Summer is here and that means it’s time to grill some tasty chicken breasts outdoors!
But if you’re not exactly familiar with the procedures, what you’ll end up with is a chicken that smells great but textures chewy like a foam — dry! I don’t know for you, but that’s never how i intend coming back from a long winter-grill-arrest!
You know what? You shouldn’t too, so i recommend this guide.
Not only will you learn the proper cooking times for the various types of chicken breasts but also learn how to cook the perfect chicken breasts every time you “man-up” the grill, which in my opinion, is something very valuable to learn.
Ready? Let’s get started!
How long to grill chicken breast?
The duration for grilling chicken breast depends on four things:
First is the type of halve breast you have which could be boneless or bone-in with skin on.
Second is the size and thickness of the breast.
Third is whether or not the chicken breast is cut in pieces (obviously and usually applies to the boneless type), and fourth is the level of heat you’re grilling on. Use the table below as a guideline to estimate when to take off the chicken from the grill.
Medium high heat = (400F to 450F); High heat = (450F to 550F). All chickens are at room temperature.
|Type of chicken
|Level of heat
|Boneless, skinless chicken breast
|7 minutes per side
|Medium high heat
|Boneless, skinless chicken breast pound to even thickness of less than 1 inch
|2 minutes per side
|Boneless, skinless chicken breast cut lengthwise (from width)
|4 minutes per side
|Medium high heat
|Boneless, skinless chicken breast cut half width-wise.
|5 minutes per side
|Medium high heat
|Boneless, skinless chicken breast cut half width-wise and then pound to even thickness of less than 1 inch
|4 minutes per side
|Medium high heat
|Bone-in, skin-on chicken breast
|30 to 40 minutes
|Medium high heat
All chickens should register an internal temperature greater than 165 F after these cooking times, and that should be the main cue for determining when the chicken breast is done.
For breast with ends that contrast noticeably in thickness, measure the thicker side first before going for the leaner side.
Another reliable indicator for a done chicken breast is the development of a white interior from pink inside of the grilled piece, so be on the lookout for that too. All you have to do is slice a bit of the grilling chicken and check for signs.
While these cooking times are there to serve as guidance for cooking chicken breast, there’s actually more to grilling breast than “cooking times”.
You need to learn how to properly prepare the chickens beforehand, and also how to treat them on the grill for even side cooking. Below is a general and complete guide on how to do so using both types of chicken breasts: bone in and skin-on and boneless and skinless.
How to grill the perfect chicken breast
First, let’s start with the boneless, chicken breasts as they are the most expensive and trickiest.
Let’s get to it.
1) Preparing breasts for even cooking
Most breast cuts aren’t going to be of the same thickness throughout, and this creates a problem when you cook them on the grill – the thinner side gets done faster than the thicker side, and if you understand what that means, it’s that the leaner side will completely overcook by the time the fatter side gets to the perfect level of doneness, and if you still understand what that means, it’s that your chicken breasts will have a fluctuating level of doneness spired within. That also means a drier chicken since there’s no bone or skin to help preserve moisture resulting for overcooking. I don’t know for you but i hate chewing on a piece of foam!
Thankfully for me and for all other folks alike, I’ve found a quick and easy solution for the problem. Pound the breasts until they even out completely everywhere. You might not necessarily be a fan of this method if you’re desperate about presentation. But the options are two; either an evenly cooked breast, or a chicken having varying moistness reminiscent of the varying colors of reece’s pieces.
How to pound chicken breast for even thickness
There are two ways to so this,
- Place chicken breast (i’m guess out from the fridge) in a zip lock bag, drizzle avocado or olive oil on both sides and then suck most of the air out before sealing. You can do that with your mouth or fold the bag in this manner to achieve the goal: move the breast piece to the bottom corner of the bag whether left or right. Next, fold the chicken over, then bring the other side over the folded chicken and roll everything one last time making sure you’re pressing out any air as you’re observing the procedure. Now seal the bag and there you go, an air tight environment. This would ensure a painless experience as you’re pounding.
- Next, get something hard to pound the chicken with to usually less than an inch thickness. Do it lightly though. You can use a bottle, meat tenderizer with a flat side, or a rolling pin, and you want to make sure you concentrate more on the thicker side and not on the leaner side so you don’t end up with a flatter replica of what you started with.
- And you’re done!
Here’s the second method
Since the chicken is going to turn out flat and wide when you pound the halve whole, which can be pretty big, you can cut it half lengthwise or width-wise (doesn’t matter so far you’re going to reduce it to an even thickness) and pound both separately for a smaller piece that is just about the perfect serving for anyone with a medium appetite like me.
- Use a plastic wrap instead of a zip lock. You can also use the table top directly if you don’t have any of these, be sure that you’re signed up for a slippery pounding session though!
- The oil there is just to make sure the chicken doesn’t shred while you’re pounding. Put simply, it plays the role of lubrication.
- No need to wash the chicken breasts, your hot grill will take care of any bad stuff on them.
2) Flavor, tenderness and juiciness options
Okay, so there are two options when it comes to getting all these on your boneless chicken breast. Either you marinade or brine. I like marinating for flavor, aesthetics and a manageable bit of tenderness. And when I want really tender and juicy breasts, i always go for brining.
Either way, you’ll still end up with nearly similar results in terms of flavor and tenderness. In light of all these, you can also opt for a marinade or brine free experience especially if you’re going to serve the chicken with a more juicy meal. But be warned, your chicken could end up really dry since it’s skinless and boneless! And it’s going to be hard to rub any moisture in there after cooking.
