HOME > Chowhound > Home Cooking >


How to avoid dry chicken breast?

OK, so we're trying to eat healthy, and as a bonus I noticed the other day that boneless chicken breasts were actually cheaper than the boneless chicken thighs I usually get. I am usually partial to dark meat but as we were making the million-dollar chicken recipe I thought any chicken would be fine.

It turned out well and pretty moist, but I recalled how other times I tried to cook chicken breast, whether seared, grilled, sauteed, or baked, it came out rather bland and dry. That's what I liked about chicken thighs -- the darker meat and higher fat content usually meant the meat was nice and juicy.

So, is there a secret to cooking chicken breast that doesn't make it too dry? Other than braising it in butter like my mom used to do (mmmmm, butter)?

Thanks in advance!

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. My advice re: boneless skinless breasts is to marinade or wet brine them. Then if left whole, grill, or pan sear 6 mins. per side on med-hi heat. Let them rest before slicing into them.

    For bone in breasts, I dry brine them by placing them on a rack over a sheet pan in the coldest part of my fridge and sprinkle liberally with kosher salt, and leave uncovered for 1-2 days. They lost moisture initially, but then it is drawn back into the protein molecules that then unwind. And the bonus is the skin dries out so it becomes brown and crispy faster. The meat is always juicy and tendered, and seasoned throughout.

    1. Not that I know of, altho of course moisture and fat do help! I find any sort of crust helps, as well. And if you're not confident using your sense of sight and touch to tell doneness---pull one out and give it a look-see a couple minutes before you plan to, as the suckers cook up awfully fast (especially boneless).

      I don't like losing the moisture from testing with a paring knife or thermometer, so I usually just pull them when they look and feel done and set them aside for a couple of minutes while I wrap up the rest of the meal. If the juices on the plate are still running clear after a few minutes, you're invariably good to go. If there's some pink in the juices, toss 'em back in the oven for another 6 or 7 minutes. This is my best method for catching the fleeting moments between unsafe and dry.

      1. Two things:
        Don't overcook
        Also if you are using boneless chicken breasts, butterfly them and/or pound them so they are a little more even. Then you don't have the thin part being done before the thicker part. ( I guess that's really 3 things).

        1 Reply
        1. re: sparkareno

          Ditto on points two and three -- I often pound my boneless breasts so they cook more quickly and evenly. If I'm cooking them whole or bone in, I make sure not to overcook them. Lately I've been taking a page from the TV chefs and doing a quick sear on the stovetop in an oven-proof skillet and then finishing it in the oven (then putting it aside to rest, deglaze the pan and make a pan sauce). That way you still get a nice browned surface without exposing it to high heat for too long.

        2. The real secret to moist chicken breast is not to overcook. When I taught my (now adult) daughter to cook chicken breast, I had her experiment a few times, to get an idea of the heat and timing. 2 or 3 minutes on each side for a moderately thick boneless breast will usually do at hign heat (pan). Take off heat and let rest for a few minutes before testing. Brining may help.

          1. I'm not sure if it's a secret, but this is what I do to my chicken breasts. For boneless, skinless, I rinse, pat dry and slice one lemon per breast halve. I place the dried breast in a pyrex baking dish. Sprinkle with salt and freshly ground black pepper and sprinkle with olive oil. I place lemon slices all over to almost cover the breasts completely.
            Place them in a preheated 350 degree oven and cook about 20 minutes, check for doneness. I take them out of the oven at 140 degree on my meat thermometer and let them sit for 5 minutes.

            They are pretty moist and tasty. If I don't have lemons, I use any citrus I have on hand.

            I haven't tried to brine them yet, but I might to see if it makes a big difference.

              1. my only advice is - bone in, always!!!

                but if you have to, like others say either pound it or cube it for kabobs, etc. and don't overcook - like any meat, it continues to cook for a few more min. after you take it off or out of the heat.

                1. If you're adventurous you can use a lazy/pseudo sous-vide method. Wrap in plastic somehow (vaccum seal or just use a ziploc bag with minimal air, maybe even just plastic wrap?), boil a pot of water, once it boils turn off the heat, throw in the chicken breast (use weights and make sure it submerges), let it sit for 45-60 minutes. Check the temperature with a thermometer the first few times to check doneness. Take out of the plastic and sear off the chicken breast and serve however you want.

                  1. My technique is to pan fry in a bit of olive oil on medium low heat. Heat the pan, add olive oil, and then the chicken breasts, in a single layer. Cook covered for about five minutes, then uncover, wait a minute, and then flip. Cook, flipping occasionally, until crunchy brown on both sides.

                    Covering for a while in the middle keeps them moist, while the slow cooking until crunchy brown makes them less bland. I do a batch occasionally and freeze for use in quick meals.

