How To Cook Chicken Breasts: Pan & OvenMay 14, 2020
Boneless, skinless chicken breasts (aka BSCBs) — is there anything more boring? They are all too often overcooked until dry and chewy, and I generally prefer more succulent boneless, skinless thighs. But for lunch and dinner favorites like chicken Caesar salad and chicken pasta, sliced juicy chicken breasts can’t be beat. They’re a great staple for quick lunches, too.
Fortunately I have one method that makes unfailingly juicy and tender boneless, skinless chicken breasts. Need some chicken for a salad, or to top some pasta? This is the method. It takes some trust, but believe me — it works flawlessly every single time.
A Method That Requires Trust!
This method takes trust; you can’t check the chicken breasts or watch them cooking. The method isn’t searing, sautéing, broiling, frying, or baking; it heats the chicken breasts quickly on the stovetop then lets them essentially poach from the inside out in their juices in a covered pan.
Seasoning the Chicken
This method alone makes plain, simple chicken breasts — a blank slate to be used on top of salads, rice dishes, and tacos. But you can season the breasts any way you like; make them spicy, or flavor them with fresh herbs.
You don’t need to brine or marinate the chicken, but a quick brine does make them even juicier! Go here for instructions on how to make a super-quick 15-minute brine. (If you use a brine, make sure to pat the chicken very dry before proceeding with the cooking method below.)
How to Cook Chicken Breasts in a Pan
- 4 boneless skinless chicken breast halves (about 6 ounces each)
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 tablespoon butter
Step 1: Prep the chicken.
To prevent the thin end of a chicken breast from drying out, or the thick end from being undercooked, you’ll want to ensure the chicken breasts are an even thickness. To do so, place your chicken between two pieces of plastic wrap on top of a cutting board. Pound the chicken to 1/2-in. thickness with the flat end of a meat mallet (we suggest this one from KitchenAid).
Test Kitchen Tip: If you don’t have a meat mallet on hand, a hefty saucepan or skillet works in a pinch. Just be careful so as not to pound the chicken too thin.
Step 2: Get cooking
In a skillet that’s large enough to hold all of the chicken without overlapping, heat the olive oil and butter on medium heat. Add your chicken to the pan and cook for 5-6 minutes. Moving the chicken around can cause the breasts to stick to the pan and rip, so resist fiddling with the meat while it’s cooking. Flip the chicken and cook for an additional 5-6 minutes
Test Kitchen Tip: While it can be tempting to turn up the heat, especially if you’re really hungry, keep the burner on medium and no higher. Cranking the heat can cause the outside of the chicken to brown too quickly, or even burn, while leaving the inside undercooked.
Step 3: Take the temperature
Your chicken breasts will be cooked through and food-safe when their internal temperature has reached 165ºF. To check, take the temperature with an instant-read thermometer, like this one from ThermoWorks. Simply insert the thermometer halfway into each chicken breast until the temperature is displayed.
Test Kitchen Tip: If your chicken has reached 165ºF but isn’t golden brown on the outside, you can crank the heat up for a few seconds to add some browning.
Step 4: Rest
When cooked through, remove the chicken breasts from the pan and allow them to rest on a plate for 5 minutes. This lets the chicken breasts’ juices to redistribute, helping to lock it in after it’s cut.
And there you go! Perfectly cooked chicken breasts that are ready in a snap.
How To Bake Chicken Breasts in the Oven
Why This Method Is So Good
There is so little fat in a boneless, skinless chicken breast that it’s hard to cook it without the meat ending up dry or just plain tasteless. With this method, we take advantage of the steady, all-surrounding heat of the oven, but just before putting the breasts in to bake, we cover them with a piece of parchment paper. The paper acts almost like the chicken’s missing skin, protecting the chicken and preventing it from drying out.
Think of this method as a cross between braising and roasting. The chicken bastes in its own juices and the result is tender, juicy chicken breasts that are succulent and never dry.
A Versatile Method
This way of cooking chicken is incredibly easy and it’s never failed me. I also love it for when I want to cook several chicken breasts all at once, as when I’m cooking for a big family meal or to prep lunches for the week. In the recipe below, I season the chicken with just salt and pepper, but you can use any spices you wish or adapt it to your favorite recipes.
Super versatile, super dependable. If you’ve struggled with boneless, skinless chicken breasts, this is definitely the method to try.
- Butter or olive oil
- 1 or more boneless, skinless chicken breast
- Salt and pepper
- Other spices or seasonings
- Heat the oven to 400°F and prepare the pan: Heat the oven to 400°F with a rack in the middle position. Rub the pan and one side of the parchment paper with butter or olive oil; this prevents the chicken from sticking.
- Prepare the chicken: Pat the chicken dry and rub with a little butter or olive oil, if desired. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and any other favorite seasonings.
- Transfer to the baking dish: Place the chicken breasts in the baking dish, spaced slightly apart. You can also tuck herbs or lemon wedges around the chicken for extra flavor.
- Cover with the parchment: Lay the parchment, butter-side down, over the chicken. Tuck the edges into the pan and press the parchment down so that it’s snug around the chicken. The chicken breasts should be completely covered with the parchment.
- Bake until the chicken is 165°F: Transfer the chicken to the oven until the chicken is completely opaque all the way through and registers 165°F on an instant-read thermometer. Start checking after 20 minutes; total cooking time is usually 30 to 40 minutes.
- Serve: Serve the chicken immediately, or let it cool and refrigerate for up to a week.