Overcooked chicken breasts are dry and flavorless; undercooked chicken breasts are dangerous. It’s easy to see why so many people, so much of the time, err on the side of overcooking. It is the lesser of two evils…but what if you didn’t have to choose? It truly is very simple to grill chicken breasts to juicy, tender perfection without drying them out. I promise.
First, go get yourself one of these, an instant read meat thermometer. It is an essential tool which will make all the difference, and I will show you how to use it.
Now, if you are one of those people who looks at recipes that call for pounding chicken breasts and say to yourself, “Hell, no!” before turning the page or clicking elsewhere, I urge you to stay put for a sec. When you pound chicken breasts, you do NOT tenderize them, but you do make them an even thickness, which means they cook evenly. And when they cook evenly, that means no one area gets dry and flavorless by the time the thickest part is cooked through.
I have step-by-step photos of how to pound chicken breasts right here. You will see it is incredibly simple to do, and like most things, gets even easier the second or third time. It will take you about 4 minutes to pound enough to serve four people. (The first time, as with all things, might take you just a little longer.)
After you pound the chicken, season it. That might mean marinating, as in the recipe below, or maybe patting it with a spice rub, or simply sprinkling it with salt and pepper. Maybe you’ll brush it with a glaze or barbecue sauce at the end, but for now, let’s focus on the cooking part.
* Before you heat the grill, wipe the rack with some oil. I put the oil on pepper towel and wipe the grates lightly, or I spray the cold racks with cooking spray like Pam.
* Heat the grill for direct cooking, which means you are going to place the chicken on the grates right over the fire. (Slower cooking foods like chicken thighs get cooked over indirect heat, which means the fire is off to the side). Once you lay the chicken down, do not move it until it no longer sticks to the grill. Don’t worry that it is sticking and try to force the meat from the grill, because in the process it will shred a bit, and you haven’t accomplished a thing. If it is sticking, let it sit there. Trust me. When it is nicely seared and has earned its beautiful stripes, it will no longer stick to the grill. This usually takes about 4-5 minutes. At this point, turn the chicken over and repeat the process. After about 4 minutes on the second side (time will vary depending on how thick or thin you pounded it) insert a meat thermometer horizontally into the thickest piece, so that the tip is in the center at the thickest point. Here are pictures of how to do that. (Scroll about halfway down the page). When the chicken registers 160°, it is safe, moist and tender.
If you take the temp and it is under 160°, wash the thermometer in warm soapy water before using it again.
Okay, now on to this simple recipe for Rosemary-Lemon Marinated Grilled Chicken Breasts, which will be moist, tender and juicy, and which I predict you will be making all summer long.
Rosemary-Lemon Marinated Grilled Chicken Breasts
3 tablespoons lemon juice
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh rosemary (or thyme), chopped
3 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (or to taste)
4 6-ounce boneless, skinless chicken breast halves, pounded to even thickness
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
- Oil or spray the grill racks with cooking spray. Heat the grill for direct cooking.
- Whisk the lemon juice, olive oil, rosemary, garlic and crushed red pepper in a large bowl; add the chicken breasts and toss to coat. Marinate at room temperature about 20 minutes. Remove the chicken from the bowl (discard the marinade) and season the chicken with the salt and pepper.
- Place the chicken on the grill and cook until the underside is well-marked and readily lifts from the grill surface, about 4 minutes. Turn and cook until an instant read meat thermometer inserted horizontally in the center of the thickest part of the chicken reads 160°, about another 4 minutes.
Makes 4 servings
Nutritional analysis for each serving: 293 calories, 37 g protein, 2 g carbohydrates, 0 fiber, 15 g fat, 3 g saturated fat, 379 mg sodium