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Grilled Lemon Chicken

An easy Grilled Lemon Chicken swimming in a marinade made with fresh lemons and slightly spicy cracked black pepper gets the ultimate char on an outdoor grill, stove or oven.

It’s a simple, flavorful and healthy chicken recipe perfect for those warm summer nights along with crisp veggies, rice, pasta salad and more!

grilled lemon chicken with lemon wheels on blue striped plate

Sometimes all I want is a simple piece of grilled chicken. It offers the best of both worlds – light and filling yet scorched and charred.

Which is why I always turn to Grilled Lemon Chicken. I like to think of it as grilled chicken with the volume turned up (as Ina Garten would say).

Delicate, tender pieces of chicken are marinated in just the right amount of lemon juice and freshly cracked black pepper for a fast and flavorful meal!

The hardest part is waiting for the marinade to soak into the chicken, but once that’s ready (no longer than two hours!), the hands-on cooking time takes a matter of minutes.

I love the outdoor grill version for those super special grill marks, but the oven or stovetop methods are wonderful, too.

Ingredients

The basic version of this grilled chicken recipe requires 5 basic ingredients, but it tops out at 7 with a kick of savory flair. You will need:

chicken breasts, black pepper, fresh thyme, lemon zest, lemons

  • chicken thighs, breasts or drumsticks
  • fresh lemons
  • fresh thyme, optional
  • garlic, optional
  • olive oil
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • kosher salt

Chicken. I absolutely love chicken thighs because they hold up so well to high-heat cooking and always remain extra juicy and succulent, but drumsticks would work just as well. If white meat is more your style, chicken breasts are great, too.

Lemon. Buy a whole bunch of lemons for this recipe. You need about 2 for the marinade (zest and juice), along with 2 for grilling. I slice my lemons about 1/3 inch thick and remove the seeds prior to placing them on the grill. This way, I end up with lemons that are thick enough to grill without falling through the grates.

Thyme. I love the bright, fresh, Mediterranean flavor of thyme. But you can substitute with any fresh herbs like oregano, rosemary or parsley.

Garlic. Totally optional, but highly recommended! If you make incisions into the chicken before marinating, it’ll highlight the savory garlic flavor even more.

Black Pepper. Go for whole black peppercorns and grind them in a spice grinder. Their oils are so much more pronounced as compared to pre-ground pepper.

Lemon Chicken Marinating Instructions

When it comes to lemon chicken, the marinating time actually matters. Although some chicken marinades do better overnight, this lemon version is best limited to 2 hours. After the 2 hour mark, the proteins in the chicken begin to breakdown and become mushy.

Simply allow the chicken to sit in the marinade for at least 30 minutes, but no more than 2 hours.

One more note – do not marinate in a metal container as the acid in the marinade can react with the metal.

grilled lemon chicken with lemon wheels on blue striped plate

How Long to Grill Chicken

The time it takes to grill chicken depends on size and thickness. Average-size, boneless, skinless chicken thighs and breasts take 9-10 minutes on an outdoor grill. Chicken drumsticks may need another minute or two because of the bone.

For best results, use an instant-read thermometer and stick it into the thickest part of the meat (without touching the bone for drumsticks). As soon as the temperature registers 160 (white meat) – 165 (dark meat) degrees F, you are good-to-go! The temperature will continue to increase a few degrees while resting (aka carryover cooking).

How To Make Grilled Lemon Chicken

This homemade lemon pepper chicken recipe definitely beats those store-bought Lemon Pepper seasonings. Most of the time is completely hands-off, as you’re just waiting for the chicken to soak up the marinade. Once it’s ready, the cooking process takes just a few minutes. Simply:

mixing lemon marinade in glass bowl, marinating chicken in bowl, grilling chicken breasts on outdoor grill

  1. Make the marinade. In a small bowl, whisk together lemon zest, lemon juice, thyme, garlic, olive oil and pepper.
  2. Marinate the chicken. Place chicken into a large ziplock bag or sealed Tupperware. Pour marinade over chicken pieces, toss to coat on all sides and marinate for at least 30 minutes (an hour is ideal) and up to two hours. Slice your lemons into large wheels and brush with olive oil.
  3. Preheat your grill. On medium-high (350-400 F) for five minutes.
  4. Grill Chicken! Remove chicken from the marinade. Sprinkle evenly with kosher salt on both sides. Place chicken breasts on the grills direct heat, close the lid and cook for 4-5 minutes on each side. For smaller chicken pieces, cook 3-4 minutes on each side. For larger chicken pieces, cook 5-6 minutes on each side. Internal temperature should reach 165 degrees F. Remove from grill, tent with foil and let chicken pieces rest for 3-5 minutes.
  5. Grill lemon wheels. For 1-2 minutes, or until charred.
  6. Enjoy! Squeeze freshly grilled lemons all over the chicken and serve.

Alternative Cooking Methods

If the outdoor grill doesn’t suit your fancy, this grilled pepper chicken can easily be made on the stovetop or in the oven. Follow the same directions for marinating the chicken and slicing the lemons. Then follow one of two methods when ready to cook.

