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Sliced grilled chicken on plate with quinoa salad

How to Grill Chicken Breast Without Drying It Out

Grilled chicken breast is an easy go-to for dinner. Here’s how to end up with moist, juicy and beautifully cooked chicken every time.

Whenever we visit my family, my Dad makes me the resident griller. I’m honored and always happy to step outside into the golden late afternoons on Cape Cod.

So, while we were living on the east coast for three months earlier this year, I did a lot of grilling for a crowd. Tons and tons of vegetables as well as whole fish, steaks, pork chops and shrimp

And of course, chicken.

As Forage readers know, I’m picky about chicken. I prefer to buy whole chickens from Hawkins Sisters {or another source where the chickens are raised on pasture with organic feed and humanely slaughtered}. And I use the whole bird–from flesh to skin and bones.

Grilled chicken breast with quinoa salad on a plate

If you’re going to use better chicken the price puts a premium on making the best grilled chicken possible. Boneless, skinless chicken breast has so many uses for carefree suppers for a crowd, from cobb salad to chicken salad sandwiches, gyros to nachos.

Trouble is, chicken is tricky to grill in general. And that lean breast meat can easily dry out with the intense heat of the grill.

I’ve covered the basics on how to grill chicken pieces {skin on and bone in}. So, in this post, I want to home in on chicken breast. It needs to completely cooked through, so there’s no pink at the center.

Here are the steps I use to ensure that grilled chicken breast always turns out perfectly cooked and juicy.

5 Steps to Juicy Grilled Chicken Breast

1. Gather your gear & preheat the grill.

You’re going to need an instant-read thermometer, a timer, tongs and a clean half sheet pan or platter for the cooked chicken. Preheat your grill to medium high heat {350-400 degrees F}. When it’s hot, scrape the grill very clean with a grill brush. You can lightly oil the grill if you’d like, but I never do.

2. Season & set your timer.

I use kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to season the meat evenly on all sides. Then, arrange the chicken breasts top sides down evenly spaced on the grill grates. Turn the heat down to medium (325-350 degrees F) and close the cover. {If you are using a charcoal grill, arrange the chicken over the coolest areas of the grill.}

Set the timer for 15 minutes and monitor for flare ups. {Because they’re skinless and you’re not using an oil or marinade, these should not occur.}

Use tongs to arrange the chicken breasts {top side down first} evenly over the grill grates. When using a charcoal grill, place the chicken over the cooler side of the grill {hover your palm over the grill to find the sweet spot} for the most even cooking. With this method, you use medium heat and the cover to turn your grill into an oven. It provides the most gentle cooking for chicken breast and other lean meats.

3. Flip and take a temperature.

Open the cover and you will see that the chicken is opaque around the edges with an oval of pink on the tops. Use the tongs to flip them over, close the cover and grill for 5 minutes more. Then, use your instant-read thermometer to check the temperature.

As you can see from this photo, chicken breast comes in a range of sizes, so some may be done ahead of others. Once you get a reading of above 160 degrees F, remove the chicken breast from the grill to a clean sheet pan. It will continue to cook as it rests and while you wait for the rest to finish cooking.

After 15 minutes with the grill at 350 degrees F and the cover closed, the chicken has grill marks and is nearly cooked all the way through. After another 5 minutes (depending on the size of the breasts), the internal-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the meat will register 160-165 degrees F. Rest, slice and serve.

4. Slice & serve.

I like to let the chicken rest for about 10 minutes before slicing. Two chicken breasts easily serves three people for a main course or entree salad.

For this meal, I served grilled chicken breast with a a big quinoa salad of black beans, corn and tomatoes. For gyros, quesadillas, stir fry, rice or noodle bowls, a couple of breasts feed even more people.

To Brine or Not To Brine

For insurance, brining is a great way to go. Even if you’re short on time, a 20-minute brine will produce a juicier grilled chicken breast. Truth be told, I usually skip this step because I rarely serve straight-up chicken breast for a meal. If you’d like to test out brining for yourself, I have included instructions in the Recipe Notes.

What About Marinating?

It seems like chicken breasts are meant for marinating. I sure love the taste of chicken with olive oil, lemon juice and fresh herbs. If you go that route, just be sure to pat those chicken breasts dry before grilling to avoid nasty flare ups. I choose a different route: after grilling, I slice the chicken breast and toss the cooked meat in the marinade. I think it delivers way more punch.

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Grilled Chicken Breast

Course Main Course
Cuisine American
Keyword grilled chicken breast
Cook Time 15 minutes
Resting time 5 minutes
Total Time 20 minutes
Servings 4 people
Author Lynne Curry

Equipment

  • Instant-read thermometer

Ingredients

  • 4-8 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • kosher salt
  • freshly ground black pepper

Instructions

  • Preheat a gas or charcoal grill and scrape the grate extra clean. Season the chicken breasts generously with the salt and to your taste with the pepper all over. (For extra moist chicken, brine them, following the instructions in the Recipe Notes.)
  • Check the heat on your grill to be sure that it's about medium-high (between 350 and 400 degrees F) by placing your open palm about 5 inches above the grate. If you can hold it there for 5 seconds, you’re in range. Also, if using a charcoal grill note where the heat is less intense.
  • Place the chicken breasts top side down on the grate using metal tongs. Close the grill cover and reduce the heat to medium (300 to 350 degrees F). Keep the cover closed for a full 10 minutes. (With skinless chicken breasts, there is less chance of flareups, but monitor your grill anyway, and if necessary, immediately slide the chicken out of harm's way.)
  • Flip the chicken and grill with the cover closed for another 5 minutes. Check the doneness with an instant-read thermometer. Insert the tip of the probe into the thickest part.
  • If you're using a marinade or glaze, remove the chicken breasts when they are 150-155 degrees. Toss them with the sauce in a bowl and return them to the grill to finish cooking.
  • The chicken is completely cooked when the thermometer registers160-165 degrees F. Extra large or thick chicken breasts will take a few more minutes.
  • Transfer the chicken as it is done to a platter and allow to rest for 5-10 minutes before slicing and serving.

Notes

To brine: Dissolve 2 tablespoons kosher salt in a 2-quart container with 2 cups of water. Add the chicken and brine for 30 minutes and up to 2 hours in the refrigerator.

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