Monday, May 07, 2007

How to Make Juicy Grilled Chicken Breasts That Are Perfect Every Time

Five Easy Steps for Juicy Grilled Chicken Breasts from
I've been using these techniques for years to make perfect grilled chicken breasts.

Grilling weather is my favorite time of year! If you think the chicken breasts in these photos look juicy and delicious, you're right, they were.  This popular post on Kalyn's Kitchen has my five easy steps for producing perfect grilled chicken breasts that are perfect every time.  Enjoy!

For years I've been marinating boneless-skinless chicken breasts and then grilling them with great results, despite the many recipes I see telling me you should only use bone-in chicken with skin on the grill. Not true! When I catered houseboat trips for over ten years, boneless chicken breasts cooked on the grill were always one of the dinners. There was never a complaint and there were many requests for the recipes.

Of course, you can't just take a chicken breast out of the package, throw it on the grill, and have it turn out moist and delicious.  For good results with boneless and skinless chicken, you need to use techniques designed to keep the chicken juicy.  Below are my Five Easy Steps for Juicy Grilled Chicken Breasts.

Five Easy Steps for Juicy Grilled Chicken Breasts from
Step One: Trim the chicken breasts

Trim each chicken breast carefully to remove fat and tendons and then trim the underneath side of the chicken (tenders side) to make the entire breast close to the same thickness. If there's a long thin piece on one end, trim it off. (Of course you're saving these trimmed-off pieces in the freezer to make chicken stock.)

Five Easy Steps for Juicy Grilled Chicken Breasts from
Step Two: Help the marinade penetrate the meat.

Carefully cut small crosswise slits down the length of each chicken breast, being careful not to cut all the way through. This will help the marinade penetrate the meat better, help the chicken cook evenly, and it also looks nice when the chicken is cooked.

Five Easy Steps for Juicy Grilled Chicken Breasts from
Step Three: Use a marinade with oil, acidic ingredients, and flavorings.

I think marinades for chicken breasts need a generous amount of oil to keep the chicken moist, besides the acidic ingredients and flavorings that marinades commonly have. Most of my recipes have a 2:1 ratio of oil to acidic ingredients, keeping in mind that you're not eating most of that oil. I most often use olive oil, but depending on the other ingredients in the marinade, you can use peanut oil or any type of vegetable oil. I usually use lemon juice or some type of vinegar for the acidic ingredient. Other marinade ingredients that I frequently use include things like garlic, onion, shallots, ginger, herbs, mustard, curry powder, soy sauce, sesame oil, Worcestershire sauce, and chile powder.

Five Easy Steps for Juicy Grilled Chicken Breasts from
Step Four: Marinate the chicken in refrigerator several hours or longer.

I like to marinate chicken 6-8 hours, and I often marinate chicken breasts in the refrigerator all day while I'm at work, then cook them when I get home. However, if you're pressed for time, several hours is what I'd consider the minimum amount of time to get the flavoring and moistening benefits that come from marinating.

Five Easy Steps for Juicy Grilled Chicken Breasts from
Step Five: Judge cooking time by how the chicken looks and feels,
not just by the amount of time the recipe indicates (or use a thermometer).

Marinated chicken breasts can be cooked on a gas or charcoal barbecue grill, in a stove-top grill pan with ridges, or even in an electric utensil such as a George Foreman Grill. Whichever method you use to grill it, chicken needs to cook until it's completely cooked through, but cooking too long will make it dry and tough. I cook chicken breasts at medium-high on my well-used grill. I judge when the chicken is done by the touch and how the chicken looks. Chicken should feel firm to the touch, but not hard, when it's done. The outside of the chicken should be well-browned on both sides. You can also use an Instant-Read Meat Thermometer to check the temperature (USDA recommended temperature is 165 F for chicken breasts.) Cooking time will depend on the temperature of the chicken, how hot the grill is, the thickness of the chicken breasts, and even weather conditions if you're cooking outside.

Now, get busy and grill Some Chicken!   Here are some of my favorite recipe ideas for cooking juicy chicken on the grill, hope you enjoy.

Five Easy Steps for Juicy Grilled Chicken Breasts from

Very Greek Grilled Chicken.

Five Easy Steps for Juicy Grilled Chicken Breasts from

Grilled Chicken with Lemon, Capers, and Oregano.

Five Easy Steps for Juicy Grilled Chicken Breasts from

Grilled Chicken with Balsamic Vinegar

Five Easy Steps for Juicy Grilled Chicken Breasts from

Grilled Fusion Chicken

More of Kalyn's Recipe Ideas for Juicy and Flavorful Grilled Chicken:
Completely Foolproof 100% Delicious Grilled Chicken (super easy!)
Grilled Lime and Chile Chicken with Mango and Red Bell Pepper Salsa
Grilled Curried Chicken Skewers with Spicy Peanut Sauce
Grilled Chicken with Tarragon-Mustard Marinade
Rosemary Mustard Grilled Chicken
Grilled Chicken with Sage, Rosemary, and Garlic Dried Herb Rub 
Grilled Garlic Chicken with Roasted Red Pepper and Garlic Aioli Sauce
Curried Chicken on the Grill with Cilantro Chutney
Savory Low Carb Marinade for Chicken
Mustard, Lemon, and Coriander Grilled Chicken Breasts with Lemon-Basil Vinaigrette
Grilled Garlic Chicken with Roasted Red Pepper and Garlic Aioli Sauce

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Kristen said...

