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How to Cook the Best Chicken Breast You’ve Ever Had

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How to Cook the Best Chicken Breast You’ve Ever Had

If you want to know how to cook chicken so good that your mouth will water just thinking about it, then you want to read this article.

 

If there’s one lunch-and-dinner staple that never goes out of style, it’s chicken breast.

Not only is it an awesome source of protein, but chicken breast is extremely lean as well, which is great for managing your calorie intake.

The problem, though, is it’s not very exciting.

Recipes help, of course, but they can be a hassle, too.

Fortunately, there’s a solution: learn to cook a really good chicken breast and you’ll be amazed at how delicious it can really be.

You see, the reason most people think of chicken breast as dry, bland hunks of rubberized meat is they don’t know how to prepare and cook it properly.

If you’re one of those people, this article is going to change all that.

By the end, you’re going to know how to make the best chicken breast you’ve ever had. I promise.

So let’s get started.

How to Select Good Chicken

How to Select Good Chicken

I like boneless and skinless chicken since it requires less preparation.

Chicken thighs and legs can be tasty but they’re also quite fattier, which can make them them less “diet-friendly.”

In terms of free-range, organic, or antibiotic-free options, I opt for free-range if it’s available and prefer that the chickens weren’t treated with antibiotics for reasons discussed here.

I normally get a big package of four to six breasts so I can have some leftovers (this is great for meal prepping as well).

When you are choosing a package of chicken, ensure that:

1. There is NOT a lot of liquid in the package.

It’s okay if there is a bit of moisture on the chicken but you don’t want to see more liquid than that.

2. The chicken breasts are evenly colored.

If you see dark pink around the edges, it’s most likely from freezer burn. You can trim it off, but I like to stay away from it altogether.

Both of these things are signs that the meat was frozen and thawed out multiple times, which makes for rubbery and chewy chicken.

I probably don’t have to say this but if, after opening the package, the chicken smells bad–similar to rotten eggs–then you should throw it out. It’s spoiled.

How to Prep Chicken

preparing chicken breast

When you know how to cook chicken breast well, just salt and pepper can be enough to make for some tasty eating.

That can get boring, though, so we’ll go over some more interesting seasoning options in a minute.

Let’s first talk about how to properly clean, weigh, and trim chicken before you cook it.

Cleaning

You don’t have to rinse your chicken before cooking it because the high temperatures will kill any bacteria.

That said, I like to rise chicken in cold tap water after opening the package and then dry it with clean paper towels.

When you’re done, clean your sink and the surrounding area to prevent cross contamination.

Cutting

The goal here is simple:

Take our chicken breast from one piece of uneven thickness to 3 pieces that are roughly the same thickness. And we will do it in 2 cuts.

To do it, you will need a sharp chef’s knife, a plastic or composite (non-wood) cutting board, and a baking pan.

I like to use a non-wood cutting board to make cleanup easier since you can put a plastic or composite cutting board in the dishwasher (which damages wood boards).

I also line my baking pan with foil to make cleanup fast and easy.

Here’s how to cut the breast into cutlets:

Weighing

Once your chicken is ready to cook, weigh it raw for meal planning purposes.

For example, if you need to cook a pound of chicken for four meals, you would first weigh out 454 grams raw, cook it all together, and then divide it into four (relatively) equal portions of about 114 grams.

How to Cook the Best Chicken

how to cook the best chicken

You can grill and saute chicken, but if you want to go with the easiest and fastest method to make moist, delicious meals, then you want to bake it.

Here’s how to do it:

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F or 175 degrees C.

2. Lightly coat the chicken cutlets with extra virgin olive oil.

The oil will help the seasoning to stick to the chicken while preventing the chicken from sticking to the pan. 1 to 2 tablespoons should do it.

3. Season it.

I make a point to not over-season when making a large amount of chicken so I have “room” to add other seasonings depending on the dishes I will be making.

A good “base” is simply salt, black pepper, and garlic powder, but others that work well are Italian, Greek, lemon pepper, barbecue, garlic pepper, mojo, and adobo.

Be sure to season both sides of the chicken.

4. Bake it.

Arrange the chicken on the tray so that it’s one layer and the pieces are not stacked on each other.

Bake for 12 minutes, flip over each of the cutlets, and rearrange the pieces so those that were on the outside are now on the inside and vice versa.

This helps everything cook evenly.

Place the try back in the oven for another 12 to 15 minutes.

