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How to “beautify” chicken breasts


New member
Oct 15, 2019
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Columbus, OH
Junior (Costco)
I’m new to Traeger after cooking on a BGE for 10 years. Did skinless chicken breasts last night: buttermilk marinaded, patted dry then dry-rubbed. They were AMAZING: moist, flavorful, just the right amount of smoke- cooked at 350 per the Traeger recipe. However, they looked...dry and kind of almost deceptively raw-looking (i.e. they didn’t change much in look from when I put them on). Obviously this is because there was not really any maillard action happening as with direct heat. What are your tips/tricks for better looking cooked meat on a pellet grill without losing the amazing moisture? Or do I need to think differently about the look of the finished product of a pellet grill vs BGE?
lol. I cooked 4 brined breasts last Sunday and had the exact same reaction. While they tasted good they looked almost like boiled chicken.
lol. I cooked 4 brined breasts last Sunday and had the exact same reaction. While they tasted good they looked almost like boiled chicken.
When I see tender-looking ribs on the Traeger cookbook cover that have a nice char on them, I assume there’s got to be a way ?
If you are looking for a sear on your chicken breast, one option is to approach it similar to a reverse sear with a steak. In this approach, you will take your chicken to just shy of the target internal temp @ whatever cooking temp you are using. For example, pulling the chicken at an internal temp around 160 when cooking @ 350 would be the approach.

Once the chicken are pulled and foiled, bring your Traeger up to its top temp. This is usually 450 or 500 depending upon your model.

Once you have the grill up to temp, your grates should be hot enough to impart a sear. Just remember to move to a fresh spot when flipping.

Personally, I tend to use a cast iron griddle heated up in the Traeger to give the sear.

Other alternatives include "coloring" the outside of a the chicken with a selected rub. This is what you will see with rubs that have a lot of Paprika in them.

The key thing to remember is that your cooking your chicken in what amounts to a wood fired oven. So like cooking chicken in your regular oven, searing is not easily done.

For what its worth, this is one of the reasons I prefer chicken thighs over chicken breast in the Traeger. :)

Welcome to the fun of experimenting and have fun finding your best recipe!
Anne and TXPhi67, welcome to the forum!
I reverse sear (brown) pretty much everything but I keep the initial smoke temp down below 225 (usually 165). The lower the temp the better the smoke. It depends on how much time I have, hen time is a constraint I usually cook at 225, then crank it to 350 for chicken. Anne I see you have a Junior, they'll brown up red meat, chicken or pork just fine. They're a fine unit.
As TXPhi67 said, a rub will brighten up the meat and give you an exciting new taste.

Do a search on SPG rub It's a basic mix of Salt, coarse ground Pepper and granulated Garlic. You can add smokey paprika or sweet for taste and colour or onion power, cayenne pepper or not, the sky is the limit. I buy a big jug of sea salt or kosher, some coarse ground pepper and garlic powder @ Costco. For less than $15/$20 you can make enuff rub to get you on the road to smokey heaven. Add or subtract whatever you want. A simple search will give you commonly used ratios for the different spices. I have a sealer jar full of SPG. I add some brown sugar and onion and smokey paprika and I have a happy wife :rolleyes:
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Thanks Beaser and TXPhi67- lots of good info here. I have a cast iron pan and can play around with the reverse sear, and it did occur to me that even putting a little sugar in the rub could help with browning that way.

Noob question on adjusting temperature during the cook: does the controller work such that you can turn temp up as much as you want during the cook, but needing to reduce temp, for example if I meant to go up from 225 to 275 midway through but accidentally went up to 400, I’d need to turn the dial back to shutdown to in essence reset the selector, and then reselect the lower temp? If yes on this I wouldn’t need to wait for anything to cool down- I could simply turn the dial back to shutdown and then immediately to the new lower temp, correct? That’s the one thing I’m a little unclear on, operationally. (On my very first cook this happened when I set my initial temp and so I shut down, turned off, restarted, and was fine, but I have a feeling from what I read you can’t turn the temp up and then down, it’s either up or reset if you want to turn it down). Not sure if there’s some kind of safety consideration in reducing grill temps during a cook.

Doing some Korean-style wings this weekend- looking forward to it!
I've turn up and then down the grill a number of times without "reseting" and didn't have issue. Granted I wasn't going down several hundred degrees at the time.

The key for me is to remember the mechanics of what we are working with. Just like varying the temp on a stick burner or other wood/charcoal fueled grill, you have to take into account time to temp and not "killing the fire" when going down in temp.