These are all great tips. I am just now learning how to grill. It has been my hubby's domain up until now. I'll have to keep these great tips in mind. Thanks for sharing them and thanks for sharing your favorite recipes!
Your photos are mouth watering!

Sophie said...

Thanks Kalyn, these are really good tips! In the UK you virtually never get chicken breast still with the skin or bones so it's really easy to end up with something that's a bit dry

Brilynn said...

I love that grilling season is back! Although technically, it never really left for me, I would bbq in the snow, it just wasn't as pleasant.

Sarah Caron said...

I love, love, love boneless chicken breasts on the barbecue. Great tip about slitting the breasts to let the marinade really get in there. I am definitely going to try that next time.

Lannae said...

Kalyn, I love BBQ, but then again I live in TN where BBQ is a way of life. The step by step you gave is awesome!

I propose to you a challenge when your growing season is at its height: cook and eat locally. I got the idea from Cookiecrumb at and I am now trying it for a week too. I have found that grains are not local (I had to make an exception with brown rice) that it is forcing me to eat low carb.

What do you say, are you game?

astrid said...

they looks so good and yummy!
thanks forsharing your secrets with us :o)

I used similiar "tricks" to keep chicken breasts moist ...

sher said...

Those really are absolutely perfect chicken breasts. Fabulous! You're amazing.

Kalyn said...

Kristen, thanks. Grilling is great fun.

Sophie, didn't know that about the U.K. Wonder why? Glad it was useful for you.

Brilynn, me too, until it gets so cold that the meat is cold while it's on the grill!

Sarah, glad you liked it.

Lannae, I know Cookiecrumb and have read about her eating local experiences. Very interesting, but much easier to do in California. I'm eating produce from my garden for at least 5 months a year and shopping at our farmer's market, so I think that's pretty local, but I wouldn't be able to give up olive oil or fish, neither of which would ever be produced here.

Astrid, hi, glad you liked it.

sher, I am not really amazing, I'm glad you like the way the chicken turned out. (You are pretty amazing yourself.)

Merisi said...

No grilling around here (apartment living has a lot less perks *g*), but I shall broil soon your delicious sounding "Grilled Curried Chicken Skewers with Spicy Peanut Sauce" (I work for peanuts!).
Thanks for the always great recipes and cooking ideas, I appreciate very much the time and knowledge you invest for us.

Pamela said...

Great post Kalyn!!

MeltingWok said...

ahh..why didn't I think of that ? I usually make slits for fish, and as for boneless chicken breast, I use the mullet and give it a chop, thx for the reminder, Kalyn :)

Nau-Dee said...

I really like the idea of slicing the meat for a better marinade cover. Thank so much for the tip! All the grilled chicken recipes look wonderful!

Anonymous said...

I had never grilled before and am a horrible cook. I grilled this recipe and we loved it. It is foolproof if I can do it.

Anonymous said...

I think I'm gonna try that this weekend. Sounds great.

Kat said...

Thanks for the tips! And just as an FYI, I think this person plagiarized you.

At the very least, she stole one of your images.

Kalyn said...

Kat, thanks for tipping me off about the person who definitely stole the concept of this post, even if it was not word-for-word, and did indeed illegally use my photo. I will be contacting that web site, but I remove the link from your comment so it doesn't send traffic to their site.

Kat said...

Cool, I'm glad I could help. And thanks for explaining that you removed the link, because for a minute there, I thought I forgot to add it to my commnet.

Love your site!

Anonymous said...

omgness!!!!! im like 14...and like i used ur tips and stuff...and like my whole family was complimeting me!!! THANKS SOOOOO MUCH!!! i had a problem with the ran out of i had to finish em in the oven...i put them on the rack and like let the jucies drip on a pan underneath...luckily they turned out mega juicy and like rocked!!!! thanks again!

saraswathy said...

Great tips.. I was trying to grill chicken breasts for the first time and it didnt turn out well.. I will try ur suggestions for success for sure.. I have a microwave oven with grill. Do u think it will work out well in there?

Kalyn said...

Saraswathy, I haven't ever tried cooking chicken breasts in the microwave, so I'm not sure how it would work. If you don't have an outdoor grill, I'd be more likely to use the broiler of the oven or a stove-top grill pan than the microwave.

Anonymous said...

thank you thank you thank you!!
i found this by googling "great grilled chicken"

Anonymous said...

Microwave ovens work great to cook chicken. The breasts stay very juicy but do not tend to brown. You can coat with lemon juice to get some browning. However, for grilled chicken breasts you should marinate them for a couple of hours. Then microwave for about 5 minutes while the grill heats up. After that put them on the grill until browned on each side. After removing them from the grill cover with foil for 5 minutes before cutting. The micro greatly cuts down on the grill time. I have done this for years and get great compliments on my chicken breasts.