You can opt for any marinade of your choice (there are more than a thousand recipes online) but here is the breakdown of what the key ingredients in a typical marinate actually do:
Acidic ingredients such as vinegar and lemon juice:
- These are the key ingredients that bring about juiciness and tenderness. Remember, your breasts would naturally be dry when cooked due to the lack of bone and skin. If your marinade lacks acidic element, and is more of a balanced PH type, then you’re only getting flavor and the chicken will not soften and juice up as much.
- The acidic ingredients work to break down the tissues in the breast which allows more moisture to be absorbed within and thus result in a juicer end product.
- Even though acids in marinades are heaven, and I feel every marinade should incorporate them, too much of them can actually break the chicken by making the outer layer turn mushy. So you need to make sure you’ve got the best marinade recipe, and it’s that which best balances the acid together with oils and spices. You can wait for ours!
Oils, herbs and spices:
- These are the main flavor elements. They add tens of folds to whatever the chicken has of its own and the acids and sugars add to it.
- These collectively make up the seasoning and they can be anything you prefer from bold Mediterranean and Greek seasoning to Italian seasoning.
Sweetener: Honey and brown sugar:
- These work primarily to create a better aesthetic. They also add flavor.
- Despite their use, these ingredients alongside too much oil can be the reason why your chicken adhere strongly to the grill even after you’ve heavily greased it.
Brining makes food items juicier and tenderer than marinating (in my own opinion). The most basic and effective way to brine a chicken breast is using dry salt, or using salt and water solution (brine). The salt or brine is applied on the chicken and placed in an air tight bag and then popped in the refrigerator for 3 hours for cut halve breasts or 5 hours for full halve breasts.
3) Next, bring to room temperature
After brining, marinating or pounding the chicken (if you’re not doing any of these juice boosting methods), you want to take the breasts out from the refrigerator, out from the solution and let sit on the counter until it attains room temperature, about 15 to 35 minutes. This will ensure even cooking of the outside relative to the inside. It will also ensure faster cooking and also prevent overcooking.
- You can season with a little bit of black pepper (no salt if you brined or marinated with salt) and then drizzle with a bit of olive oil prior to cooling them to room temperature. This step is especially useful if you didn’t brine or marinate.
Now it’s time to cook the chickens. But first, we need to make sure the grill is ready.
- Make sure the grill is clean. You want to make sure all burnt remnants from previous grilling are scraped off from the surface. I like to use the nylon grill brush for this purpose as it allows for easier cleanup of the grates even without having to turn on the grill.
- Create a nonstick coating on the grates. Aluminum foil should never be the option for this purpose solely because it’s just never used under chicken breasts! To prevent sticking, use a grill spray. First begin by preheating the grill to the desired temperature (refer to the table above) and then spray all over the portion you’ll be placing the chickens on. If you prefer a different method, here’s one, coat a paper towel with oil (having a high smoke point such as vegetable oil or grapeseed oil), and use it to rub all over the grates of a cool grill. Next, light the grill and warm to the desired temperature and let run for 15 minutes so as to burns off the excess oil.
If you’re not sure what temperature your grill is running, here’s a good way to determine that: here’s a better tip, change your grill, because there’ll certainly be future cookings that you’ll need the know the exact and precise temperatures for! Last thing you want is start using your hand for the guess work like we outline below.
How to tell the grill temperature with your hand
- High heat (450F to 550F): Means that you can’t hold your hand one inch above the grates for more than two seconds.
- Medium high heat (400F to 450F): Means that you can’t hold your hand one inch above the grates for more than three seconds.
- Medium heat (350F to 450F): Means that you can’t hold your hand one inch above the grates for more than 5 seconds.
- Low heat (300F to 350F): Means that you can’t hold your hand one inch above the grates for more than six seconds.
Grilling chicken breasts is mostly done with high heat or medium high heat because of the nice sear that the chicken gets at this temperature and also for the fact that these temperatures work best for meat like the boneless breast that generally take under 20 minutes to cook.
After that, the chicken breasts are ready for some grill marks:
- Use a tong to transfer chickens from plate to the coated surface (seasoned side down if you seasoned only one side). Make sure you pat brined chicken dry.
- Cook for the recommended amount of time and be sure to not turn chicken “before half way” the cooking time to allow the grill marks to settle in nice and beautifully.
- Check for doneness using the methods above if necessary.
Once grilled, you want to allow the breast a few more minutes on the table before diving in straight for them. That’s when the juice settles in and makes the pieces even more memorable.
The resting period should not exceed 5 minutes and i think that’s enough time to get the plates ready!
Serve chicken breast alone, with pasta, with cream sauce of your choice, on salad, or slide them thin into sandwiches.
How to grill a bone-in, skin-on chicken breast
- Skip the pounding step from above.
- Marinate or brine breasts.
- Dry the chicken in the fridge for one hour.
- Bring out, season and let sit to attain room temperature.
- Pat chickens dry with a paper towel to create a perfect caramelized crust on the outside when grilling.
- Heat the grill up to temperature; making sure you’ve followed all the cleaning steps outlined earlier for the boneless breasts.
- Place the chickens skin side down to caramelize – this should take about 15 to 20 minutes.
- Turn the chicken to get searing on the other side.
- Now transfer to the indirect heat section of the grill to cook mostly by conduction. This will ensure that the meat around the bone cooks all the way to doneness, else, leaving the whole chicken to cook on the direct heat zone will make the outside dry up way faster than the inside would reach perfect doneness.
- Use a thermometer to check for a perfectly cooked meat as outlined earlier.
Because we have the bone and skin in there, the chicken retains moisture even better. That’s because the fat in the bone melts and keeps the meat moist whereas the skin helps lock the moisture further.
Additionally, the melted fat in the bone makes the chicken even more flavorful than the boneless variety!
And there you go. The proper way to grill chicken breasts!