Boneless skinless chicken breasts are perfect for summery meals but a challenge to get right on the grill. This recipe will give you all the tips and tricks on How to Grill Juicy Chicken Breasts that are perfectly tender and bursting with flavour every single time. I also include an Italian Salsa Verde recipe to pour over the chicken post-grilling — SO GOOD!
When it comes to grilling chicken, I always opt for the easy way out; bone-in, dark meat. Almost foolproof, it needs very little attention to be juicy, tender and delicious. Boneless, skinless chicken breasts, on the other hand, have always been a disappointment to me when grilled. Yes brining helps, but it’s fastidious.
- How to grill juicy tender chicken breast
- A few tips:
- Step-by-step instructions
- Top the grilled chicken with Italian salsa verde
- Other grilling recipes you may enjoy
So after many failed attempts, I have finally figured out how to grill chicken breast without it being dry and tough and it couldn’t be easier. Like 15-minutes-start-to-finish easy.
How to grill juicy tender chicken breast
So what’s the secret for grilling mind-blowingly tender, juicy, and flavourful chicken? Three things:
1. No marinating.
Thats right. Thanks to this article, and this article, and my own trials and errors, I have learned that marinating the chicken in anything acidic, such as lemon juice or vinegar, does not tenderize it. In fact, not only do those acids not penetrate the meat enough to tenderize it, they can actually ruin the flesh of delicate white meat by turning it mushy.
So this to me is the greatest news; no more waiting hours or even minutes for your meat to finish marinating. Instead, make a non-acidic “marinade” and add it to the chicken breast just before grilling. I make a simple but flavourful marinade with minced garlic, a few dried spices, olive oil, salt, and a good amount of freshly cracked pepper.
However, because there is no acid in the sauce, if you do wish to prepare the chicken ahead of time, you can. Simply combine the chicken and sauce in a bowl and place in the fridge for up to 24 hours.
2. Pound the chicken breasts.
This is an obvious step that we all seem to want to skip because it appears fussy and time consuming. It isn’t really. I even timed it and it takes less than 1 minute to gently pound a chicken breast to an even thickness. This is an essential step, and perhaps the most important one to adhere to so that the chicken breasts cook quickly and evenly. If you don’t pound the chicken breast, it will take too long to cook and it will dry out.
3. The grill needs to be HOT.
The grill needs to be really hot so that when you add the chicken it sears quickly on the outside before the inside overcooks. Some grills are hotter than others but it typically will only take 2-3 minutes a side for the chicken breasts to cook. Because the chicken breasts have been pounded thin, there is no need for a thermometer to check the internal temperature.
If you bought really thick chicken breasts, however, give it an extra minute, or two, but keep an eye on it. More than that and it will dry out.
A few tips:
- Don’t grill cold chicken: Like any meat, it is always best to allow it to come to room temperature before grilling. This ensures a better sear and more even cooking throughout. Once pounded, it won’t take long for the chicken to lose its chill from the fridge. If it was very cold, let it sit a few more minutes on the counter before grilling it.
- Don’t pound the meat too hard: We aren’t going for chicken paillard here. You just want to even out the thickness of the chicken and get it to about 1/2-inch thickness. It’s not the end of the world if you pound it too hard but for a better presentation, pound lightly. It may also fall apart into smaller pieces which makes it a little harder to grill (though I confess those charred little pieces are my favourite).
- Season well: Chicken can take, and needs, an aggressive seasoning of salt and pepper. From there, add whatever seasonings or aromatics you like, such as minced garlic, dried thyme, dried oregano, chili flakes, etc.
- Clean and oil the grates: To ensure the chicken doesn’t stick to the grates, make sure they are clean and brushed with a little oil right before grilling the chicken.
- Let the chicken rest before slicing: To keep the juices and moisture in the meat, let it rest for about 5-7 minutes.
Make a marinade/sauce for the chicken. This one is minced garlic, dried oregano, olive oil, a pinch of red chili flakes, salt and freshly cracked black pepper. Mix the ingredients in a large bowl and let the sauce sit for a few minutes to allow the flavours to meld. *Other spices and sauces you could use; paprika, thyme, ground coriander, ground cumin, lemon lime or orange zest, fresh herbs, harissa, soy sauce, Worcestershire, bbq sauce, etc.
Pound the chicken. Place the chicken breast between two sheets of parchment paper, plastic wrap, or in a ziplock bag. Use a meat mallet to pound the chicken. If you don’t have one, use a rolling pin or even (very carefully) the side of a jar.
Place the pounded chicken in the marinade bowl. Toss to coat well. If the chicken is still too cold from the fridge, let it sit a few more minutes on the counter while the grill gets hot.
Grill the chicken. Preheat your grill to the highest heat and clean and oil the grates. Place the chicken breasts on the hot grill and cook covered, without touching, for 3-4 minutes. If the chicken seems a little stuck to the grate, give it a few more seconds to naturally release. Turn the chicken and cook for an additional 2-3 minutes.
Remove the chicken and let sit. As mentioned above, the chicken needs to sit for a few minutes before slicing to retain the juices.
Top the grilled chicken with Italian salsa verde
This is optional because the grilled chicken breasts are delicious with the simple marinade/sauce that they are grilled with. But if you want something deliciously vibrant, tangy and briny, make this Italian salsa verde to pour over top the grilled chicken. It is a flavour bomb and I have a special fondness for this sauce. I could honestly pour it over everything. It’s quick to make and great to have on hand so I have included the recipe as well.
It would also be fantastic to top with this red chimichurri sauce or a basil pesto. In fact, I can’t think of a sauce that wouldn’t work here.
Make the salsa verde. Chop some shallots, herbs (parsley, mint, dill, chives, etc) with a sharp knife and place in a small bowl. Add lemon zest, capers, salt, and chili flakes. Spoon over chicken and serve.
Other grilling recipes you may enjoy
How to Grill Juicy Chicken Breast
- 3 large garlic cloves minced
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano or 2 teaspoons fresh oregano, chopped
- 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes optional
- 1 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 2 lbs boneless skinless chicken breasts (3-4 medium size pieces)
- 1 lemon, cut in wedges for serving optional
For the Optional Salsa Verde
- 3/4 cup chopped parsley
- 1/4 cup mix of any fresh herbs dill, chives, mint, etc
- 2 Tablespoons chopped shallots or 1 garlic clove, minced
- 1 teaspoon grated lemon peel
- 4 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice plus more if needed
- 1 Tablespoon drained capers
- 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes optional
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil plus more if needed
- Heat the grill to high. In a large bowl, mix the garlic, dried oregano, red pepper flakes (if using), salt, freshly cracked black pepper, and olive oil. Set aside.
- Place the chicken breasts one at a time in between two pieces of plastic wrap, parchment paper, or in a large ziploc bag. Use a meat mallet or rolling pin and gently pound to about 1/2-inch thickness on a cutting board. The idea is to get the chicken to an even thickness all around. Remove from the plastic and place in the bowl with the marinade.
- Place the chicken breasts on the hot grill and cook covered, without touching, for 3-4 minutes. If the chicken seems a little stuck to the grate, give it a few more seconds to naturally release. Turn the chicken and cook for an additional 2-3 minutes.
- Place the chicken on a platter and let rest for 5-10 minutes.
- While chicken rests, make the Italian Slasa Verde (if desired): Mix all ingredients in a small bowl. Allow flavors to meld for 5-10 minutes. The sauce should be a loose consistency so add a little more olive oil or lemon juice if needed. Spoon salsa verde over grilled chicken breasts and serve with lemon wedges.