                    1. The secret is to not over cook. I cook BSCB a lot since it's my wife's favorite thing to eat. Go figure.
                      Anyway I usually pan sear in a cast iron skillet with little more than salt and pepper and a little olive oil rubbed on the chicken or in the pan. Cook them on medium heat until golden brown flip and then watch the temperature. Without an instant read thermometer it's tricky but you can do it by feel. With a thermapen or similar pull the breast at 155-160 and let them rest for 5-10 minutes. USDA says it's done when it hits 165. Do not let temp go past this. Personally I like them at 160 but would not advise you to breach USDA recommendations.

                      I get moist flavorful chicken without brining. Not that brining is a bad thing. It gives you a wider margin of error.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: scubadoo97

                        Yea, I never brine either and have been successful with moist chicken breasts. I prefer either 375 or 400F for 15 - 20 minutes if it hasn't been seared first if so then a few minutes less but as scubadoo97 says don't cook past 155F. Oh I also always butterfly or pound the thicker part so they are even and thinner.

                      2. I don't know if this is an option for you, but if you have access to non-industrial chicken, such as from a farmer's market, you might give that a try. I had given up making chicken breasts for the reasons you describe--boring with a capital "B!!"

                        But recently I have been buying them from a local farmer and it makes a world of difference. I make a simple breading and shallow fry with olive oil and they are wonderful. In fact, they are part of our regular rotation. I also recommend pounding to even out the thickness. I have been using panko for the bread coating but there are many other options.

                        1. Marinade in lemon juice or buttermilk, or yogurt!

                          1. I think for on the stove/in the oven, the matter can be pretty simple. The most important thing by far is to POUND THE THICK PART OF THE BREAST a bit to flatten it some and make the overall thickness much more uniform (max .75"). The fact is that really nice chicken breasts are just too plump! I sometimes remove the "tender" as well.

                            I then flour and S&P the outside lightly, and pan fry the breasts in a mixture of olive oil and butter for about 5 min per side. Meanwhile I have heated the oven to something between 220 and 250 depending on how low your oven will go.

                            When the breasts are browned nicely I remove to an oven proof plate inside the hot oven. Then I make the pan sauce (which is partly what the browning is about), which can be anything from just garlic, lemon and capers and a bit of wine to something more elaborate.

                            After about 30 minutes the breast should be at the proper internal temperature (140-50 with time after to come up to safety). You can remove them, pouring whatever juices there are into your sauce, finish that, and then serve together with whatever matrix/starch you prefer.

                            I think the advice here about not overcooking, brining, etc. pretty much takes care of all BBQ issues.

                            My problem are not these; my problem is how to prevent dry BRAISED chicken breasts. Any ideas?

                            1. you can poach them in salted water or a flavorful liquid. usually a gentle poach for 10 minutes, then 10 more minutes with the heat off, will get it to 160 degrees. that is more or less the way morimoto poaches chicken. you should check with a thermometer and not overcook it.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: calumin

                                I do this in a large tightly covered casserole in the oven - water, carrots, maybe onion or celery, a little vermouth or white wine if I have it. 300-325 does a gentle poach Virtually impossible to dry it out, but it should be done in 20 mins (depends on the size of the chicken breasts). serve with pesto, or a red pepper puree or really any sauce you like! Bonus from larger batches - chicken stock!

                              2. 1. Bake boneless skinless chicken breasts in sauce: barbecue, Cacciatore, curry, gravy etc. A lot of these come in jars as "simmer sauce". 2) Lay half-slices of bacon over the chicken to bake it. 3) Include the b sk ch brst in a casserole, like broccoli on the bottom, then chicken, then cheese sauce. 4) Poach the chicken then use the meat in tacos or whatever.; 5) Coat chicken with Shake n Bake or put a box of Stove Top stuffing through the Cuisinart and use that. 5) Add 2 tablespoons Tandoori Masala to a container of plain yogurt and marinate b sk ch brsts in that for 24 hours refrigerated; bake quickly in 425 oven.

                                1. I always brine my chicken. It definitely helps...especially if you accidentally overcook it.

                                  1. Are they skinless too, that will make for a dry chicken breast. I buy bone in skin on and roast and remove the skin.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. I pan fry them without overcooking and deglaze with wine and butter. Or lemon juice, zest, and an herb. I eat it as soon as it's done.

                                      My mise en place is ready for both chicken and veg, and I start cooking each at its proper time so the veg is done a little before the chicken, or if I'm especially successful, simultaneously. I like broccoli or green beans.

                                      It takes a couple of tries to get it right, and sometimes my timing is off a little.

                                      1. Marinate it with an olive-oil based mixture (I like dijon, sherry vinegar, lemon juice, honey and herbs) or just dip the chicken in it and baste/paint it with the mixture while it's under the broiler. It generally comes out moist as long as you don't overcook it.

                                        My roommates love it, so I know it's not just me who likes it:)

                                        1. Would I be gilding the lily to suggest that the best way to get perfectly moist chicken breast each and every time would be to sous vide the sucker?

                                          And never mind buying a $500 unit- a good-sized cooler and an accurate thermometer would be more than up to the task.