Basil pesto isn’t just for pasta. We found a way to imbue chicken with basil and garlic that would hold up on the grill.
How did we get enough flavor into the chicken? We used homemade pesto, which tastes stronger and fresher than store-bought. We added the pesto base to separate mixtures for marinating, stuffing, and saucing the chicken.
We found that bone-in chicken breasts had the most flavor. We cut pockets in them to fill with pesto and then marinated the stuffed breasts in more pesto. We added a third dose of pesto in a sauce to serve with the chicken after it was grilled.
GRILLED PESTO CHICKEN
By America’s Test Kitchen
- 4 (12-ounce) bone-in split chicken breasts, trimmed
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- >> Pesto:
- 4 cups fresh basil leaves
- 3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided
- 5 garlic cloves, peeled
- 1-1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 2 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated (1 cup)
>> To make pesto: Process basil, 1/2 cup oil, garlic, lemon juice and salt in food processor until smooth, about 1 minute, scraping down bowl as needed. Set aside 1/4 cup pesto to large bowl for marinade.
Add Parmesan to pesto left in processor and pulse to incorporate, about 3 pulses. Set aside 1/4 cup of this pesto in small bowl for stuffing.
Add remaining 1/4 cup oil to pesto left in processor and pulse to incorporate, about 3 pulses; set aside for serving.
>> To prepare chicken: Starting on thick side of breast closest to bone, cut horizontal pocket in each breast, stopping 1/2 inch from edge so halves remain attached.
Season chicken, inside and out, with salt and pepper. Place 1 tablespoon reserved pesto into each pocket. Tie each chicken breast with 2 pieces kitchen twine.
Rub chicken with pesto reserved for marinade; cover and refrigerate 1 hour.
>> For a charcoal grill: Open bottom vent completely. Light chimney starter filled with 6 quarts charcoal briquettes. When top coals are partially covered with ash, pour over half of grill. Set grate in place, cover and open lid vent completely. Heat until hot, about 5 minutes.
>> For a gas grill: Turn all burners to high, cover and heat grill until hot, about 15 minutes. Turn all burners to medium-low. (Adjust as needed to maintain 350 degree temperature.)
Clean and oil cooking grate. Place chicken skin side up on grill (cooler side if using charcoal). Cover and cook 25 to 35 minutes, to an internal temperature of 155 degrees.
Slide chicken to hotter side of grill (if using charcoal) or turn all burners to high (gas), and turn chicken. Cover and cook until well browned, 5 to 10 minutes, to an internal temperature of 160 degrees.
Transfer chicken to platter, tent with foil and let rest 5 to 10 minutes. Remove twine from chicken, carve and serve with remaining pesto sauce. Serves 4.
Approximate nutritional information, per serving: 442 calories, 28 g total fat, 14 g saturated fat, 279 mg cholesterol; 860 mg sodium, 25 g carbohydrate, 1 g fiber, 7 g sugar, 23 g protein.