We Tried 7 Methods of Making Chicken Breasts and Found a Clear Winner
I have a confession to make. For as long as I can remember, I have been lousy at cooking boneless, skinless chicken breasts — at least whole. I’m decently adept at chopping them up, browning them, and incorporating them into soups, stews, and casseroles. But cooking intact chicken breasts to serve as an entrée, perhaps with a spoonful of chimichurri, is a task that I’ve failed at repeatedly. No matter what I try, they’re often dry, tough, or worse: both.
So I was delighted to take on the assignment of cooking boneless, skinless chicken breasts according to seven popular website sources. Which ones would serve me well in the future, and which would replicate my own sad efforts?
I was thrilled to find a few methods that I really liked — and one that I really loved.
A Few Notes About Methodology
Chicken: For each test, I used 5- or 6-ounce boneless, skinless chicken breasts. I chose organic breasts that were air-chilled, to ensure that they hadn’t been plumped or injected with broth, and because they tend to be on the smaller size. If one weighed more than 6 ounces, I trimmed it down.
Tests: I tested each method using two breasts to check for consistency — and doubled back on a couple of techniques, as noted, with additional testing. Note that the methods I tested are, generally speaking, dry-heat methods. We chose not to include poaching or stewing — where dry meat is not the issue — here.
Time: The time indicated includes any pre-prep (such as brining), the cooking time, and any resting time. If oven preheating was required, I made a general note of that because those times are variable, depending on the oven (also, my oven was acting a little wonky, so it wouldn’t reflect an accurate time anyway).
Ratings: I rated each method of a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being perfection. The ratings are based on taste, texture, moisture, appearance, and ease or difficulty of method.
Method: Brown, then Bake
Total Time: 30 minutes
About This Method: This technique from Food Network starts by having you pound the chicken breasts to an even thickness, season them with salt and pepper, and cook one minute per side in a skillet over medium-high heat. You then add two tablespoons of chicken stock, cover the pan, and bake at 300°F for eight minutes. The final step is to let the covered pan rest at room temperature for eight more minutes before slicing and serving.
The chicken was incredibly tender but a little dry. It registered 186°F on a thermometer, way above the ideal 165°F. It was very pale and almost looked poached. I noticed a lot of liquid in the pan so I measured it — four tablespoons.
My Takeaway: Some of the chicken juices (2 tablespoons of them) must have leached out of the chicken, leading to the dry result. Granted, the instructions did not state what size/weight chicken breasts to use, so if you used larger ones, they might work better.
Total Time: 11 minutes + a few minutes to preheat broiler
About This Method: The broiling instructions in the chicken roundup from Better Homes & Gardens specified using 4- or 5-ounce boneless, skinless breasts, so I went with the latter. You start by brushing the chicken with a little oil and seasoning it, then preheat the boiler. The chicken then goes in, five inches from the heat source, for 12 to 15 minutes. It’s flipped over halfway through and cooked until it reaches 170°F.
It only took 11 minutes for my chicken to reach 170°F. It was pretty and lightly golden but still ended up a little dry inside with a slightly tough exterior.
My Takeaway: Although this was by far the fastest method I tested, the results were less than ideal. Perhaps if I broiled until the chicken reached 165°F instead of the instructed 170°F, it would be juicier. Nevertheless, there was a lot of smoke that kicked up as the chicken broiled, which took a while to clear out of my kitchen.
Method: Air Fry
Total Time: 1 hour 20 minutes
About This Method: I followed the thorough instructions by Skinnytaste, which start with pounding the breasts to an even thickness and then submerging them in a wet brine for an hour (which is the bulk of the time). They come out of the brine, get patted dry, and are spritzed with oil and rubbed with a seasoning blend. The chicken then air-fries at 380°F for about 10 minutes.
The chicken was pale except for the spice rub, but it was very juicy. The texture felt a little dense and compressed, which I attribute to the brine. I tried another batch without wet brining first, and it was also juicy but remained a little “fluffier.”
My Takeaway: Once brined, the actual cooking is really quick — no preheating required, just pop the chicken into the air fryer, and go. I don’t know that I’d pull out my air fryer just for chicken breasts, but if you use yours all the time, this is a sound method.
