BONELESS CHICKEN BREASTS – How To Cook Them Nice and Juicy!


Lots of people complain about boneless chicken breasts as being dry and tasteless. But they don’t have to be. You can make them easily to turn out juicy and delicious with this little cooking trick I’ve come up with for them described below.

Boneless breasts can quickly go from moist and juicy to dry with just a half a minute of overcooking. So you have to be very careful with your cook time and technique. Over the years I’ve experimented plenty cooking them, and figured out a method that really works and you should try the next time you make chicken. Here’s my my not-so-secret, secret way of cooking chicken breasts so they are never dry and tasteless.

Chicken breast meat, especially off the bone and with the skin removed, is naturally very lean. It just doesn’t have enough intra-muscular fat, as dark meat does, which makes boneless chicken thighs much easier to cook, without overcooking until they dry out. Therefore the trick with cooking boneless breasts is basically to get a very nice sear on both sides, then let them finish in the pan with the cover on and the heat off using residual heat and internal steam to let them finish cooking. Thats the secret. Details follow.

Chicken breasts – Fresh or Frozen. During Covid-19, I started buying frozen breasts instead of fresh at Trader Joe’s. Sure I usually would prefer fresh over frozen but I don’t want to go to a store as often. So having frozen chicken breasts in the freezer is very practical. TJ’s sells them prepped and quick frozen in 2.5 lb bags, either “whole breasts with rib section” which are a big whole breasts, or you can get portioned, trimmed up ones which are one half a breast and make a perfect portion per person. They run about 7 or 8 dollars a bag. And there is an Organic option which doesn’t cost much more than the regular ones. If I get them frozen, I let them do an overnight defrost (full day) in the fridge (how long will depend a bit on thickness). I always use a slow defrost as I have mentioned many times before, as this is best method for defrosting most things. If you rush the defrosting and say leave it out on the counter you will see juice run out of the meat and your breasts will be dry no matter how you cook them. Naturally if you prefer to use fresh boneless chicken breasts, this same cooking method works equally well with fresh breasts. Fresh of course is the “normal” way I would buy chicken pre-Covid-19 and have also at times bought fresh breasts on sale, trim them up and freeze them myself. It’s just a little more work, but when they are $1.99 /lb on sale at my supermarket, its worth it.

Here’s the general outline of this method for juicy chicken: Season/Marinate. Sear on both sides. Turn off the heat. COVER THE PAN. WAIT. Details follow:

JUICY CHICKEN BREASTS COOKING METHOD: Prep / trim up the breasts. Season and/or marinate the meat. In the picture above I used some TJ TACO SEASONING all over the breasts. Its a convenient spice blend I find and actually works well with chicken as well as beef. Its a cumin and chile “mexican” spice blend. Of course any mix or blend of spices of your choosing will work. Smoked Spanish Paprika is great in the mix as it helps browning and is very flavorful (TJ carries it). I almost always add fresh garlic. Let the seasoned chicken marinate/sit for 20-30 minutes on the counter to warm up from the fridge. TIP: Rub Olive oil all over the chicken before adding the spices and they will stick better. Some people like a sprinkle of some coating (a bit of flour, or breadcrumbs or Panko). What we are going for is a nice golden brown color on both sides of the chicken.

Put a tablespoon of olive oil (or oil and butter) in your pan (Non-stick or Cast Iron). Cast iron is terrific. Get the pan nice and hot. Throw in the chicken and let it sear on one side. DO NOT TOUCH or move the breasts in the pan for 3-5 minutes until you see a good “Golden Brown and Delicious” sear on the bottom. A good sear is crucial for great flavor (aka the Maillard effect). When one side is done, flip the breasts over and do the other side. You need to check them and make sure the middle is not completely cooked (opaque). Now turn off the fire and immediately put a tight fitting lid on your pan to cover them. Do not peek or open the cover. If you do you will let the precious steam that will finish cooking them escape. TIP: (optional) Squeeze a quarter lemon in the pan and throw it in before closing the lid.

Set your timer for 7-10 minutes to let the breasts finish cooking in the covered pan. Thats the whole trick, letting residual steam and heat finish them, a bit slowly. Voila! Juicy Breasts with a ton of flavor.

SO again its: “Season, Sear, Heat Off, Lid On. Just wait till done”.

This little trick to cook juicy boneless breasts is that easy. With this method, the seared breasts are not cooked all the way through the middle but the the “closed, moist environment” inside the pan, lets them finish using steam slowly, basically like a poach. Now you may have to play around with your own timing, and adjust a little bit either way based on thickness of chicken and what type of pan. What we are aiming for in the cooking is getting them just over the line of seeing any pink. After they are just past the point of not looking pink and done, you get them out of the pan and rest them on a plate or cutting board for about 4-5 minutes (some foil over them will help keep them warm). Resting meat keeps juices in. The breasts should be cooked through (don’t slice before resting them, but once rested you can “peek” in a thick section). Remember meats continue cooking a bit from residual heat inside. Again why you rest them for a few minutes.

In my picture the bigger piece needed another 30-60 seconds to finish completely so I just put it back with the cover on with a lowish flame. Its way easier if they are a bit underdone to cook them a little bit more then overcook them if you want to be sure they don’t come out dry. You can also make shallow slashes in the thicker part of a breast prior to seasoning them to help even things out with the thinner parts as heat will penetrate the slashed part easier. Or you can pound the thick part flat with a pan a bit which will even them out. Anyway give this method a few tries and you will figure out your exact timings depending on a few factors (chicken thickness, heat source, pan thickness, etc). Electric stoves of course have a great deal of residual heat after they are shut off so Wait Time would really need to be much less (or just move the pan to a cool burner). If your chicken is still coming out “dry” with this Sear & Cover Method, you will need to deduct a minute of the outside browning time especially after you turn them. Conversely if its pink in the thickest part add a tiny bit more time. You can also try it with the lid on for the second side browning, but deduct a minute or two as the steaming effect inside the pan will be more intense. Now that you know this sear and cover method, you can experiment. If you like the results please let us know in the COMMENTS section.

Naturally serving these with a tasty sauce is great for flavor plus keeping things moist too. Try yogurt and Green Dragon or Zhoug -or- yogurt and lemon, or just deglaze the pan with a tiny bit of stock, wine or even just water and using the scrapings, and a bit of butter to make a few tablespoons of pan sauce. If you want a slightly thick sauce, add a pinch of cornstarch slurry.

Hope you enjoy this basic technique. If you want to explore cooking boneless breasts by poaching them instead of grilling, the Kitchn has a detailed explanation and good cooking technique for POACHED BREASTS (LINK BELOW) Poaching is great for moistness, but you don’t get the intense flavor of grilling.

THE KITCHN