Chicken on the grill

The Grilling Trick You Have Yet to Try

Indian cuisine adds a foolproof secret ingredient that works every time.

Summer is in full swing and millions of people are grilling chicken, lamb and beef. All too often those grilled meats suffer a similar fate: dry, overcooked and rubbery textures. When I’m invited to barbecues and get grill duty, I can’t help but predict the outcome for meat that hasn’t been marinated correctly. There is a way to ensure juicy meat off the grill every single time using a common ingredient that’s probably available in your fridge right now.

So what’s the secret ingredient? Plain yogurt. It’s inexpensive, readily available and incredibly versatile.

Yogurt seems like an uncommon ingredient for cooking and grilling because most Americans eat it for breakfast or as a snack. I’m a huge fan of cooking with yogurt and using it in my marinades — it’s plain and accommodates any flavoring that you add. As for cooking methods, keep it as a base for marinade, grill it or bake it. In the summer, I add seasonal herbs and spices to the yogurt for instant flavor and freshness. I also love making the marinade a day in advance to help me meal prep before a big party or busy week.

So why does yogurt work? By nature, it is very acidic and has lots of lactic acid, which helps massage the muscles of the meat and tenderize it in the process. Many people are familiar with a popular Indian dish called tandoori chicken, which is marinated in yogurt and cooked inside a tandoor clay oven that heats up to 800 F. Yogurt marinating keeps grilled proteins juicy, especially chicken! Use a thicker, plain, Greek-style yogurt, though regular works too.

Another trick is to use half a beer to jumpstart the tenderizing process and then load up the marinade with spices like turmeric, cayenne, cumin and coriander powder to increase the punch. I recommend you don't stop with the chicken! Turkey, lamb and pork will also benefit from yogurt, which needs time to do its work: an overnight marinade for about 12 hours or a minimum of six hours.

Indians have been using yogurt marinades for hundreds of years because it’s effective for tenderizing meat and the secret to keeping the meat extra juicy. Since I was five years old, I can remember my mother making fresh yogurt. In fact, my mom has been using the same starter culture like many other Indians for more than three decades. To me, yogurt and chicken go hand in hand. I never understood why anyone would opt out of the yogurt marinade. Here’s one of my recipes for trying it this summer.

Grilled chicken dish


Indian Wings

Yields 4 servings


  • 3 pounds chicken wings
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon ginger
  • 1/4 cup beer
  • 3/4 cup plain whole-milk yogurt
  • 2 tablespoons cumin
  • 1 tablespoon coriander powder
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric powder
  • 1 tablespoon smoked paprika
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne powder
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt, to taste
  • Lemon wedges (for serving)


  1. In a large bowl, add all ingredients except wings and mix together.
  2. Add wings and marinade for 12 hours or overnight.
  3. Heat grill to medium heat. Remove wings from marinade, shake off any excess and grill, covered and turning occasionally, until golden brown and crisp, 15–20 minutes.
  4. Serve with lemon wedges.

Meet Chef Palak at ICE's August First Friday event.

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