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Cooking Tips

Use This Secret Ingredient for Better-Tasting Grilled Chicken

We wanted juicy, savory chicken breasts that were also versatile. One surprising ingredient helped us get there.

Published May 5, 2022.

In addition to its practicality, grilling chicken has another advantage: flavor. The grill gives boneless, skinless chicken breasts a savory character that roasting and sautéing can’t match.

But you don’t always want to slather your chicken breasts in a sweet glaze or rub it with a complex spice rub. Sometimes you just want all-purpose grilled chicken breasts that go with everything: bold sauces, sandwiches, salads, tacos, and more.

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That was Cook’s Illustrated test cook Annie Petito’s goal when she set out to develop her Grilled Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breasts recipe. She wanted juicy, savory chicken that was also versatile. The ingredient that helped her get there? Fish sauce.

Brining the chicken was necessary for the chicken to cook up juicy over the hot fire, but instead of doing so in plain salt water, Annie spiked the solution with glutamate-rich fish sauce. It added  salinity and umami depth without imparting a distinct flavor (as soy sauce would) or making the chicken taste fishy.

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That last part bears repeating: Adding fish sauce to the chicken’s marinade doesn’t make it taste fishy. But don’t just take our word for it. I present to you some of the comments on the recipe page:

"Made this exactly as directed. Definitely juicy—surprisingly so after only 30 minutes in the marinade. No distinct fish taste detected even from a guest who is repelled by the taste of fish and seafood." —Gregg P.

"Tender with great grill marks. No fish taste at all." —Lisa M.

"This is my new go-to recipe. I doubled this recipe to have white meat on-hand to add to salads for lunches. I was reluctant to use fish sauce because I feared it would have a lingering, fishy taste, but I trust CI’s advice. Sure enough, I was not disappointed." —Margaret M. K.

Want to try it the next time you grill boneless, skinless chicken breasts? Here’s how to do it:

Marinade Recipe

For 4 (6- to 8-ounce) boneless, skinless chicken breasts

  • ⅓ cup water
  • 3 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1 teaspoon table salt
  • ⅛ teaspoon pepper

1. Whisk water, fish sauce, honey, salt, and pepper together in bowl.

2. Transfer mixture to 1-gallon zipper-lock bag. Add chicken, press out air, seal bag, and turn bag so contents are evenly distributed. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

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