Grilled Lemon Garlic Chicken Breasts

The Memorial Day weekend in the United States is the unofficial start of summer. It’s also the weekend that grills across the nation — having lain dormant under feet of winter snow — get dusted off, cleaned out and fired up. If you’re on the hunt for an easy grilling recipe that is both adult and kid-friendly, raises the bar over traditional hamburger and hot dog fare, and takes no more than five minutes to cook once it hits the flame, this is the recipe for you.

Marinating meat does several things to it by adding flavor and tenderizing the meat fibers. But be careful: not all marinades are created equal. Here are some of the things we’ve learned along the way that you’ll need to be aware of when marinating meat (check out the subscription site Cook’s Illustrated for great scientific explanations of what happens during the marinating process):

  • Acids: break apart the meat and collagen fibers on the meat surface which allows it to better retain moisture. But if you use too much acid in a marinade, or marinate the meat for too long in an acidic marinade, the meat will become mushy as the meat fibers break even further apart.
  • Oil: carries oil-soluable flavors and coats the surface meat fibers in the flavoring agent (in this case, lemon and garlic).
  • Salt/high-sodium ingredients: add flavor, but also work as a brining agent to pull moisture from the marinade into the meat.
  • Flavoring agents like garlic and herbs: once the acids and salts have worked their magic on the meat and collagen fibers, these flavors combine with the oil to penetrate the outermost surface of the meat and add complex and complementary tastes.

This particular recipe uses highly-acidic lemon juice in combination with salt to quickly tenderize and brine the outer surface of some thinly-cut chicken breasts. The olive oil and garlic, in combination with the citrus flavor of the lemon juice, then works its way into the chicken. These chicken breasts are very tender and flavorful as a result, the perfect complement to a Memorial Day spread.

A great recipe for grilling season: lemon garlic chicken breasts

A great recipe for grilling season: lemon garlic chicken breasts

Keep reading for our easy Grilled Lemon Garlic Chicken Breast recipe!


Pulled Chicken Sandwich…or Making GOOD Use of Leftovers

It is a fantasy of mine that my husband and I and our two daughters someday find ourselves in the kitchen, cooking together in orchestrated harmony. One person moving from counter to stove while the other steps from sink to pantry. There will be mixing and sizzling, laughing and joking. The girls will be setting the table, forks on the left, spoons on the right, with ONE napkin per person.

This vision may yet become a reality, but I’ve come to the realization that I’m a bit of a kitchen hog. I also like to, to put it nicely, experiment. That can of white beans, or bag of lentils, or half a box of pasta will not go to waste! Why, I can build a whole meal around those with a carrot, an onion or two, and some ingenuity.

My husband on the other hand is a man of science. His head is ruled by logic. My “dash of this, sprinkle of that” just doesn’t make sense to him. And while he appreciates my culinary successes, he also appreciates that practice makes perfect. And there is one cooking enterprise out there that tests things five ways from Sunday just to make sure that the recipes they present will be — and always are — perfect. And that would be Cook’s Illustrated.

It should be understandable, then, that a good number of the dishes we make start on that website or a dog-eared copy of the magazine. While I may champion the creative spirit, I’m no dummy: good is good. Especially when you have two little girls poking it around their plates.

And so, that is how we arrived at the most delicious, go-back-for-seconds pulled chicken sandwiches. You may know them at BBQ chicken sandwiches, or shredded chicken sandwiches. Regardless, they are the PERFECT use for leftover hickory-smoked chicken thighs…and even a good reason to make them in the first place.

Pulling, it what you is the chicken awaiting sauce

Pulling, shredding…call it what you will…here is the chicken awaiting sauce

Now, Cook’s Illustrated is a fine establishment, but they do protect their product. In October of 2012 The New York Times Magazine published an article on Cooks Illustrated and editor Christopher Kimball that is definitely worth a read. If you haven’t subscribed to their website or downloaded their app I suggest you do, and pay the associated fee. You’ll more than make up for it with complements on these sandwiches alone, which you’ll find quite easily on their website by searching for Barbecued Pulled Chicken. But if that’s not your cup of tea, you can find reasonably good versions of homemade barbecue sauce which can be substituted for the version on their site (which includes grated onion, apple cider, mustard, garlic, Worcestershire sauce, cider vinegar, ketchup, and several other wonderful additions).

Ingredients for the sandwich are:
6 (or more) hickory-smoked chicken thighs
1 cup homemade barbecue sauce
8 snowflake or hamburger rolls (try to get ones that don’t have a shelf life of, say, six months…something a little more artisanal will make your taste buds very happy)
1/4 white or red onion, thinly sliced
1 whole dill pickle, thinly sliced

Remove and discard the chicken skin and shred chicken meat. Meanwhile, heat barbecue sauce in large saucepan on the stove. Add shredded chicken to saucepan and heat through. Serve pulled chicken on cut rolls with onion and pickle slices. Yum.

