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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!

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  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:
        Brine
        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.