You know it’s done when it reaches 150 degrees F (65 degrees C) or, when you cut it open, the meat is white and not pink and the juices run clear.

5. Let it cool.

Once the meat is done, take the tray out of the oven and let it cool for 2 to 4 minutes before eating.

This will make for juicier chicken than if you simply ate it right away.

How to Store Cooked Chicken

how to store cooked chicken

The absolute best way to store the chicken is using a vacuum sealer.

This allows you to remove the excess air from around the chicken, which slows down the oxidation process and helps prevent spoiling.

When vacuum sealed, cooked chicken should last about 10 to 14 days in the refrigerator.

You have other options as well:

  • Plastic wrap or aluminum foil.
  • Quart-sized, ziptop freezer bags.
  • Sealable containers (i.e. Tupperware)

I prefer plastic wrap, aluminum foil, or plastic bags because they allow you to get rid of a fair amount of the air surrounding the chicken, which accelerates aging.

Generally speaking, cooked chicken should last about 7 days in the fridge.

How to Reheat Chicken

How to Reheat Chicken

If you don’t reheat it correctly, chicken breast is a chore to eat. It’s dry, tough, and chewy.

Well, when you cooked something in the oven, the best way to reheat it is…in the oven.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F, pop your cooked chicken in for about 15 minutes, and you’ll be set.

If you don’t have an oven or have the time to re-bake it, you can use the microwave.

It’s not ideal, but you can help keep it moist by drizzling some water on top. This way the steam that is produced while it’s cooking is drawn from this surface liquid, not liquid in the meat itself.

If you don’t mind the calories, drizzle some oil on as well.

In terms of cook time, cook the chicken for 45 to 60 seconds, take it out and mix it up, and then cook for another 45 to 60 seconds.

The Bottom Line on How to Cook Chicken

how to cook healthy chicken

Everyone knows that chicken is a great source of lean protein, but not everyone knows how good it can be when it’s well prepared.

Here’s what makes all the difference in chicken prep:

  • Avoid chicken that has symptoms of freezer burn.
  • Trim and cut your chicken properly.
  • Bake it for consistently moist, delicious meals.
  • Store it with as little air surrounding it as possible.
  • Reheat it the right way.

Do all that and I promise that your chicken lunches and dinners will never be the same.

Enjoy!

 

What’s your take on how to best cook chicken? Have anything else to share? Let me know in the comments below!

The Kitchen Professor

Doug Cunnington is the creator of The Kitchen Professor, a kitchen blog dedicated to providing cool information about food, product reviews, and tasty recipes.

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  • Joe_Det

    Awesome post. Hopefully we can get more of this in the future.

  • Heath

    Why is recommended to weigh your food raw? If I weighed out 500 grams of chicken/beef then I cooked it and reweighed it, lets say is now 425 grams. I am eating 425 grams…not 500.

    • Because that weight is most reliable. I weigh raw and calculate with raw cal/macro, cook, reweigh if portioning.

      • Heath

        If you’re reweighing it for portioning, say for meal prepping, why weigh it raw to begin with? Maybe there is a difference in the source as well. Like chicken vs ground beef? Maybe this would be a good idea for an article. That way I could just read it, and not seem to come off as just argumentative. lol

        • Marios E.

          Because when you cook it, it might absorb different amounts of water each time and sometimes it will be more dry and others more moist, thus the weight will be different after cooking.

          • Heath

            So, the loss of weight is water weight? And the heat from cooking does not change the calorie content? It sorta makes sense. But if I cook 5lbs of chicken, I should divide it up pre cooked, and if I measure it after…I’m shorting myself macros and actually eating more calories?

          • Sfine

            When you look up the calorie/macro levels, make sure you are looking up the raw information. Then when its done cooking just divide the final weight by the portions you want and you’ll be fine.

        • Because you want to be as accurate with the calories and macros as possible.

          4 ounces of raw chicken will come out at different weights when cooked depending on how you prepare it.

          • Heath

            I guess what I’m asking is, does cooked food (although less weight than raw) have the same macros as its raw version?

          • Yes cooked and raw have the same calories, just different weights.

    • Doug (kitchen professor)

      Hey Heath, that’s a great question!

      Michael covers it, of course. And Marios read my mind a bit. The moisture level can vary depending on how much you cook the food. Water weight will be evaporating off the food so it will weigh less after cooking – assuming it’s protein.

      (Rice would weigh more since it’s taking on water weight.)

