If you are like me, and likely a large part of the American population, your cooking and eating habits may have changed a bit since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. March 2020 was a real shock to the system and a drastic change from life before. I remember walking into the grocery store in spring 2020 and doing exactly what experts asked us not to do — panic buying meat, rice, toilet paper, and every other thing I felt we could not bear to go without. Suddenly, I found myself with an abundance of time (and groceries) and a total lack of a social schedule.
Now, more than two years later, those days are long gone as we slowly move back to normalcy. But there are certain parts of the COVID-19 pandemic that I hope stay forever — one of those being an emphasis on quality family time and cooking delicious, fresh foods.
Spring has always been a time of grilling for our family, but I will be the first to admit I’ve always been a little intimidated by grilling chicken. The food prep can seem daunting due to food safety concerns, and it has always seemed like a finicky meat to properly cook. But thanks to some easy tips and a little extra time during COVID-19, I now feel more confident than ever that I can put an easy grilled chicken meal on the table for my family.
The Art of the Smoker
I’ll be the first to admit that one of the biggest factors in me not grilling has first and foremost been the grill. Propane grills make me nervous. I know they’re easy to use, but I’ve always been intimidated by the settings, the flame, and how to know when to pull whatever you’re grilling. In most instances, me grilling chicken left our table with a rubbery bird that had been roasted to oblivion. In comes the smoker. Having an electric, wood-pellet smoker has changed my life! And that purchase happened during the pandemic. Now I can confidently start the smoker and set it to any temperature I like. I can prep Georges Farmers Market® chicken and have it on the smoker ready to grill to perfection in minutes.
Don’t Forget the Sides
Another important part of grilling, for us, has been adding the perfect sides. And being adventurous in grilling unique sides to accompany perfectly grilled chicken. We branched out beyond traditional zucchini or broccoli (which are, of course, delicious) to try other grilled sides like honey balsamic Brussel sprouts or grilled street corn. The options are truly endless. And if you’re feeling really adventurous, then you can even throw a dessert on the smoker. Yes, a dessert. There is nothing like a smoked cobbler!
The Beauty of a Meat Thermometer
How I made it more than 30 years of life cooking without a meat thermometer is beyond me. One of the biggest deterrents in grilling chicken over the years has never been about the spices or the marinades (and don’t get me wrong. Those are crucial, and easy). It’s been about temperature. Chicken is sometimes scary to grill because it’s hard to know when it is ready. Grill it under temperature, and you are looking at the possibility of a horrible bout with food poisoning. Leave it too long, and your chicken will be barely edible. That happy sweet spot in the middle can only be achieved with a meat thermometer. And not with just any. You need a digital one — one that you can easily pierce into the Georges Farmers Market® chicken as it cooks and watch it cook to perfection. If you have a digital one that you can insert into the raw chicken on the grill and leave it while it cooks, even better. Then, achieving that 165 degrees of cooked perfection is not so daunting. And you can have a deliciously grilled homecooked meal in minutes. Pair it with your favorite beverage, some yummy sides, and a hearty dessert, and you’ve got the makings of a beautiful evening spent with friends whom you haven’t seen much over the past two years.