Chicken, especially chicken breasts, are one of the most popular protein sources for Americans. It’s lean, inexpensive and versatile, but not always the easiest thing to cook. Nothing is worse from a culinary standpoint than dry chicken breasts. I’ve heard chefs who shudder at the thought of even using white meat from chickens. For home cooks, chicken breasts make life easy. You can cut it up and use it on a salad, rice bowl, tacos, quinoa bowl, soup and sandwiches.
I use chicken all. the. time. The first few times I baked chicken the texture was tough as can be and took each of us several minutes to chew one bite. Just awful. I remember sitting on the phone with my mother who kept telling me it’s my cooking time, which was true. Since then I’ve mastered several different ways to cook chicken breasts but decided to do a chicken cook off to see which method resulted in the best results, specifically for baked chicken. I tried:
- Marinate and bake
- Sear and Bake
- Marinate, sear and bake
After cooking more chicken than I ever have at one time, making my dog go nuts with all the good smells in the house I landed on my good old tried and true for the win: Sear and Bake.
Here are a few tips for baking juicy chicken and recipe
- Choose chicken breasts that are fairly uniform in size. Most chicken breasts have a large end and a small end. If it’s an extreme difference your small end will end up hard as a rock while the other end is still uncooked. If you do have a big discrepancy in size, place your chicken breasts between plastic wrap and whack the thick end using the bottom of a coffee cup or mason jar to make it more even. Keep in mind if it becomes quite thin, 1/4 inch to 1/2 inch thick you’ll need to adjust your cooking time.
- Skin on. Cooking chicken breasts with the skin on keeps moisture in the chicken. Once it is cooked then you can remove the skin prior to eating. It makes minimal difference in the fat content of the chicken breasts but a significant difference in how tender it is after cooking. It’s hard to find chicken breasts with skin on so you may have to ask your local grocery store butcher if they can help you out.
- Don’t crowd the pan. Keep an inch or two between chicken breasts so they don’t end up steaming and cook more evenly.
- Always sear for full flavor. I even sear chicken that’s going into a crock pot. It always provides more flavor. To sear, use a stainless steel or cast iron skillet and heat the pan to medium high heat. Add the oil and coat the pan evenly and then sear. See recipe below for more details.
- Master your cooking time. Even with all the tips, my oven and size of chicken breast will always be different than yours creating subtle differences in cooking times. You want to cook the meat until it reaches 165 degrees. Watch closely for signs of your chicken being ready, like the juices running clear, so you don’t over do it. The recipe below will either be spot on or get you very close!
- Let it rest. Once you have cooked your chicken to the proper temperature, let it rest for at least 5 minutes. This helps to absorb much of the fluid. If you cut too soon all that juiciness will simply spill out on the plate.
Try the recipe below for juicy, tender chicken
- Two 6-ounce chicken breasts
- 1 Tablespoon olive oil
- ½ teaspoon garlic salt (or regular salt), garlic salt gives more flavor!
- ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Heat an oven-proof cast iron or stainless steel skillet on medium high heat. Once hot, add the oil and coat the pan evenly.
- Sprinkle garlic salt and pepper on each side of the chicken breasts and add to the skillet smooth side down with at least one inch space in between. Don't move it! Let the chicken sit untouched for 1 to 2 minutes. When it's ready it will lift easily from the pan with a spatula (no sticking) and be golden brown. You aren't cooking it all the way through on the stove top so the inside will be pink.
- Flip the chicken over and remove pan from the stove top and place it into the oven. Cook for about 6 to 8 minutes or until a thermometer reads 165 degrees. Cooking time depends on the thickness of your chicken breasts. If you pounded them thin you may only need about 4 minutes cooking time.
- Remove pan from the oven and let the chicken rest for 5 minutes before cutting.