I think that chicken is one of the hardest things there is to grill. I mean, I don’t have a ton of chicken-grilling experience, but I do have a lot of grilled-chicken eating experience and I have definitely had some misses. A lot of people (and really, I’m even talking restaurants here) seem to miss the fact that chicken is bland and needs seasoning and if you’re grilling it you really need a marinade.
And then there is the whole grill temperature thing. Chicken has to be cooked through of course, so it can’t just be slapped on like a steak until it reaches your preferred doneness (medium-rare for me thank you!). No, all chicken has to be cooked the same. But with a grill it seems like the chicken that’s appropriately done always gets burnt and overly charred on the outside (I am not a fan of char), and the chicken that isn’t done enough is exactly perfect on the outside.
So this recipe wins in multiple ways. First of all, this is the best grilled chicken marinade I’ve come across in a long time. Mostly because it is all buttermilk, which makes the chicken sweet and tangy at the same time and oh so very tender and juicy. There is lemon for brightness and onion for that mouth watering tangy-ness that only onions can give and brown sugar for barbecued sweetness. It also has some hot sauce for some kick (although I noticeably knocked it down from 1/4 cup to 1 tablespoon…I only wanted it to be a complement, not a strong flavor). I remember drooling over Deb’s buttermilk roast chicken months ago, and I think that this is somewhat similar, only with some more traditional backyard barbecue flavors and a more summer appropriate cooking method.
The second way this wins is the grilling instructions. They are exactly perfect for chicken and exactly how I think chicken should most often be cooked on the grill (or even in the oven for that matter): low and slow. Yes, you can do it other ways, but you’re never going to find that perfect tenderness that you get from doing it this way. Here, we cook the chicken with the hot coals pushed to the side. And then at the last minute, we brown the skin over the hottest part of the grill (although watch this, because we did accidentally end up burning some of the skins). In the end, you end up with the juiciest and most tender chicken meat, full of rich flavor that you can’t quite pinpoint because of everything that went into the brine.
I made this chicken for Father’s day this past weekend, and while sitting on our back porch eating my dad said it was some of the best grilled chicken he had had in a long time. And coming from my dad, who recently made some of the best grilled chicken I had had in a long time, I’d say that’s quite the compliment.
Buttermilk Brined Grilled Chicken
adapted from Southern Living Magazine June 2012
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Wait Time: 24 hours
Cook Time: 55 minutes
2 cups buttermilk
2 cups cold water
1/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
3 tablespoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon pepper
1 tablespoon hot sauce
1 small sweet onion, peeled and sliced
1 lemon, sliced
3 garlic cloves, peeled and halved
8-10 pieces of chicken (thigh, legs, breasts, etc.)
1. In a large bowl combine buttermilk, water, brown sugar, salt, pepper, and hot sauce. Whisk together until the sugar is dissolved. Then add the onion, lemon and garlic. Add the chicken and turn to make sure each piece is coated. Alternatively, put the chicken in a large zip top plastic bag and pour the marinade over it. Cover the bowl (or seal the bag) and place in the refrigerator, letting the chicken marinate for at least 1 day.
2. Heat the charcoal for a charcoal grill in a chimney. When the charcoal is hot enough, spread it out in the bottom of one side of the grill, leaving half the grill without charcoal.*
3. Place the chicken, skin side up, on the side of the grill without direct heat. Cover the grill and let the chicken cook for about 40 to 50 minutes, until a meat thermometer reads about 165 when inserted into the thickest part of the chicken.
4. Transfer the chicken, skin side down, to the hot side of the grill. Cook for 2-3 minutes, until the skin is crisp and brown. Remove chicken from the grill and let it rest for about 5 minutes before serving. Serve warm.
*Charcoal is the kind of grill I am most familiar with, however this can be adapted for a gas grill by only lighting half the grill to medium heat.