Kalyn said...

Anonymous, as I said, I haven't cooked chicken breasts in the microwave. Sounds like it is working for you.

sam said...

thanks! i used to hate chicken because it was so dry but i tried this and i love it!

Kalyn said...

Sam, so glad you liked it!

Anonymous said...

Some readers might be confused as to the term "microwave" here. You should never cook raw chicken in a microwave as it's extremely dangerous. Quite simply the chicken cannot get hot enough to kill bacteria or enterobacteria salmonella, which contrary to popular belief needs to be heated at 165 degrees plus for at LEAST 10 MINUTES. If they are refering to a toaster oven or something of the like that can have a metal rack inside then that is different and more like a full-sized oven. Though, PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE be careful out there to fully cook your poultry and always do it outside of radiation.

Kalyn said...

Kris, I was not recommending cooking chicken in the microwave, in fact I clearly said I wouldn't use it.

Interactive World said...

I am going to do the grilling today. Wonder if an electric grill work as well as a charcoal fired one.

Kalyn said...

I've cooked this type of chicken recipe on a George Foreman grill, so I can't imagine why an electric grill wouldn't work.

JT said...

My wife loves crispy chicken skin on her grilled chicken, but when I attempt this, the teryaki sauce / skin combination usually sticks to the grill and peals off. Any tips for grilling skin-on chicken and ending up with crispy results on a reliable basis?


Justin - Puget Sound, WA

Kalyn said...

Justin, sorry but I never grill chicken with the skin on, partly for the reasons you've described, and partly because I don't want the extra saturated fat from the skin.

Elyse said...

Always love a good grilling recipe - especially for chicken. Always seems easy but can dry so quickly. I am a huge fan of the the grill pans for the top of the stove. Couldn't live without it.

Joie de vivre said...

Good tips Kalyn! I know I'm late to the party, but I need to try this!

galwaycolleen said...

Question - I almost always pound my chicken before I marinate and grill it. The few times I haven't, I end up regretting it - What about you guys?

Kalyn said...

You can certainly pound the chicken breasts (and probably wouldn't need to cut the little slits.) I kind of like the uniform look of the chicken with slits (and I even trim them to be close to the same size) but pounding will give the same effect of the marinate penetrating better and the chicken cooking more evenly.

Kalyn said...

I don't use sugar, so I'm not going to post recommendations for brining the chicken with a mixture that uses that, but I can assure you that this chicken marinated in a mixture that includes oil is most certainly not dry, even without brining.

Andrew said...

Hello Kalyn, i must say that your way of cooking is impressive!

Lately I have cooked this recipe, but adding a small detail and would like to know your opinion about it. Indeed, after marinating the chicken breasts, and at the time of placing them on the grill, i put slices of bacon over the breasts, for two main reasons: to maintain moisture, since the steam stays inside the chicken; and to give a touch of extra seasoning.

What do u think about that twist?

Kalyn said...

Andrew, I'm sure that would add flavor and keep the chicken moist, but my recipes are designed to follow principles of the South Beach Diet, which limits saturated fat (therefore, no bacon.) For people who don't care about that, I bet it's tasty.

Andrew said...

Hello Kristen,

Considering what you said, i ended up not using bacon. Instead i used slices of smoked turkey breast. Indeed, the effect was great as the chicken breasts kept moist as well as better seasoned. Additionally, I put rosemary sprigs along with coal in the grate, which gave a fantastic flavor to the meal!

Thanks again for the good advice and spectacular recipes!


Kalyn said...

Andrew, that sounds good (I love rosemary with chicken!) Glad you're enjoying the recipes.

Tricia said...

Hi Kristen,

Many thanks for writing the entry! I'm a kitchen newbie and I've been looking forward to making my first chargrilled chicken. Your tips will go a long way :D

Coach Rollie said...

Chicken breasts are a big part of my diet. Thanks for the tips. I'm not the greatest cook and eating chicken breasts can get boring, but this will definitely help.

Kalyn said...

You're welcome, so glad it is useful.

tc45 said...

What size are the breasts in the photos? 6OZ?

Kalyn said...

I took that photo years ago so I have no idea what size they were, but this will work with chicken breasts of any size. If they're really huge though, I like to cut them in half so they cook more evenly.

Ashlie said...

I googled chicken breast recipe because I needed a quick idea for Mother's Day lunch and your blog popped up. Great, simple tips! I did the 2:1 ratio of oil to acidic like ou suggested and added a bunch of other good spices. The kitchen was moist and delicious off the grill! I usually blow at grilling chicken so I'm really pleased at your lesson!

Kalyn Denny said...

Ashlie, so glad the tips worked for you!

Michele Madore said...

I am serving 60 ladies with warmed chicken breast, sliced (using your recipe) over fresh salad the day following cooking them. What do you recommend for warming and keeping them moist the next day? Thanks!

Kalyn Denny said...

Michele, to be honest I think this type of thing is best served right after it's cooked. If you MUST make ahead and reheat, I'd probably do it in a slow cooker, maybe adding a tiny amount of liquid to keep the chicken moist.

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