How to Season Chicken
The method you should use to season chicken depends on whether it’s a boneless, skinless cut or bone-in, skin-on (whole chickens and individual pieces fall into the latter category). Seasoning skinless chicken is as straightforward as with any other cut of meat. Lightly drizzle olive oil over the chicken to act as a binder, sprinkle your seasoning on top, then gently press it in and let your chicken dry-marinate for about 45 minutes. Chef Tony prefers a Greek blend as his seasoning for grilled chicken, but you can use whatever spice mixture you like.
Skin-on chicken, meanwhile, requires an additional step to be seasoned properly. Apply your seasoning to the exterior as you would with a skinless cut, but then pull back the skin and spread your blend underneath it as well (gloves are optional). Because chicken skin acts as a protective covering that can’t be penetrated by seasoning, the actual meat won’t receive any of those delicious flavors unless you put them there yourself. Once you’re satisfied with the amount of seasoning on the meat, be sure to straighten the skin and pull it back into place. Scrunched-up skin doesn’t cook evenly, so you’d end up with a soggy clump rather than the crunchy, golden-brown skin every grilled chicken deserves.
If you want to really take the flavors up a notch, follow this tried-and-true Chef Tony method: Mix your seasoning into a paste with a stick or two of butter, some olive oil, and a squeeze of lemon juice. Spread the paste below the skin and watch the delighted look on your guests’ faces when they dig in to the best grilled chicken they’ve ever had.
Brining is another great way to add flavor to your chicken before it goes on the grill. All you have to do is let your meat soak in a saltwater solution (brine) that can be mixed with marinades, herbs, sugar, or spices. In addition to creating moisture and flavor, brining slightly breaks down some of the muscle fibers in your meat so it can retain more of its natural juices when exposed to heat.
Aim for a brining solution that features 6% of salt (by weight) relative to the amount of water. For example, 1,000 milliliters of pure water would need 60 grams of water to achieve this ratio (1 milliliter of water weighs exactly 1 gram, so this conversion is fairly easy). It’s important to use weight when determining how much salt you need because of the differences between types and brands of salt. Large cuts of chicken and whole birds should be brined between 6 and 12 hours — and never more than 14 — whereas small cuts like boneless, skinless chicken breasts need only 1–2 hours of brining for the full effect.