rewarding way to make hot wings, and they will spoil you to the point where you’ll never look at fried hot wings the same way.
The challenge of grilling bone-in chicken wings is that the fat renders out quickly, which causes flare-ups. The flames roar and burn the skin, while the meat near the bone and the joint is still very much underdone.
Easiest Way to Grill Bone-In Chicken Wings
Grilling bone-in chicken wings without burning them starts with indirect heat. Let the smoky flames roar at 300 to 350 degrees while the wings sit a good 6 inches away. Keep the lid closed to keep the fire under control.
Check the wings every few minutes for signs of the skin cooking too fast. Flip or move them around as needed. After 20 to 25 minutes of indirect heat, a modest amount of fat will have rendered out and you can start searing the skin over direct flame. No single wing should sit for more than 5 minutes on one side.
Right toward the end, paint them with some butter or melted margarine, then put them in a pot of your favorite hot sauce right on the grill. Toss them to coat and put the wings back over the flames for another 2 to 3 minutes. At this point the hot sauce and the wings will be the same temperature.
How to Tell the Temperature of Grilled Bone-In Chicken
Bone-in chicken needs to be cooked all the way to 165 degrees or more to be considered truly safe to eat. The most effective way to make sure it’s cooked all the way through is to insert an instant-read probe thermometer into the thickest part of the meat, within half an inch to an inch of the bone. Just make sure you don’t touch the bone, or it will give you an inaccurate reading.
One problem with this method is that once you put the probe thermometer in, you’ve essentially created a hole for the bone-in chicken’s juices to flow out. So, be sure to use the same hole every time you take the chicken’s temperature or get a grill-rated probe thermometer that you can safely leave in place until the bone-in chicken is completely done.
The Best Thermometers for Grilling Bone-in Chicken