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All-Purpose Grilled Chicken Breasts

A brine keeps boneless, skinless chicken breasts juicy over the fire. But with the aid of a couple of extra ingredients, that liquid can add savory depth and encourage browning, too.
By Published Apr. 1, 2020

My Goals and Discoveries

Even cooking

Pounding the breasts to a ½-inch thickness ensures that they cook at the same rate.

Juicy, savory meat

Briefly soaking the chicken in a saltwater solution spiked with fish sauce (a “brinerade”) adds savory depth as well as moisture that keeps the meat juicy over the hot fire.

Deep browning

Honey in the brinerade helps the chicken brown before it overcooks.

No sticking

Coating the chicken in oil just before cooking keeps it from fusing to the cooking grate.

Boneless, skinless chicken breasts are not the easiest cut to grill, but they might be the most practical. Without skin, bones, and fat, they lack the insulation and succulence of dark meat or bone-in, skin-on parts, but they cook much faster and more evenly and don’t tend to flare up. Plus, neutral breast meat goes with anything—bold sauces, sandwiches, salads, taco fixings—and the grill gives it a savory character that roasting and sautéing can’t match.

I started by pounding four breasts ½ inch thick so that they’d cook evenly. Then I thought carefully about how to treat them to ensure well‑seasoned, juicy meat. Instead of brining them in plain salt water, I spiked the solution with fish sauce. The soak would help the chicken cook up juicy over the hot fire, and the glutamate-rich fish sauce (I added 3 tablespoons per 1⁄3 cup water) would add salinity and umami depth without imparting a distinct flavor (as soy sauce would) or making the chicken taste fishy.

I knew the one drawback of brining was that the water would thwart browning, so I added a couple of tablespoons of honey. The readily browned glucose and fructose would add complexity and encourage color before the lean meat overcooked. After soaking the chicken breasts for 30 minutes (to save refrigerator space and ensure full contact between the chicken and the liquid, I brined in a zipper-lock bag and pressed out as much air as possible), I let the excess liquid drip off and placed them over a hot fire. Deep, attractive grill marks developed within minutes. But then I tried flipping the breasts—and tore them ragged because they stuck to the grates. Oiling the chicken before cooking it helped ensure a clean release; once flipped, the breasts needed just a few more minutes to hit their 160-degree target.

The results were juicy, tender, deeply but neutrally savory, and so versatile that I found myself grilling double batches (you can easily fit eight breasts on the grill) just so that I could have chicken on hand for quick, easy meals all week long.

These grilled breasts brown deeply and quickly, thanks to the addition of honey to our highly seasoned brine.

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JC
JOHN C.
16 days

Absolutely the best chicken ever, even the breast meat was moist! It's the only way I'll cook a whole chicken again. Simple, easy, quick, no mess - perfect every time. I've used both stainless steel and cast iron pans. great and easy technique for “roasted” chicken. I will say there were no pan juices, just fat in the skillet. Will add to the recipe rotation. Good for family and company dinners too. I've done this using a rimmed sheet pan instead of a skillet and put veggies and potatoes around the chicken for a one-pan meal. Broccoli gets nicely browned and yummy!

Absolutely the best chicken ever, even the breast meat was moist! It's the only way I'll cook a whole chicken again. Simple, easy, quick, no mess - perfect every time. I've used both stainless steel and cast iron pans. great and easy technique for “roasted” chicken. I will say there were no pan juices, just fat in the skillet. Will add to the recipe rotation. Good for family and company dinners too.

MD
MILES D.
JOHN C.
9 days

Amazed this recipe works out as well as it does. Would not have thought that the amount of time under the broiler would have produced a very juicy and favorable chicken with a very crispy crust. Used my 12" Lodge Cast Iron skillet (which can withstand 1000 degree temps to respond to those who wondered if it would work) and it turned out great. A "make again" as my family rates things. This is a great recipe, and I will definitely make it again. My butcher gladly butterflied the chicken for me, therefore I found it to be a fast and easy prep. I used my cast iron skillet- marvellous!

CM
CHARLES M.
11 days

John, wasn't it just amazing chicken? So much better than your typical oven baked chicken and on par if not better than gas or even charcoal grilled. It gets that smokey charcoal tasted and overnight koshering definitely helps, something I do when time permits. First-time I've pierced a whole chicken minus the times I make jerk chicken on the grill. Yup, the cast iron was not an issue.