How to Cook Chicken Breast
Chicken breasts are packed with nutrition, super easy to make and consistently delicious as look as you cook them the right way. Below, we'll show you how.
Chicken breasts are the ultimate weeknight staple ingredient, and for good reason. They’re packed with protein and vitamins but low in fat, carbs and calories, take less than half an hour of cook time and can even be prepped the night ahead, and, most importantly, they’re incredibly delicious. Cooked correctly, chicken breast is tender, juicy and packed with delicate yet powerful flavor that goes well with just about anything, from pastas and salads to curries and stews, or served just on its own with simple veg or rice side.
That said, chicken breasts can get a bad reputation. As a lower fat meat, chicken breasts require the correct seasoning and cooking methods to really shine. Without enough seasoning, they can quickly turn out flavorless, and over or undercooking your chicken breasts can easily yield a rubbery, dried out texture that’s far from delicious.
Nailing a perfectly-cooked chicken breast is far from hard, however, and once you’ve gotten it down, believe us when we say you’ll be cooking them a few times a week. There’s nothing more comforting, easy or whole-body-healthy than a juicy chicken breast, and below, we’ll show you how to do it.
Table of contents
- Buying Your Chicken Breasts
- How to Prepare Chicken Breast
- How to Oven-Bake Chicken Breast
- How to Grill Chicken Breast
- How to Pan-Sear Chicken Breast
Buying Your Chicken Breasts
There are a few things to look out for when buying your chicken breast. While all chicken breasts are white meat, meaning they’re lower in red fibers and thus leaner than dark meat parts like the thighs or drumsticks, the butcher’s preparation of the chicken breast makes a big difference in the meat’s taste, texture and nutritional makeup. Here are the major cuts of chicken breast:
Boneless Skinless Chicken Breast: Boneless skinless chicken breast is probably the most popular cut of chicken breast to make at home. Without bones to conduct the cooking heat or skin to retain the meat’s moisture, boneless skinless breasts generally take less time in the oven to cook. It’s also one of the lowest calorie and lowest fat cuts you can buy, with about 100 less calories per breast than chicken breasts with skin. That said, boneless skinless chicken breasts are also among the easiest to dry out when cooking, and are generally less flavorful than skin or bone-in cuts. This makes them perfect for marinades and as the main protein of a simple meal, as the meat won’t add a ton of flavor to other ingredients.
Bone-In Chicken Breast with Skin (Split Breast): The split breast cut of chicken breast contains both skin and bone, and is largely considered the most flavorful preparation of breast. While the skin adds added calories and fat to the breast, it also packs in tons of incredible flavor, a sumptuous crispy crust and often makes for a juicier, and easier to cook meat as the skin helps lock in moisture and flavor. The bone also helps regulate internal cooking and ultimately makes the chicken juicier, while adding valuable vitamins and minerals to the meat including calcium and phosphorus. While the bone and skin do add tons of flavor, they also add to the cook time, making split breast recipes the longest to cook.
Boneless Chicken Breast with Skin: Boneless chicken breasts with skin are a great option for stir-fries, salads, or any other preparation where you plan to cut up your chicken after cooking. The skin makes this cut more flavorful and rich than boneless, skinless breasts while the removal of the bone makes them just as easy to cut and personalize to your recipe. That said remember that the skin will add around 100 calories per portion compared to boneless, skinless cuts.
How to Prepare Chicken Breast
When it comes to chicken, the difference between sublime deliciousness and airline food grossness is a thin one, and often relies on what you do with your chicken long before you start cooking. This is particularly true when it comes to chicken breasts. Because of their low fat content, chicken breasts, especially boneless skinless cuts, are notoriously quick to dry out in the oven or grill. However you can easily tip the scales in your favor with the right prep.
Marinade, Marinade, Marinade Marinating your chicken breast a few hours or even overnight before cooking is one of the best ways to help it stay moist while imbuing and locking in flavor. Marinades can be as complicated or as simple as you want to make them, but in general you should rely on a ratio of two parts acid, such as a vinegar or citrus juice, to one part oil, such as an olive or vegetable oil. Make sure to add plenty of salt and pepper, and then a handful of your favorite seasonings and fresh herbs. Then simply place your chicken breasts in the marinade, cover, and refrigerate for no less than 3-4 hours, and up to overnight. Pro tip: if you’re looking for a particularly tender chicken, try using a yogurt or buttermilk as your acid.