      Does that help?

  • Andrew Adams

    Also try the method below. Best one I’ve found.

    1. Preheat pan on stove over high heat for a few minutes until hot 2. Add oil/butter (whatever you prefer) 3. Add chicken and let cook for two minutes on one side 4. Flip chicken, cover with lid, and turn stove to low heat 5. Set timer for 10 minutes and don’t open lid 6. After 10 minutes turn stove all the way off but let chicken sit there, still covered, for another 10 minutes. 7. Eat chicken

    • Thanks Andrew!

    • Doug (kitchen professor)

      Nice and simple. I like it!

    • John

      I do this too – it’s never dry, always tasty. The only thing I would say is that I add salt and pepper to the chicken just before putting in the pan.

    • Tom

      I’ve made a ton of chicken (seasoned, raw, marinated, etc.) and this is the same way I do it and it never lets me down. Only difference is I initially sear it for 1 minute on high instead of 2. Beauty of this method is it’s dummy-proof, and you can even make frozen chicken breasts perfectly tender if you forgot to defrost them. Never gotten sick, always comes out perfect for me. And has worked on both gas and electric stoves.

  • MetalJohn

    I generally make good chicken, but I still learned a thing or two from this, Thanks Mike!

    • Welcome!

    • Doug (kitchen professor)

      Hey @metaljohn:disqus, thanks for reading it!

  • Marios E.

    Wow thanks for this article. I’ve been cooking chicken breast every day for a few weeks now in the oven and it came out very dry. I put foil over the pan and left it for an hour even more !
    Who knew I could get better chicken in 25 minutes !

    Also can you help me give more flavor to my dish? I make chicken stir fry with rice noodles, peppers, and mushrooms. I put soy sauce and the only spices are in the chicken which I add when it’s cooked!

    But even though I add salt to the chicken and soy sauce at the end it’s kind of tasteless. Any ideas?

    • YW! Yep, no need to spend that much time. 🙂

      I have a bunch of chicken recipes on the site and in TSC. You should check them out! Here are a few:

      http://www.muscleforlife.com/delicious-chicken-recipes/

      http://www.muscleforlife.com/healthy-chicken-recipes/

      LMK what you think.

    • Doug (kitchen professor)

      Hey @marios_e:disqus, I’m glad you liked the article! Thanks.

      How much salt do you add? I like really salty food (so my wife tells me!) so maybe you just need to add more.

      In addition, you may need to add an acid – rice vinegar, lemon, or lime may open up the whole dish. You could also add onions to the mix if you don’t have them in there already.

  • Diamand Mavroudis

    I’m guessing you need to calculate the oil you put on the chicken before you bake?

  • Natrix

    Some other things to consider…make sure you’re buying chicken that hasn’t been “plumped” aka injected with saltwater. Producers are suppose to disclose this information on the package. When they “plump” they use needles that can transfer bacteria from the outside of the meat to the interior and it’s why they tell you to cook your chicken to 165 degrees. When not “plumped” you don’t have to cook the interior to 165 degrees, I prefer generally somewhere between 145 and 155 degrees as I reheat all my chicken at some point.

    Reheating in the microwave works just fine, just be sure to heed the advice in the article and add some water. Also, use the Reheat function if available on your microwave as this setting does a better job of just warming up the meat as opposed to cooking it further.

    I also prefer to season my chicken after it has cooked and been reheated. I like to use barbecue rub.

    Also, instead of weighing all my chicken I just buy packages of 12 breasts that weigh around 6 lbs. While all the breasts aren’t the same exact weight, I know over the course of all 12 breasts I’m getting ~8 oz per breast and any variations even out over the course of the package.

    • Doug (kitchen professor)

      Hey @disqus_JQsBBLvd6l:disqus, Great comment! I do try to avoid the meat that’s been brined in saltwater and who knows what else.

      (I actually cook to about 150F but we must advise the 165… It turns out it’s a pasteurization situation. The bacteria dies almost instantly at 165, but takes a bit longer at 145 or 150. So, you can cook to a lower temperature and be safe as long as the meat holds for the right amount of time.)

      And I do the exact thing with the large packs of meat.

  • Straust

    For now, I’ll just try this out, you don’t know how big is the contribution of chicken breast to my food-habits haha.

  • sean_noonan

    Its really awesome how far just seasoning and all can go, definately makes it way easier to hit protein for the day especially when you have little room for fat left. Definately gonna try this.