The rule of thumb for me is to make sure I keep at least embers going in the pot and the fan continues to run. And if you need to drop the temp a lot quickly, set the temp to where you want it and open the grill to let the heat out.

Hope that helps.
Another idea (not a cheap one) is to add Grill Grates. That might help achieve the look you are going for?


Not my photo, but the one posted along their recipe: https://grillgratelounge.com/recipe/quick-and-easy-grilled-chicken-breasts/


I don't personally own a set, so maybe an actual grill grate owner can chime in?
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Seriously interesting! I wonder how well they work in a Traeger (or any pellet grill for that matter). With a gas grill (where it looks like they originated), you have a constant direct "load" of heat so they don't have to be very good at holding the heat.

But in a pellet grill, so much of the thermal energy is convection and not direct. So drop a couple of tomahawks on them, do they have enough stored thermal energy to give a good consistent sear and handle the flip?

Would love to hear from someone who has tested them. Alternatively I will be happy to give them a thorough testing should anyone want to ship me a set. ?
Anne, TXPhi67 has a Pro series grill with a wifire controller and it operates differently so far as the ability to reduce temp without a reset. I had a Junior and I also experienced a few "flame outs". Most of the time I did get away with it. What happens is when the controller is turned down and the grill at a higher temp, the pellets stop feeding. It helps to open the door to drop the temp more rapidly and reduce in increments. Instead of dropping the set point 250 deg drop it in 50 or 75 deg increments.
Hey Beaser, I actually have both a Century 34 and a Pro 780. Couldn't figure out how to set the profile for both. :)

My answer was from the perspective of using the Century for the last several years and not from the the perspective of the 780 as it arrives on Wed. Woo Hoo!

Regardless - your point about using the door to quickly drop the temp and watching out for flame outs is spot on!
All this feedback has been great!

As for grill grates, so funny you mention, primeone, I’ve always wanted some for my egg because chicken has always been my nemesis: either mad flare-ups and bad smoke if cooking direct or not so pretty if indirect. Never pulled the trigger, though, but yes I’m very familiar! I, too, wonder how they would perform on a pellet grill since the heat is not direct.
TXPhi67 and Beaser, I totally get the fuel/combustion connection being an egg owner so it makes perfect sense that wild swings aren’t ideal and increments of temp drop along with lid opening can get the temp down if I need it.
So the two things I should watch out for are flame-outs (literally flame goes out, right?) by suddenly choking off the fuel source (like firebox bring full of ash, or large temp drop), and a grill fire caused by what, too much fuel? Not sure what the example would be for that...

(I do like to cover the worst case scenarios so that I can avoid them if you can tell haha)
annewaldron - from a "flame out" perspective, I think you have it. I also agree that this along with grill fires (or flare ups) are edge cases that most folks don't run into. In both instances, something unusual has to come into play. Using the door in conjunction with turning down the thermostat is probably your best approach to reducing the temp quickly.

For flare ups and worse, grill fires - something really has to go wrong. I personally haven't had either happen and I don't know anyone first hand who has had either happen. But I have heard and read horror stories of both happening with catastrophic effect.

The common thread in all the stories I have either read or heard has been poor maintenance and cleaning of the grill. I do know some folks who use foil on their trip pans, change it after every cook and completely vacuum out the grill before every cook. Personally, I'm not that diligent. But I do use the Traeger liner, change it out when its starting look pretty bad (or after a real long cook), and vacuum out the grill whenever I fill the hopper.

Point is, keeping the grill clean, and caring for it seems to work for me in preventing any kind flare up or uncontrolled fire. (knock on wood)

Hope this helps.

BTW - not sure if you saw primeone's posting of his Monterrey Chicken, but it looked awesome! Talk about "beautifying" a chicken breast!
I’m pretty fastidious with keeping things clean/cleaned out, so it sounds like I don’t need to be overly concerned about a fire (never had an infamous fireball on my egg either- I learned the risks early and how to prevent)

BTW - not sure if you saw primeone's posting of his Monterrey Chicken, but it looked awesome! Talk about "beautifying" a chicken breast!

I love Malcom’s videos- that chicken WILL get made at my house!

Meanwhile I have rosemary orange spatchcock chicken marinating- that’s happening today- wings tomorrow (or next weekend if we have too many leftovers ?) Will report back on how it comes out!
It was DELICIOUS! I did throw it under a broiler for a few minutes. I’d cranked up the grill to 450 but the roasted broccoli was finished and the oven was hot so I changed the plan. The skin was crisp and amazing!


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