If you’ve never experienced a dry chicken breast, I’m truly jealous. Biting into a grilled chicken sandwich or protein-packed salad and instead of that wonderfulness, tasting a dull, chalky chunk of chicken is just sad. Unfortunately, turning out tasteless poultry is a common problem, especially among new cooks. Chicken is a delicate protein that dries out fast. One minute too many on the heat can take the bird from tender and juicy to boring and blah.
But with a few simple tips from our Test Kitchen, you don’t need to worry about making dry chicken again. We’ll show you how to grill chicken and keep it perfectly juicy and ready for salads, sandwiches and more. Learning how to make grilled chicken has never been so easy!
What Tools You Need for Grilled Chicken
Thermapen instant-read thermometers ($99) are our preferred meat thermometer for grilling. We love them in our Test Kitchen as the model reads accurate temperatures in just 2-3 seconds.
We love this basting brush ($30). It’s not only effective but stylish, too. Plus, it includes a basting pot to house your favorite marinades and sauces.
Every serious meat-lover needs to own a meat mallet. This meat tenderizer from Williams Sonoma ($16) includes a rubber handle that will help you keep your grip while tenderizing.
How to Grill Chicken Breast
- 4 boneless skinless chicken breast halves (6 ounces each)
- 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1-1/2 teaspoons lemon juice
- 1/2 teaspoon lemon-pepper seasoning
Step 1: Prepare the Meat
First things first: Let’s tenderize the meat a bit. Place a large piece of parchment paper or plastic wrap on your work surface, place the chicken on top and cover the chicken with another piece of parchment or plastic.
Next, grab a meat mallet or rolling pin and give the thickest part of the chicken a few firm whacks—if you’ve ever learned how to butterfly a chicken, these are the same first steps. You don’t need to pulverize the cut, but do flatten it slightly so the breast is an even thickness from end to end.
Test Kitchen tip: This step helps cook the chicken evenly, keeping one end from drying out before the other has time to cook.
Step 2: Marinate the Chicken
Now it’s time to marinate that bird. Place the vinegar, oil, lemon juice and lemon pepper into a medium-size bowl or pan, then add the chicken. Turn and flip the chicken to coat, then cover.
Test Kitchen tip: Thinking about skipping this step? Think again. Marinade is a crucial part of keeping your chicken juicy (and adding extra flavor). You can switch up this recipe with these different marinade recipes.
Once covered, pop the chicken in the fridge. After 30 minutes or so, drain and discard the marinade.
Test Kitchen tip: Compared to beef and pork, chicken doesn’t need to marinate for long—especially if the marinade includes acidic ingredients such as vinegar, lemon juice or buttermilk. All it takes is 30 minutes to a couple of hours at most for an acidic marinade to work its way into the meat. If you’re running short on time, remember that some time spent marinating is better than none at all.
Step 3: Clean and Grease Your Grates
When it comes to grilled food, it’s best to start with clean grill grates. Check to make sure the grill is free of stuck-on food before you begin. The quickest way to clean a stainless steel grill is to turn up the heat to burn off the gunk, let it cool and scrub it down with a sturdy tool. We recommend this pumice-like grill stone ($6).
Once clean, you’ll want to brush the grill rack with oil. Moisten a paper towel with cooking oil, then use long-handled tongs to carefully rub it over the grill rack.
Test Kitchen tip: Take the extra time to clean and oil your grill grate. It’ll prevent the chicken from sticking.
Step 4: Start Grilling
Turn the heat up to medium, then use tongs to place the chicken breasts on the grill.
Test Kitchen tip: If using a charcoal grill, you can gauge the temperature by holding your hand five inches above the cooking grate. If you can keep it there comfortably for 4-6 seconds, it’s at medium heat.
Cover the grill and let the chicken cook for 5-7 minutes, then use tongs to flip the breasts over. Grill for 5-7 minutes longer.
For best results, pull out your thermometer. A fully cooked chicken breast will reach a temperature of 165°.
Test Kitchen tip: If you plan to brush on a sweet glaze such as barbecue sauce, wait until the last few minutes of cooking. Sugary sauces tend to get dark quickly.
Grilling up a different cut of chicken? Here’s a quick guide to chicken cooking temperatures:
|Type of Chicken Breast
|Boneless chicken breast||165°|
|Bone-in chicken breast halves||170°|
|Bone-in thighs or leg quarters||170-175°|
Learn more about food-safe cooking temperatures.
Step 5: Enjoy
When you first learn how to make grilled chicken, you’ll probably want to eat it the second it comes off the grill. However, it’s best to be patient.
Remove the chicken from the grill, cover with foil and let the chicken rest. This is absolutely key to keeping the chicken tender! Letting the meat rest for about five minutes gives the juices inside time to redistribute (instead of running out on your plate). By the time the table’s set, your juicy grilled chicken will be ready for you to chow down.
If you’re looking to get creative, flavorful chicken breast recipes can make any meal better. Once you get the hang of it, our healthy grilled chicken recipes are great options, too. If you’re looking to add even more variety, our chicken dinner ideas are perfect for every night.
What to Serve with Grilled Chicken
Grilled chicken is a healthy, delicious main course to serve by itself-but there are tons of ways to dress it up, too. You can put grilled chicken in just about anything: sliced on top of salads, stuffed into sandwiches, shredded for chicken soups or skewered on a kabob. Or top the dish off with a heaping pile of grilled veggies and you’ve got yourself dinner!