Method: Slow Bake and Velvet
Total Time: 47 minutes + a few minutes to preheat oven
About This Method: OK, this technique, from Cook’s Illustrated, is a little more complicated than the others. It starts by having you pierce the thickest part of each breast with a fork, and seasoning with salt and pepper. You then place the chicken in a baking dish, cover tightly with foil, and bake at 275°F until the chicken’s temperature reaches 145°F to 150°F. Then, you pat the chicken dry; brush it with a mixture of melted butter, flour, cornstarch, and pepper; and sear in oil in a hot skillet for 3 to 4 minutes per side.
Results: The exterior of the chicken, with that thin coating of the butter-flour mixture, was just barely crisp but did not feel breaded. The interior was quite juicy (the chicken registered 167°F), and the flavor of the browned flour and butter was delicious.
My Takeaway: The flavor was great, the chicken was a lovely golden brown with hints of charring in spots, but this method feels like a bit too much fuss for the results.
Get the recipe: Pan-Seared Chicken Breasts from Cook’s Illustrated (note: recipe is behind a paywall)
Method: Brown, Cover, and Cook on Low
Total Time: 23 minutes
About This Method: In the past, I haven’t included Kitchn recipes when doing these tests —mostly to avoid a sense of favoritism. But even before I started writing for the site, I liked this recipe because it gave me far better results than I usually got by winging it, and I wanted to see how it compared. The technique instructs you to pound the chicken to an even thickness and season it with salt and pepper. You then heat a frying pan over medium-high heat, add a little oil, reduce heat to medium, and add the chicken. You cook the chicken for just one minute, flip it over, reduce heat to low, cover, and cook for 10 minutes. You then remove the pan from the heat and let it stand, covered, for 10 more minutes.
The chicken was very pale and registered 173°F, but it was surprisingly moist with a concentrated chicken-y flavor.
My Takeaway: This technique does yield juicy, tasty chicken, but I wish it looked a little more appealing. That prevents it from getting higher marks from me.
Get the recipe: How To Cook Moist & Tender Chicken Breasts Every Time
Method: Pan Sear
Total Time: 51 minutes
About This Method: Cooking Light‘s method begins by dry-brining the chicken for 30 minutes up to overnight (I went with 30 minutes). You then pat the chicken dry, heat oil in a sauté pan over medium-low, and place the chicken in the pan. You cook — without touching the chicken — for 9 minutes, then add a little bit of butter, lifting the chicken so the butter flows underneath, and cook for 1 minute more. You then flip the chicken, cook 6 for minutes on the other side (or to 155°F), remove the pan from the heat, and let it stand for 3 minutes.
The timing was spot-on, the chicken coming in at an ideal 165°F at the end of the process. It was gorgeous, with a beautiful golden crust, and since you didn’t pound it first, it was more shapely than the others. It was juicy inside, and the little bit of butter really came through in the flavor. I did try another batch without dry-brining first, and it wasn’t quite as flavorful or as juicy.
My Takeaway: Though there’s nothing difficult here, the method felt a little fussy. It did produce delicious, gorgeous results, so it’s definitely worth it — but it won’t be a go-to when time is tight.
Get the recipe: Perfect Pan-Seared Chicken Breasts from Cooking Light
Method: Pan Grill
Total Time: 20 minutes
About This Method: With the directions given in video form, this technique from Thomas Joseph at Martha Stewart starts by stressing the importance of using smaller chicken breasts (5 ounces each) because they cook more evenly. The chicken is then drizzled with oil, seasoned with salt and pepper, and grilled in a hot grill pan for 3 minutes per side or to 160°F. The chicken then rests, tented with foil, for 3 to 4 minutes (where it comes up to 165°F) before it’s sliced.
The chicken was pretty — golden with nice grill marks. It was very juicy, tasting not smoky or charred as I had anticipated but more like deeply roasted chicken. It was delicious.
My Takeaway: This method gets high marks from me because it’s quick, easy, and relatively fuss-free. And the flavor was just as good as some of the more complicated methods.
Get the recipe: The Foolproof Way to Cook Boneless Skinless Chicken Breast from Martha Stewart
Your turn: What’s your favorite method for cooking chicken breasts? Tell us in the comments, below!