Summertime cooking is stripped down, casual, and always from the grill. These easy grilled chicken breasts are a summer stunner. They're cooked roaring fast over the flames of the grill and flavored with tart lime and the fiery heat of jalapeños.
While burgers, brats, and barbecue are cookout classics, these punchy, spicy breasts of juicy chicken just might knock those picnic standards off their pedestal.
Pound Chicken Breast Before Grilling
Pounding is the secret to cooking chicken quickly and infusing it with layers of flavor. The natural shape of chicken breast is unevenly thick and tapered. To ensure even, quick cooking, use a zip-top bag to pound the chicken breasts thin. After pounding the chicken, swap the breasts out for the jalapeño, limes, and garlic.
For the Easiest Marinade, Reach for the Rolling Pin
To keep the mess contained, reach for a single zip-top bag and, using a rolling pin, crush the garlic, smash the jalapeños, and extract juice the juice and oils from the limes. For the most impact, marinate the chicken in the bag overnight — it's a make-ahead winner! (Although a quick 30 minutes will suffice in a pinch.)
This chicken is best when cooked over the flames of a charcoal or gas grill, but don't pass this recipe by if grilling is not an option; a cast iron pan on the stove delivers the same juicy chicken full of tart citrus and spicy jalapeño flavor.
I save a wedge of lime to hit the chicken with a generous squeeze of fresh juice just as it comes off the heat. Pile a plate high with mixed greens while the chicken rests before arranging the slices on top.
Make it spicier! If you like a lot of spice, leave the seeds and membranes in the jalapeños.
Make It a Meal with These Recipes
Easy Jalapeño Grilled Chicken
boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 2 pounds total)
peeled garlic cloves
medium jalapeños, cut into thirds (seeded, if desired)
- For serving:
Working with 2 chicken breasts at a time, place inside a gallon zip-top bag. Use the flat side of a meat mallet or a rolling pin and pound them until they are 1/2-inch thick. Transfer the flattened chicken breasts to a plate and repeat with the remaining breasts. Transfer the second batch of breasts to the plate, and then make sure your zip-top bag does not have any holes in it from pounding the chicken breasts. If it does, replace with a new bag; otherwise build the marinade in the same bag.
Place the garlic, limes, and jalapeños in the zip-top bag. Seal the bag, removing as much air as possible, then pound until the garlic, limes, and jalapeños are smashed but not pulverized. Open the bag and add the olive oil, salt, cumin, and pounded chicken breasts. Close the bag and massage to coat the chicken. Place the bag on a baking sheet so that the chicken lays in a single layer in the bag. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or overnight.
When ready to cook, remove the chicken from the refrigerator while the preheating the grill. If using a gas grill, heat the grill to high. For a charcoal grill, prepare the grill for both direct and indirect heat. Once the grill grates are hot, scrape any debris from the grates and oil well.
Remove the chicken breasts from the marinade with tongs. Place the breasts over direct heat, cover, and cook undisturbed until grill marks appear, about 4 minutes. If the meat sticks to the grill, continue to cook for another minute until it releases easily. Flip and cook the second side until grill marks appear, about 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium on a gas grill (or transfer to indirect heat on a charcoal grill) and grill until the chicken is cooked through and registers 165°F on an instant-read thermometer.
Transfer the chicken to a clean cutting board. Let rest for 5 minutes before slicing and serving over a bed of lettuce with more lime, diced jalapeños, and cilantro.
Storage: Refrigerate leftovers in an airtight container for up to 4 days.
Stovetop variation: Pound chicken and marinate as directed above. Heat 1 tablespoon vegetable oil in a large cast iron pan over medium-high heat until it shimmers, about 3 minutes. Swirl the pan to evenly distribute the oil, then add two of the chicken breasts to the pan. Cook undisturbed until they're golden-brown and no longer stick to the pan, 6 to 8 minutes. If you try to flip the chicken and it clings to the pan, it isn’t ready to flip. Flip the breasts and add 1 tablespoon of butter between the breasts. Swirl the pan to distribute the melting butter, and cook until the breasts reach an internal temperature of 165°F, 6 to 8 minutes. Remove the cooked chicken to a plate and repeat cooking with the remaining chicken breasts. Squeeze lime over the top of the chicken breasts, and rest for 3 minutes before slicing.