Hello, Summer Grilled Chicken!
This season's gotta-have-it grilled chicken recipe is marinated with Indian spices and served with a creamy raita. Nail the details with the Yummly Smart Thermometer.
Article and recipe by David Bonom. Photographs by Brittany Conerly
My name is David and I am a grill-a-holic. I’ve got nine grills, and my wife says I have a problem, but I disagree. I’ve been grilling professionally for over 25 years — everything from the expected burgers, steaks, fish, and vegetables to the more surprising cinnamon buns, warm molten chocolate cake, and calzones. Grilling is my passion (though my wife might call it an obsession).
To me, cooking over fire is one of the most primal, fun, and ancient ways to get dinner on the table — but I know not everyone approaches it with quite as much enthusiasm as I do. Take boneless, skinless chicken breasts, for example. Where some see a mystery or source of frustration (why do they come out dry or bland?), I see a creative opportunity.
Today I’m sharing a simple recipe that marries my love for grilling and my desire to elevate often-maligned chicken breasts to the tasty juiciness they truly deserve. Cooking memorable chicken breasts is simply a matter of applying the right seasonings and using the best possible techniques to bring out their inherent great qualities.
Indian spices and the Yummly Smart Thermometer all but ensure this chicken will be moist, tender, and incredibly flavorful. Ready to learn more?
Jump ahead to:
Ingredients for Indian Spiced Grilled Chicken Breasts with Creamy Raita
OK, so Indian spiced grilled chicken might sound intimidating to make if you don't usually cook with these seasonings, but rest assured, the ingredients are available at a regular supermarket. Some of the ingredients play double duty and you’ll use them in both the yogurt marinade and the raita — the crazy delicious, creamy, spiced yogurt sauce you serve with the chicken.
Plain yogurt: Plain yogurt can be nonfat, low-fat or whole-milk for both the marinade and the raita, though I prefer whole-milk because it’s creamier and less watery than lower fat yogurt, and I like the richer flavor. Aside from adding flavor, the yogurt helps tenderize the chicken, but much more gently than a very acidic marinade with a lot of lemon juice might. Just be sure it is not Greek yogurt, which is too thick.
Chicken breasts: It used to be you could easily find 4- to 6-ounce chicken breasts, but they seem to be getting bigger all the time. Today you’re more likely to find them 8 to 14 ounces. The sweet spot for grilling (and still-generous portions) is the 8- to 12-ounce boned, skinned chicken breast. This size makes it easier to not overcook because they are thicker and cook slower — but we still have to pay attention.
Garlic: Garlic adds a subtle sharp layer to the flavor that balances against the tart and creamy yogurt, piquant ginger, and aromatic spices. I love to use it abundantly for the depth it adds to dishes and the sweet undertones it takes on as it cooks.
Garam masala: This aromatic Indian spice blend is made from a combination of many spices including fennel, cumin, cinnamon, mace, cardamom, and coriander, and a little goes a long way. It’s also a great ingredient to perk up roast chicken, grilled fish, or a vegetable stir-fry.
Turmeric: This spice lends warm, earthy flavor, and a beautiful golden hue to the chicken.
Fresh ginger: A key ingredient in the marinade, ginger lends robust flavor that mellows during cooking. Ginger also contains an enzyme called zingibain that helps tenderize the chicken — which is one of the reasons we limit the marinating time to 6 hours. If the chicken were to sit in the marinade too long, it could over-tenderize and become mealy.
Cucumber: A salad staple, cucumber takes center stage and makes the raita light and refreshing while adding a textural contrast. You don’t need any special cucumber, just a regular cuke will do. Be sure to peel it and scoop out the seeds with a spoon before shredding it. Pro Tip: Trim off the ends of the cucumber before peeling. This eliminates spreading the bitter flavor found at the ends.
Marinate for flavor and tenderness
There are two great reasons to plan ahead so you can marinate your chicken 2 to 6 hours before grilling. Marinating adds amazing flavor, and it helps tenderize the protein.
You can mix the marinade in a bowl, add the chicken, and cover it for marinating. Or transfer everything to a zip-top bag to minimize chances for spilling and mucking up the fridge.
Marinating with ginger or acid (like citrus or vinegar) starts to tenderize the chicken, but is not a replacement for proper cooking. If you overcook the chicken, regardless of whether you marinate, it will get tough and dry. Which brings us to my favorite grilling method…
Build a two-zone fire
There are a couple of tricks to creating perfectly cooked chicken breasts. The first is something tried-and-true called the two-zone method. Sounds like a sports strategy, but all it means is having a hot area (direct heat) and a cool area (indirect heat) on your grill.
The direct heat area is great for getting grill marks, browning, and grilling items that benefit from being cooked very quickly, like vegetables, burgers, and thin steaks or chops. If you try to cook a thick steak over direct heat, the outside will burn by the time the center is cooked to the right degree of doneness.
The indirect heat area is more gentle, akin to an oven, but with the benefit of that great grilled flavor. Cooking over indirect heat works really well for larger cuts of meat like roasts, briskets, and turkey, but also for moderately sized boneless chicken breasts. Regardless of what I’m cooking, I like to keep an indirect heat area on my grill as a fall-back in case my food causes a flare-up. This way I have a place to move the food away from the fire so the flare-up goes out and my food keeps cooking.
To build a two-zone fire for a gas grill: Preheat the grill with all the burners on, then turn off the center burner or one of the side burners. The area with no heat underneath it is indirect heat.
To build a two-zone fire for a charcoal grill: Pile your lit coals on one side of the fire grate, leaving about one-third of the area uncovered, then set the cooking grate in place. The side without the coals is indirect heat.
Nail the temperature with the Yummly Smart Thermometer
Once you’ve built your fire so you can control the temperature, the second trick for creating perfectly cooked chicken breasts? Be sure not to overcook the meat!
The key to cooking chicken to just the right degree of doneness, and the only sure-fire way to know when you hit that perfect moment, is to use a thermometer.
The wireless Yummly Smart Thermometer takes the guesswork out of grilling (and it works great in your oven and on your stovetop, too).
The stainless steel thermometer probe goes into the food before you put it on the grill. The connected Yummly app tells you when to flip the food, when to take it off the fire, and how long to let it rest before serving. Easy!
Get the recipe
This simple yet satisfying recipe for Indian Spiced Grilled Chicken Breasts with Creamy Raita serves up a lot of flavor — and just might restore your faith in the glories of the boneless skinless chicken breast. You can make the creamy raita up to 2 days ahead and keep it in the refrigerator. The heat is gentle, but if that’s not your thing, just leave out the cayenne. Feel free to double the raita, by the way: leftovers are great on grilled fish or pork chops.
Calling all grillers!
The sun is out, the days are long, and the grill is calling your name. Why not explore more ways to enjoy cooking food over fire?