How to braai chicken 101: The all-you-need cheat sheet
Does the thought of someone bringing pieces of chicken to your braai make you break out in a cold sweat? If you're not a seasoned braaimaster, this might be you... because cooking chicken over the coals isn't necessarily super straight-forward.
Of all the meats, chicken generally takes the longest to cook on the braai and unlike a cut of beef or venison, it needs to be cooked all the way through before eating. The ideal internal temperature of the chicken should be 75° C. If you don't have a meat thermometer lying around (who does at a casual braai?!) then carry on reading... because there's another way to test it.
Here are a few things to remember the next time you're faced with a cling-wrapped pack of lemon and herb chicken thighs...
1. The temperature of the raw chicken
Firstly, it might sound like common sense but always have your chicken at room temperature before starting to braai it. Taking it straight from the fridge is a no-no. Why? The closer it is to its final eating temperature, the more evenly it will cook. Simple!
2. The temperature of the heat source (aka coals)
This is probably the most crucial point that many enthusiastic braaiers get wrong. The coals for braaing chicken should be a moderate heat (hold your open hand above the grid to feel the heat. If you can't keep your hands there for a full 10 seconds, you know it's still too hot. The outside of the chicken will burn - while the inside will remain raw.
3. The size and shape of the chicken
It might seem obvious but chicken portions have different sizes and thicknesses which means that cooking times will vary. For instance a thick breast on the bone will take much longer than a few wings. If you find yourself having trouble with this, perhaps consider braaing chicken kebabs as they will generally cook evenly and won't stress you out.
Have you ever seen a rotisserie at work? It turns ever so slowly, while evenly cooking the meat in a very 'gentle' way. Braaiing chicken should be done using a similar concept - the meat should be continuously turned so that each part of the chicken gets a bit of that gentle, moderate heat. This also allows the skin to evenly crisp up without getting burnt.
Tip: Meat (or poultry) with the bone-in will offer more flavour, but bones are poor conductors of heat so these pieces will take a little longer to cook.
5. The age-old question - how to know if the chicken is done?
Pierce the chicken at its thickest part with a sharp knife and wait for the juices to run clear. Remove it from the heat immediately to avoid the meat from going dry - as it will carry on cooking a bit from the residual heat.
Lastly - if you are really concerned that your chicken won't be cooked when you take it off the braai, you might want to par-cook it in the oven or steam it lightly beforehand and then simply 'finish it off' on the braai - allowing it to still get that charry texture and smoky braai flavour.
Now it's time to practise! Try some of these recipes at your braai this weekend...
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