Susan Tusa / Detroit Free Press

Grilled pesto chicken with berry salad makes for a delicious summer meal.

Chicken ever-popular, but how to keep it moist?

Published: Wednesday, Aug. 8, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 6D

According to Weber's GrillWatch survey, chicken is the second-most-popular grilling food, after hamburgers.

But I often hear complaints about grilled chicken, mainly breasts, which can easily overcook and turn dry. Any lean cut of poultry or meat will tend to dry out during cooking. The darker meat in chicken drumsticks and thighs has more fat and tends to be more forgiving.

So the first recommendation is to have an instant-read thermometer handy. Chicken should be cooked to an internal temperature of 165 degrees.

It also helps to brine or marinate chicken first and to grill it with the skin on. You can always remove the skin after grilling.

When you're ready to grill, prepare a two-zone fire or preheat for cooking over indirect heat, meaning that you will cook the chicken away from the heat source.

For charcoal, that means bank the coals on one side. For gas, turn on all the burners to preheat the grill. If it has three burners, shut off the middle one when it's preheated. This is so you don't get a blast of heat, cooking the outside of the chicken too quickly and leaving the inside undercooked. There will be enough heat to crisp the skin with this arrangement.

Today's recipe is adapted from Cook's Country magazine, the sister publication of Cook's Illustrated magazine. It uses different versions of a pesto – without cheese for the marinade, with cheese for the stuffing and with more olive oil for the serving sauce. It's a three-step process but takes little time.

This pesto recipe doesn't call for the traditional pine nuts, but you could add them if you like.

I added some parsley along with the basil. When basil is cut, it tends to darken, so the parsley helps keep that vibrant green color. Spinach could also be used for this purpose.

Grilled pesto chicken

Preparation time: 30 minutes (plus marinating time)

Total time: 1 hour, 10 minutes

Serves 4

Adapted from Cook's Country magazine, June/July 2012 issue. Tested by Susan Selasky in the Detroit Free Press Test Kitchen.


2 cups fresh basil leaves

1/2 cup flat-leaf parsley

1/2 cup olive oil, divided

4 garlic cloves, peeled

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/3 cup Parmesan cheese, grated

2 large, about 1 1/4 pounds, (or 4 small) skin-on, boneless chicken breasts, trimmed of excess fat


In a food processor, place the basil, parsley, 1/4 cup oil, garlic, lemon juice and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Process until smooth, about 1 minute, scraping bowl as needed.

Remove 1/4 cup pesto from processor and reserve for marinating chicken. Add Parmesan to pesto in processor and pulse until incorporated, about 3 pulses. Remove 2 heaping tablespoons of pesto for stuffing chicken.

Add the remaining 1/4 cup oil to pesto in processor and pulse until combined. Set aside for saucing cooked chicken; you should have about 1/3 cup pesto.

Starting on thick side of breast, cut a horizontal pocket in each breast about 2 1/2 inches wide, stopping 1/2 inch from edge so halves remain attached.

Season chicken, inside and out, with salt and pepper. Place 1 heaping tablespoon of Parmesan pesto in pocket of each breast.

Fold the non-skin side of the breast in toward the pocket so the skin side folds over some. Using kitchen twine, tie the breast at intervals.

Place stuffed breasts in a bowl and add pesto reserved for marinating. Rub pesto all over chicken; cover and refrigerate for 1 hour.

Preheat or prepare the grill for indirect heat. (For charcoal, place ash-covered coals on one side of the grill and replace grate. For a gas grill, light all burners to high and then turn all but one to medium-low.)

Oil the grill grate. Place chicken, skin side up, on grill away from the heat. Cover and cook about 10 minutes. Flip chicken skin-side down. If using charcoal, slide chicken to hot part of grill. Cover and cook until well browned, about 10 minutes. Using tongs, turn chicken to brown on all sides, and cook until it reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees. Transfer chicken to platter, tent loosely with foil, and let rest for 5 minutes.

Remove twine from chicken, and cut into 1/4-inch thick slices. Serve with remaining pesto sauce on the side.

Per serving: 433 calories (43 percent from fat), 20 grams fat (5 grams sat. fat), 2 grams carbohydrates, 58 grams protein, 332 mg sodium, 153 mg cholesterol, 0 grams fiber.

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Read more articles by Susan M. Selasky

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