5 Secrets for Better Chicken Breast

Chai-Spiced Chicken Breasts © Con Poulos
By Kristin Donnelly Posted August 22, 2015

Here, five tips on how to make the best chicken breasts.

Here, five tips on how to make the best chicken breasts.

1. Consider Bone-In, Skin-On
Sure, they take a little longer to cook, but bone-in, skin-on breasts tend to be juicier and more forgiving. The skin provides a protective layer of fat and the bones prevent the meat from drying out too quickly, so you have a little wiggle room when you're cooking them. Bonus: These cuts of chicken are almost always less expensive than boneless breasts.

2. Pound Boneless, Skinless Breasts to an Even Thickness
Don't you hate how the thinner tail end of a boneless skinless breast is dry while the thickertop part of the breast is barely cooked? Prevent this phenomenon by pounding out your chicken breasts to an even thickness. To do so: Set your breasts between two layers of plastic wrap or seal them in a resealable plastic bag. Use a meat pounder or rolling pin and pound the thick end until it's the same thickness as the thinner end. If you want cutlets for dishes like schnitzel, carefully cut the chicken breast in half through the equator and then pound.

3. Season, Season, Season
The jury is out about whether it's better to salt chicken before you cook it or after. Experiment with both and find what you like best. Whatever you do, don't skip the salt: It's the surest way to make flavorless chicken. If you're feeling a little more ambitious, you can marinate the breasts briefly. Since they're so tender, they don't need hours and hours. In fact, too long of a soak in anything acidic can make the texture weird. But a five minute bath in olive oil and lemonjuice can work wonders. Why? The oil protects the meat while the sugar in the lemon juice caramelizes and forms a delicious crust.

4. Use Moderate Heat
Whether you're grilling or pan-roasting boneless breasts, cook them over moderate heat so the exterior doesn't become leathery before the interior cooks through. Unless you're looking for perfect grill marks, flip the chicken frequently so you can watch how the chicken is cooking and move it to cooler heat if necessary. For bone-in breasts, you'll want to sear them over moderately high heat to start and then cook them through in a moderate oven or grill them over indirect heat.

Related: Chicken Milanese with Sage-and-Lemon-Butter Sauce

5. Use a Thermometer
If you're working with bone-in breasts or thicker boneless ones, the best way to know that thechicken is done (and hopefully not overdone) is to check the temperature. Insert an instant-read thermometer into the thickest part of the breast, holding the probe so it's parallel to the work surface and making sure it doesn't touch any bone. Pull chicken breasts off the heat at 160°, letting them carry-over cook to the recommended 165°. This brings us to one of the other most important steps when cooking chicken breast (or any lean meat, for that matter): Let it rest. A post-cooking pause lets the juices redistribute back into the meat.

Kristin Donnelly is a former Food & Wine editor and author of the forthcoming The Modern Potluck (Clarkson Potter, 2016). She is also the cofounder of Stewart & Claire, an all-natural line of lip balms made in Brooklyn.

Related: More Amazing Chicken Breast Recipes
Delicious Quick Chicken Dishes
Wine Pairings for Chicken

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