Stovetop

  • Set a large skillet over medium-high heat for two minutes. Coat the skillet with olive oil, then add the chicken (in batches, if necessary) and cook for 5-7 minutes on each side, or until cooked through. Set aside.
  • While the chicken is resting, add the lemon wheels and caramelize for 1-2 minutes, or until golden brown.

Oven

  • Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.
  • Place the chicken on a parchment or foil-lined baking sheet, making sure there is space between each piece (use two baking sheets, if necessary), along with the lemon wheels that have been brushed with olive oil. Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through and the lemon wheels are deep golden brown.

Serving Suggestions

It’s summertime! In my mind, that means serving these grilled lemon pepper chicken breasts alongside anything that’s light and flavorful! Some of my favorite sides to pair it with include sauteed greens, green beans, rice, Vegan Pasta Salad and Italian Pesto Pasta Salad.

And don’t forget a Frozen Aperol Spritz to wash it all down!

If looking to get ahead, feel free to make a big batch of this chicken recipe and store it in an airtight container in the fridge for meal prep throughout the week.

sliced lemon chicken recipe with lemon wheels on blue striped plate

Recipe Tips:

  • Don’t over marinate. Anything after two hours, the chicken’s texture will begin to break down from the acid in the lemon juice.
  • If the chicken pieces are still ‘sticking’ after the first 4-5 minutes, let them continue to cook for 1-2 minutes. The chicken will tell you it’s ready for a flip once it is no longer sticking to the grates.
  • Use an instant-read thermometer. Stick it into the thickest part of the meat (without touching the bone for drumsticks). You want it to read 160 (white meat) – 165 (dark meat) degrees F.
  • Let the chicken rest. A quick 3-5 minute rest under a tent of foil as soon as the chicken comes off the grill allows the juices to redistribute. Juicy chicken every time!

More Chicken Recipes You’ll Love!

If you make this Grilled Lemon Chicken recipe, be sure to tag me on Pinterest and Instagram!

I seriously love seeing what you guys are making and sharing your creations with the College Housewife community!

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grilled lemon chicken with lemon wheels on blue striped plate

Grilled Lemon Chicken

  • Author: Elizabeth Van Lierde
  • Prep Time: 40 minutes
  • Cook Time: 10 minutes
  • Total Time: 50 minutes
  • Yield: 4-6 servings 1x
  • Category: Dinner
  • Method: Grill
  • Cuisine: American
  • Diet: Gluten Free

Description

An easy Grilled Lemon Chicken recipe marinated with fresh lemons and spicy cracked black pepper gets the ultimate char on an outdoor grill, stove or oven.


Scale

Ingredients

3 lbs chicken thighs, breasts or drumsticks

1 tablespoon fresh lemon zest

½ cup fresh lemon juice

2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves, sprigs removed (optional)

2 teaspoons minced garlic (optional)

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper

Kosher salt, to taste

2 lemons, for grilling

olive oil


Instructions

  1. Place chicken into a large ziplock bag or sealed Tupperware.
  2. Make the marinade: In a small bowl, whisk together lemon zest, lemon juice, thyme, garlic, olive oil and pepper. Pour marinade over chicken pieces. Toss to coat on all sides.
  3. Marinate the chicken for at least 30 minutes (an hour is ideal) and up to two hours. 
  4. Remove chicken from the marinade. Sprinkle evenly with kosher salt on both sides.
  5. Slice your lemons into large wheels and brush with olive oil.
  6. Heat your grill on medium-high (350-400 F) for five minutes.
  7. Place chicken breasts on the grills direct heat, close the lid and cook for 4-5 minutes on each side. For smaller chicken pieces, cook 3-4 mins on each side. For larger chicken pieces, cook 5-6 minutes on each side. Internal temperature should reach 165 degrees F. Remove from grill, tent with foil and let chicken pieces rest for 3-5 minutes.
  8. Meanwhile, grill lemon wheels 1-2 minutes, or until charred. Enjoy!

Notes

Don’t Over Marinate: Anything after two hours, the chicken’s texture will begin to break down from the acid in the lemon juice.

Chicken on the Grill: If the chicken pieces are still ‘sticking’ after the first 4-5 minutes, let them continue to cook for 1-2 minutes. The chicken will tell you it’s ready for a flip once it is no longer sticking to the grates.

Stovetop: Set a large skillet over medium-high heat for two minutes. Coat the skillet with olive oil, then add the chicken (in batches, if necessary) and cook for 5-7 minutes on each side, or until cooked through. Set aside. While the chicken is resting, add the lemon wheels and caramelize for 1-2 minutes, or until golden brown.

Oven: Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Place the chicken on a parchment or foil-lined baking sheet, making sure there is space between each piece (use two baking sheets, if necessary), along with the lemon wheels that have been brushed with olive oil. Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through and the lemon wheels are deep golden brown.

Keywords: summer, marinade, citrus

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