  • Ashley

    Love the wrapping tips! I usually use Tupperware but I want to try wrapping it now. Thanks Mike!

    I have a question for you about cutting and lifting. I’m cutting right now and still lifting to maintain, but not progressive loading (like I do when putting on muscle). If I did add weights or worked a muscle that I didn’t already have, do you think it would grow? Because I know you have to be in a calorie surplus to get muscle growth, so I’m thinking it wouldn’t do anything to add weight right? Hopefully my question makes sense! I don’t want to lift and get little to no results during my cut.

    What do you think?
    Thanks for the advice!

    Ashley

    • Happy to hear it, Ashley! Welcome!

      You can definitely build muscle while cutting if you’re new to this style of weightlifting:

      https://legionathletics.com/body-recomposition/

      It’s also possible to make marginal gains in muscle while cutting as an experienced lifter, but to build any serious amount of muscle, you need to be in a surplus.

      You can do IF if you enjoy it and it fits your lifestyle. Otherwise, there’s no need.

      Protein before bed is a good idea for sure.

      YW. Hope this helps! Talk soon!

  • Jason Elyk

    I season and slow cook my chicken breast in a crock pot on low for several hours with just a little bit of chicken broth at the bottom. It’s so moist and tender that that chicken falls apart when taking it out with tongs. 🙂

    Here’s a crock pot tip I learned. Simply line it with parchment paper. There’s no mess to clean up when you’re done!

  • Jimmy

    What’s the real way you weigh it, Mike? I have this discussion with people ALL the time. It’s impossible for the “raw” product to equal the cooked product in weight. You either have to weigh it raw and use the raw values for whatever pieces come out…OR weigh it cooked and use the cooked nutrition values after its weighed out. 3oz of raw chicken is different than 3oz of cooked chicken due to moisture loss, muscle composition and other factors. Thanks!

    • Jeff Beynon

      You have answered your own question. Use the nutrition values for either raw or cooked and weigh it either raw or cooked. Works either way. I asked Mike this question once and that was his answer.

      • Jimmy

        Right, I was just pointing out that what he wrote is conflicting and finding out what he actually does and see if he could correct/clarify the article.

    • I’m not sure why this is so confusing.

      When you’re batch prepping, you measure raw so you can know your cals/macros, cook everything, and divide based on cooked weight.

      I suppose you could divide by simply eyeballing because you’re going to eat it all anyway but if you want to be anal, you measure the cooked for portioning.

  • Michael C

    You missed some very critical steps – one is optional (pounding w wooden mallet to ensure cutlets are uniform) but most importantly is brining. Brine is salt water and brining for 20-30 minutes before cooking is essential to ensuring a juicy finished product. Just pop the breasts in a gallon zip lock full of tap water and about 1 cup of salt for 30 min. Then rinse off, reseason, and cook as you wish.

  • Steve Goguen

    question I have for anyone who knows is when you buy these whole chickens, rotisserie or bake them yourselves. They have high fat content but I’m thinking that’s because of dark meat as well as white. Anyway to determine macros of just the white breast meat portion? These rotisseries are so convenient and taste great!!!

    • DG

      Watch the sodium on pre-cooked rotisserie chicken you buy at the grocery store, it’s usually high. They also add garbage like soy lecithin, “natural flavor” (which is probably msg), sugar, etc.

    • A lot of the nutritional facts of those chickens and the stores you get them from can be found on sites like Calorieking.com or Caloriecount.com. If not, you’ll just have to weigh the section of the chicken and look up the nutritional info for that section of the chicken you’re eating and how it was cooked on one of those sites.

      Hope this helps! Talk soon!

  • P Mort

    Anybody ever do cayenne pepper?

  • Jesper

    This looks great and is in the oven now! While cooking, I was thinking about how to work with the fat when trying to figure out how much to get.
    Based on your books and other articles, the fat should be kept very low, but if I try to put in the chicken breast along with 1 tablespoon of fat, I get that almost 25% of the total is fat – because of the oil.
    What’s your thought on it?
    I find it really hard to cut down the fat to the numbers you recommend as even a few slices of cheese or an egg is shooting the numbers through the roof?

    Cheers,
    Jesper

    • Nice! LMK how it goes!

      Yep, it can be tough. I recommend sticking to lean cuts of meat, fat-free dairy options, sticking to egg whites and using 0 cal cooking sprays.

      Hope this helps! Talk soon!

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