Try a Dry-Poach Dry-poaching is an especially good option if you’re cooking boneless skinless breasts. To do it, all you’ll need to do is wrap your chicken breasts in parchment paper before placing in the oven or grill. As it cooks, the parchment paper will act like chicken breast skin, helping the meat retain moisture and doing a great job at keeping it from drying out. It’s a super simple step, but makes all the difference.
Get the Seasoning Right Salt plays an essential role in bringing out the chicken’s flavor as well as locking in moisture. Right before cooking, make sure to sprinkle your chicken breasts with a pinch of flaky salt, even if your marinade was heavily salted. It’s a small step, but will make a big difference.
Give it a Whack Pounding is a great way to tenderize chicken breasts, as it helps break down the natural fibers in the chicken, leading to a moister meat and lessening your chances of overcooking. To do this, you’ll simply place your chicken breast in a plastic bag or between two pieces of plastic wrap, then using a meat mallet or anything heavy, such as a rolling pin or even a pan, pound your chicken breast until it reaches approximately ¼-½” thickness.
Invest in a Meat Thermometer Like all meats, it can be hard to tell if your chicken breast is fully cooked just from the naked eye. This is an even bigger problem when it comes to chicken, however, as it dries out so quickly; just a minute or two can make all the difference between a moist, succulent chicken breast or a dried-out, rubbery one. This makes meat thermometers ideal for cooking chicken breasts. 165ºF is the magic number to aim for, which means the chicken breast is fully cooked and safe to eat.
How to Oven-Bake Chicken Breast
Baking in the oven is the most widely-used method for preparing chicken breast. It’s super simple, takes less than 30 minutes and is probably the most fool-proof method, with less room for overcooking or drying out your breast as long as you keep to the recommended cook time and temperature. There is some debate as to whether baking under low heat for a long time or baking under high heat for a lower amount of time yields the best chicken breast, however in recent years most chefs have come to embrace a higher heat/lower cook time approach, which we’ve outlined below. This technique yields a crisper crust and juicier interior, with less cooking time to accidentally dry-out the meat.
Oven-baking is perfect for any cut of chicken breast.
To begin, place your chicken breasts on a baking pan and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
Place in the oven at 450°F for about 15-18 minutes, until the outside is golden brown and, using a meat thermometer, the meat reaches an internal temperature of 165ºF.
How to Grill Chicken Breast
Grilling chicken breast might be a little more difficult to pull off than oven-roasting, but it produces a delicious smoky flavor and juicy texture that no other method can replicate. It’s the perfect healthy summer meal paired with a simple side salad, and can easily be cooked in the kitchen during colder months using a grill pan.
Split breasts cuts can be difficult to grill as the attached breast bone prolongs cooking time, making it harder to achieve a good amount of tenderness on the high heat of the grill without overcooking the meat. Boneless skinless breasts or boneless breasts with skin are perfectly suited for the grill, however. Pounding your chicken beforehand is especially beneficial for grilling, as it helps it cook more evenly.
To begin, pound your chicken breasts to approximately ½” thickness.
Heat grill to medium-high heat, and cook for approximately 6 minutes, until grill marks are visible and the outside is a golden brown. Flip and cook on the other side for another 6 minutes.
Take off the grill and let chicken rest for 3-5 minutes before serving.
How to Pan-Sear Chicken Breast
The high and slightly uneven heat of a stove can make it a bit trickier to cook perfectly moist, tender chicken breasts using a pan. This is especially true of boneless skinless chicken breasts, which an quickly become rubbery on the stove without their fatty skin barrier. However split breast or boneless skin-on breasts can be absolutely delicious on the stove, producing a yummy crispy sear and tender meat if cooked correctly. It also takes just a few minute to prepare. Once you have it down, pan-seared chicken breast will soon become a family staple.
Begin by placing a skillet or lage pan on the stove at medium-high heat.
Add a small amount of vegetable or olive oil so it just coats the pan. You can also use a cooking spray.
Add your chicken and cook for 4-5 minutes. Turn and cook the other side for an additional 4-5 minutes, until it’s reached an internal temperature of 165˚F.
Chicken breasts might seem like a boring health-food staple, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. Whether oven-baked, grilled or pan-seared, with the right preparation and technique chicken breasts are packed with flavor and ridiculously juicy and tender. What’s more, they’re incredibly easy and quick to cook, packed with protein, and low in calories, carbs and fat. If they’re not already a weeknight staple in your family, trust us that after these steps, they certainly will be. Want to know how to cook chicken breasts another way, or have a suggestion for the next installment of our How To series? We'd love to hear from you! Shoot us an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.