Where the magic happens - barbecue sauce

Where the magic happens – barbecue sauce

Serves: 4ish

Parent rating. Yum yum yum yum yum yum. That would be five stars. Plus one more yum for good measure.
Kid rating: Four stars. Daughter 1 actually doesn’t LIKE barbecue sauce. But whereas she turned up her nose at the hickory-smoked chicken when it was first served, she ate two whole sandwiches of plain shredded chicken on rolls. Daughter 2 ate her sandwich completely, leaving only some chicken behind. She may have eventually polished it off if it weren’t for the beet-squishing that I mentioned in my earlier post. Maybe next time.

Hickory-Smoked Chicken Thighs and Drumsticks (Or, A Tale of Two Children)

Sagittarius vs. Gemini. Maybe this explains the fundamentally different food preferences our two daughters have adopted. Both of them, with strong encouragement, will try just about anything. But when mealtime is over more often than not their plates look very different. One eats every bite of protein first. The other digs right in to the starch…pasta, rice, potato. Unless there is broccoli on the plate, and then that gets eaten first. What this means is that by the time they stop eating, the things that are left between the two of them could actually make up their own well-balanced — though skimpy — meal.

Can we be excused?

Can we be excused?

I subscribe to the philosophy that we, as parents, are not short order cooks. We prepare one meal. The family eats that meal. And, we occasionally endure the whining and outright protests of one child or another who, for whatever reason, really HATES (insert food of your choice) this week. Or wants nothing to do with any type of chopped herb on their plate. (Well, OK, sometimes I make adjustments, like putting the herbs on last after daughter 1’s portion has been served…so I suppose I really am a short order cook. Though one with a little bit of an attitude.)

Our most recent dinner was a case in point but I still stand by the menu — grilled chicken, baked potatoes and broccoli — as one that is both kid-friendly and balanced, with lots of different tastes to try.

Our twist was hickory-grilling the chicken which is so simple that it’s less of a recipe and more of a tutorial on working the grill. I cooked the chicken on our Weber grill over an indirect hardwood charcoal fire. I recommend the explanation of indirect vs. direct grilling on Steven Raichlen’s Barbecue University website if you’re not familiar with the difference. If you have a gas grill you’ll want to adjust accordingly but we really like the flavor of hardwood charcoal.

The trusty Weber grill, smoking away

The trusty Weber grill, smoking away

Ingredients are simple:
5-6 lbs chicken thighs and drumsticks (or however many you want to make), washed and dried and rubbed with salt and pepper

You will also need hickory wood chips, in addition to your regular charcoal if you have a charcoal grill. Soak the chips in water (or liquid of your choice…beer or apple juice work well) for about an hour before grilling.

Prepare the coals for indirect grilling and, once hot, clean and oil the grate (very important unless you want your chicken to stick). I put a tinfoil drip tray — just a sheet of tinfoil, doubled over and crimped around the edges to form a small tray — under the grate on the portion of the grill kettle without coals. This tray catches dripping fat as the chicken cooks and also helps insulate the chicken a little from the direct heat of the coals. Put the chicken on the grill over the drip tray, skin side down, throw a handful of wet hickory chips onto the coals and close the lid.


Chicken thighs grilled over indirect heat

Cook thighs for 30 minutes before flipping and cooking for another 30, lid closed. The grill should register approximately 375-400 degrees and you’ll want to maintain that heat for the hour of cooking. Much higher than that and you’ll have dry chicken. Much lower than that and the chicken won’t cook. Yuck. The drumsticks take a little less time. Start them about 20 minutes after the thighs and flip them once after about 20 minutes so that they grill for a total of 40 minutes. Put a handful of wet hickory chips on the coals every 20 minutes or so and position the grill lid vent on the opposite side from the coals and wood chips so that smoke is drawn up through the grill. The chicken is done when the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees.

Rest the chicken for 10 minutes before serving.

Regardless of what you serve with these, hopefully every plate leaves your table empty.

Serves 8

Parent rating: four-and-a-half stars. I smelled like a BBQ pit but the smoking gives such great flavor that it’s worth it. A good investment of an hour on the back deck. Leftovers can — and will — be shredded and mixed with barbecue sauce and served on rolls the next day.
Kid rating: four-and-a-half stars/two stars. This is what I mean by “A Tale of Two Children” — one daughter ate every bite, though the slightly darkened skin made her look twice. The other ate a fair portion but stayed away from the more flavorful bits, and the more “done” bits. And any bits that tasted too much like…chicken. Ah, maybe next time.