Are chicken breasts in your regular cooking rotation? Tired of your boneless skinless chicken breasts being dry, tough, and chewy? You’re not alone! The reason chicken breasts often end up dry is actually one of the things we value about them: they have very little fat. Refresh your chicken know-how by reading these common mistakes and tips for cooking chicken breasts.
Using boneless and skinless breasts which result in dry, stringy meat. You don’t have to eat the skin! If you’re not a fan, just peel it off. Both the bone and the skin help keep the meat moist as it cooks, and with so little fat to begin with, the breast needs all the help it can get.
Skipping the marinade, brine, or rub. Marinades, brines, and rubs are three fabulous ways to flavor chicken. Marinades typically consist of an acidic ingredient like vinegar, lemon juice, wine, or yogurt, plus oil and spices that adds intense flavors. Marinate if you’re looking for strong flavors.
A brine is a salt-based solution that adds juiciness to proteins with a tendency to dry out on the grill. At its simplest, a brine can be one tablespoon of kosher salt to one cup of water. However, sugar and other seasonings make the brine tastier. Depending on the ingredients, brines can also impart subtle flavors.
A rub is a dry mixture of salt, pepper, dried herbs, and spices that you use to flavor the food before cooking. Use rubs to add flavor and texture, while the seasoning helps to form a crispy crust.
Poaching the meat. Forget poaching and switch to roasting at 375˚F for chicken breasts. First, sear the chicken in a skillet, skin side-down before transferring it to the preheated oven. That will help the skin crisp up and take on an attractive golden-brown color.
Not prepping the chicken breast properly. Keep chicken breasts moist by reducing the time they spend cooking. There are several ways to do this if you insist on using boneless skinless chicken breasts:
- Pound the breast meat between sheets of plastic wrap or wax paper into thin cutlets.
- Butterfly the breasts before cooking by slicing lengthwise through the thickest side to the opposite side. Be careful not to cut all the way through to the other side. Open out the breast so that it resembles a butterfly. This technique creates a uniform thickness throughout a piece of meat, so that it will cook more quickly and evenly.
- Thinly slice the breasts on a sharp diagonal across the grain into strips. This works best if the chicken is partially frozen. Thread onto skewers to make kebabs or satay.
- Grill boneless chicken breasts under a grill press, foil-covered brick, cast iron skillet, or salt slab. This technique not only compacts the meat, which gives it better texture, but it blocks the escape of moisture and hastens cooking.
Overcooking the chicken! This transgression has contributed more to chicken breasts’ poor reputation than any other. Don’t desert the kitchen or grill when cooking this delicate meat! Thinner breast meat such as cutlets, butterflied breasts, or satays, will cook in a matter of minutes.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, all poultry needs to be cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 165ºF. Remember that the meat will continue to cook after it’s removed from the heat. The internal temperature will rise about 5-10 degrees in the first few minutes it’s off the heat so take it off the heat source at 160 ºF. For thicker breasts—especially skin-on, bone-in breasts—rely on a digital meat thermometer. Note: insert it through the side of the chicken, not, through the top.
Suffering through dry meat. So you overcooked your chicken breast? Bummer but, not all is lost. Introduce some moisture to the meat by making a sauce to pour over it. Turn the chicken into an impromptu salad made with shredded meat. Add leftover chicken to a soup. Over a low heat, add the chicken to a few tablespoons of water or broth and simmer for a few minutes to allow the liquid to penetrate into the meat. Another rule: if the meat is dry, please don’t reheat it again in the microwave or oven!
With a package of chicken breasts in the fridge and a few seasonings in the cupboard, you’re on your way to a delicious meal. Follow these tips, and your chicken will come out perfectly tender and juicy every time!
- Barbecue Bible, barbecuebible.com
- U.S. Department of Agriculture, usda.gov