Basil Pesto Isn’t Just for Pasta—Try It on Grilled Chicken

Basil Pesto Isn’t Just for Pasta—Try It on Grilled Chicken
This undated photo provided by America's Test Kitchen in June 2019 shows Grilled Pesto Chicken in Brookline, Mass (Joe Keller/America's Test Kitchen via AP)

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

Servings: 4

Start to finish: 1 hour, 30 minutes

4 cups fresh basil leaves

3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

5 garlic cloves, peeled

1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice

Salt and pepper

2 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated (1 cup)

4 (12-ounce) bone-in split chicken breasts, trimmed

America's Test Kitchen
This image provided by America’s Test Kitchen in June 2019 shows the cover for the cookbook “Master of the Grill.” (America’s Test Kitchen via AP)

Process basil, 1/2 cup oil, garlic, lemon juice, and 3/4 teaspoon salt in a food processor until smooth, about 1 minute, scraping down bowl as needed. Transfer 1/4 cup pesto to a large bowl and set aside for marinade. Add Parmesan to pesto left in processor and pulse to incorporate, about 3 pulses; transfer 1/4 cup pesto to a small bowl and set aside for stuffing. Add remaining 1/4 cup oil to pesto left in processor and pulse to incorporate, about 3 pulses; set aside for serving.

Starting on the thick side of the breast, closest to the breastbone, cut horizontal pocket in each breast, stopping 1/2 inch from the edge so halves remain attached. Season chicken, inside and out, with salt and pepper. Place 1 tablespoon pesto reserved for stuffing in each pocket. Tie each chicken breast with 2 pieces of kitchen twine to secure. In a large bowl, rub the chicken with pesto reserved for a marinade, cover, and refrigerate for 1 hour.

—For a charcoal grill: Open bottom vent completely. Light large chimney starter filled with charcoal briquettes (6 quarts). When top coals are partially covered with ash, pour evenly over half of the grill. Set cooking grate in place, cover, and open lid vent completely. Heat grill 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 burners as needed to maintain grill temperature of 350 F.)

Clean and oil cooking grate. Place chicken skin side up on grill (cooler side if using charcoal). Cover and cook until chicken registers 155 F, 25 to 35 minutes.

Slide chicken to hotter side of the grill (if using charcoal) or turn all burners to high (if using gas), and flip skin side down. Cover and cook until well browned and chicken registers 160 F, 5 to 10 minutes.

Transfer chicken to a platter, tent with aluminum foil, and let rest for 5 to 10 minutes. Remove twine, carve the chicken, and serve with remaining sauce.


Nutrition information per serving: 442 calories; 247 calories from fat; 28 g fat (14 g saturated; 1 g trans fats); 279 mg cholesterol; 860 mg sodium; 25 g carbohydrate; 1 g fiber; 7 g sugar; 23 g protein.


For more recipes, cooking tips and ingredient and product reviews, visit Find more recipes like Grilled Pesto Chicken in ”Master of the Grill .”

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