How long to grill chicken?

Over a fire of natural lump charcoal, approximately how long can does chicken need to cook? Think drumsticks, bone-in breasts, whole thighs, etc.


The various cooking and BBQ websites can throw around numbers like “5 minutes” and “16 minutes” all they like, but in actual practice, speaking for myself, I learned the hard way that you need to allow at least an hour before you’ll be able to call the kids for dinner. If you’ve got hungry kids, don’t plan to “throw those chicken parts on the grill real quick”, or else feed them something while you’re cooking.

That depends on a gazillion different factors. How hot is the heat? How high is the grill off the coals? Direct or indirect? Is your chicken spatchcocked, cut into pieces, or left whole? Is the skin on?

I’m guessing you’re doing it piece by piece, based on your last sentence. Over a direct, medium-ish fire, I’d say about 6-8 minutes a side, maybe a little less, maybe a little more. It depends. I’d say you’re shooting in the 10-30 minute range.

I generally rake the coals to one side of my grill, sear over high heat for about 3 minutes a side there, and transfer to the cool side of the grill, covered, until they look done (juices run clear when poked with a toothpick or other sharp implement.) About another 15-25 minutes.

A whole 3-4 lb chicken, on the other hand, with a grate temperature of about 450, will take about 50-60 minutes.

An entire chicken leg–drumstick and thigh together–takes “Forever” to cook to a safe “clear juices” stage. Cut them up.

True, they’re where to check the juices when roasting a whole bird to test for done-ness.

The alternative is to get them on early (but not on a high heat, perhaps on the edge), cook them forever, and savour the luverly juicy meat.

This isn’t going to help you now, but it will in the future.

It all depends on the size of the grill and the amount of charcoal. It also depends on the temperature of the charcoal. It also depends on the type of grill.

I have a Smokey Joe by Weber. It’s the largest of the small models (I think it’s a “platinum” or something).

When I cook something, I take notes. I note how I prepared it, and how and how long I grilled it.

I use a “chimney” starter and I fill it brimming full.

I let it go for 30 minutes, then dump it out. I then place the cooking grill down. Food usually goes on within five minutes (again, consistency in method is very important).

Thighs take 30 mins; I turn them at the 20 mark.

Breasts take 20 mins; I turn them at the 10 mark.

A whole chicken takes one hour and 45 minutes. I never turn it and never peek. All the charcoal goes around the grill with none in the center. I place a tin foil grease catcher about the size of my open hand there.

All of the above is with the lid on.

I’ve never cooked drumsticks…My instinct tells me they’d take between 20 and 30 minutes…

Oh, one other thing. Chicken I rinse and pat dry. Then I salt it. I let it sit out for an hour before grilling.

Let us know what ya did and how it turned out.

Usually I finish one or two beers when cooking chicken. For red meat, a glass of red wine goes by.

Actually, that’s a good point. My 15-30 minutes should probably be revised to 15-45+ minutes, depending on your method of grilling. Boneless, skinless breasts would be towards the 15 minutes, and leg quarters to the 45 minute range. I never keep track of the time–it’s just done when it passes the doneness test.

15 minutes for a chicken breast?! Either it is very thick (or even worse, uneven in height) and/or you must like shoe leather.

For bone-in breasts, legs and thighs, I cook to a temperature (165). I’ll start over a hot grill to brown, then move to cool to finish. Some of the times here seem very long, but I don’t pay close attention to time.

For boneless breasts, I butterfly and pound them to a uniform, thin (~1/4") height, marinade, and they are done in the time it takes to get good grill marks on both sides. For a whole chicken, I will also butterfly it (which reduces cooking time over a ‘round’ bird), and use hot and cool sections of the grill to ensure the whole bird is appropriately cooked (again, by temperature, not by time).

Perhaps one of the reasons that grilling is taking so long for some is that they leave the grills open? I heat the grill, then as soon as the food is on, I close it. Open to turn, then close. Keep as much heat inside the grill as possible, which speeds up cooking time.

Like I said, a lot depends on the fire and how you have it built. For a two-stage fire (which is how I do most of my cooks), 15 minutes seems about right, if not even a little optimistic, for a bone-in, skin-on chicken breast. This is why I hate giving estimates for grilling. The meat is done when its done, like you said, at 165 with chicken. I also don’t pay attention to cooking times so, who knows, it may be more like 10 minutes. The only time I know for sure is a 3-4 pound chicken, cooked at 450, takes about 50-60 minutes cooked whole.

And, yes, grill is always kept lid-on, with the top vent open.

Just to show the times aren’t crazy off the mark, the Weber website says this:

With the direct sear of 3 minutes a side, and then moving to the indirect side, 15 minutes is not an unreasonable time, and may even be optimistic (once again, depending on how hot you’ve got those coals going), for bone-in skin-on chicken breast.

(edit: I guess I never mentioned that I was assuming bone-in, skin-on in my times, given the OP).

This was the time that got my attention - boneless and skinless. My boneless, skinless chicken cooks fast because I pound it thin and uniform - no thick pieces. By the time I have grill marks on both sides, they are done (same with pork tenderloin or other cutlets). Obviously, thicker takes longer

15-20 minutes for a bone-in breast with skin sounds about right. Roasting a whole chicken also sounds about right at 60 minutes (although if I’m using charcoal, I like a cooler temp and to use wood chips to give it some good flavor)

Ack! That is an error. Eight to ten minutes would be more typical.

I dislike grilled chicken mostly because it is usually underdone in the middle and burned on the outside. I would do 12 to 15 min per side, but not in the dead center heat of the grill