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Meat

Meat Morgan: Chicken Breast Basics

Cook's Country Deputy Food Editor Morgan Bolling shares tips on how to make the perfect chicken breasts.
By Published Mar. 31, 2020

Whether you’re a lover of cooking meat or just of eating it, it’s time that you formally meet our in-house meat connoisseur, Morgan Bolling. She’s worked at a few different test kitchens across the United States, gracing those who will listen with her meat knowledge. When she’s not at work developing a new meaty recipe, there’s a likely chance that she’s hosting a homemade sausage dinner, running a half marathon (to cancel out those sausage dinners), or planning her next pig roast.

Chicken breast is one of the most common meats cooked in American homes. Still, many home cooks struggle to prepare this protein. It often comes out undercooked, overcooked, or flavorless. To help you avoid such unfulfilling results, Deputy Food Editor Morgan Bolling shares seven tips to ensure your chicken breasts always come out right. 

1. What’s a quick, tasty marinade you recommend using on chicken breasts?

Salt and oil are two must-have ingredients for a successful marinade. Soy sauce, sugar, and honey are some of the other flavor boosters I’d recommend mixing into the marinade to help enhance the juiciness and add complexity to the chicken.

In the test kitchen, we use soy sauce in place of salt to get more of an umami/meaty taste. We add sugar or honey to our marinades for sweetness; these two flavor boosters also help foods brown during cooking.

2. What's the best way to make them juicy?

By using a thermometer. Chicken breasts get dry when you overcook them. So you want to cook them to 160 degrees internally (their temperature will rise to 165 degrees once they're removed from the heat—this is called carryover cooking).  If you don’t use a thermometer, you’ll likely overcook them when trying to ensure they’re fully cooked.

3. Do I need to let chicken come to room temp before cooking?

No. We’ve tested this and can confirm that it doesn’t make a big difference. There is this theory that if you let refrigerated meat rest on the counter to start raising its internal temperature toward its target cooked temperature, it will make a difference to the meat. This is not true. Doing so puts the meat in the food-safety danger zone as defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

4. What’s the easiest way to defrost frozen chicken breasts?

The easiest and safest way to defrost frozen chicken breasts is to place them in a zipper-lock bag, seal it, and submerge it in very hot (140-degree) water. The chicken should thaw in 8 to 12 minutes.

5. Which brand of chicken breasts should I purchase?

We prefer Bell & Evans Air Chilled Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breasts, which weigh 6 to 8 ounces each. They are aged for 12 hours before being boned, which makes them “mega-juicy” and “tender” and gives them “clean, chicken-y” flavor (according to our tasters).

6. How do you trim a boneless, skinless chicken breast?

The beauty of boneless, skinless chicken breasts is that they don’t require much prep. Most are very clean. But if you see any white or yellow fat clinging to the sides or any bloody areas on the outside, trim them using our winning chef’s knife.

7. How do you like to cook chicken breasts?

With few seasonings, in a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until just smoking. Well, that’s definitely one of the easiest ways to cook chicken breasts. Try this foolproof method with our Paprika Chicken with Garlicky Greens and White Beans recipe.

If you’re looking for more chicken breast recipes, view our inventory.