5 Mistakes to Avoid When Grilling Chicken Breast

updated May 20, 2019
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Grilled chicken breast is one of the essential warm weather recipes that makes everything from meal prep to spring and summer cookouts more enjoyable. It’s a recipe that we think every home cook should master — along with asparagus, shrimp, corn, and pork tenderloin.

Grilling chicken breast isn’t hard, but to master juicy, flavorful chicken breast on the grill a few key mistakes must be avoided. Here are five of the most common missteps and how to avoid them.

(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

1. Throwing chicken breast right on the grill.

You think “Eh, its chicken, I can just throw it on the grill,” but the truth is that chicken breast can vary greatly in size and thickness — even from the same chicken. The result is meat that’s dry on the thin end and undercooked in the middle.

Do this instead: Pound the chicken into flat, even pieces for easier grilling. Place the chicken breast inside a freezer bag and pound out the thicker end until it’s about the same thickness as the thinner end.

2. Not brining to ensure seasoning and flavor.

While we know that brining works wonders for big birds like the Thanksgiving turkey, few of us whip one up for weeknight grilling, opting for a quick sprinkle of salt instead. And then we are sadly surprised by dry and under-seasoned grilled chicken breast.

Do this instead: Brine the chicken for juicy breasts every time, even if you’ve only got an hour to brine it. The brine will season the breasts and help it stay juicy during the whole cooking process.

(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

3. Skipping a marinade in favor of sugary sauces.

I’m a big fan of barbecue sauce, but the bottled stuff is so thick and sweet that it burns badly on grilled chicken breasts and makes the chicken stick to the grill grates in a way that makes me curse.

Do this instead: Make a marinade-brine hybrid that doubles as a glaze. Mix up some honey, vinegar, and spices and then add half of this mixture to the brine and use the other half to brush the breast after it has great grill marks.

4. Grilling the breast too hot or too low.

We’ve all been there — you’ve got the grill covered in everything from corn to watermelon and your chicken breast is stuck on the hottest part of the grill where it’s quickly going from pleasantly charred to blackened.

Do this instead: Set your grill up for zone cooking by lighting one side of the grill and bringing it to high or medium-high heat. Use the high side to get great grill marks and then move the chicken breast to the lower-temperature side to finish cooking.

(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

5. Not double-checking for doneness.

You pounded the chicken to the proper thickness, brined it for juiciness, made a glaze for deliciousness, grilled it over direct and then indirect heat for just the right amount of time, but is it done? Pulling it off the grill because it looks done isn’t recommended.

Do this instead: The right doneness temperature for grilled chicken breast is 165°F. The easiest way to double check for doneness is to take a temperature reading in the thickest part of the chicken breast.