This is a quick tutorial on how to cook chicken breasts when you get a recipe that calls for “cooked chicken.” It’s simple, easy, and mostly hands-off, so you can do the rest of your recipe prep while the chicken cooks. You end up with juicy, tender chicken breasts that are perfect to cube and mix into pasta, soups, and other recipes or just enjoy for a light, healthy lunch.
Question! What do you do when you make a recipe and the ingredient list calls for “cooked chicken?”
Do you throw a chicken breast in the oven for half an hour and hope for the best? Run out and buy a rotisserie chicken? Pick a different recipe because come on, why doesn’t it say how to cook the chicken–half the recipe is missing?
Yes? Yes? or Yes? Friend, today’s recipe is for you.
The Best Way to Cook Chicken Breasts
This is the BEST way to cook chicken breast when you come across a recipe that calls for “cooked chicken.” It tastes a hundred times better than oven-cooked chicken breast, you don’t need to make a trip to the grocery store, and it’s so easy that after you’ve made it once, you’ll never need a recipe for cooked chicken ever again.
This method, which is a mix of pan frying and something similar to poaching, produces chicken that is moist, tender, and super flavorful.
Best of all, the chicken can go from fridge to stove with almost no prep and needs no babysitting. Once you get it cooking, you can walk away and do the rest of your recipe prep. It’s the best.
Ingredients and Tools
- A skillet with a lid: You’ll need a skillet with a lid for this recipe since once the chicken is browned it cooks covered to trap the heat and steam of the simmering liquid for quicker, more even cooking. If you don’t own a skillet with a lid, or you’re planning on making soup and don’t want to get two dishes dirty, you can cook your chicken in a large pot with a lid.
- Instant-read thermometer: An instant-read thermometer takes all the guesswork out of cooking meat so you can pull your chicken from the stove at exactly the right moment. You can cook chicken without one, but if you cook meat regularly, go buy a thermometer. It will change your life!
- Boneless skinless chicken breasts: Chicken breast size varies wildly, so don’t be alarmed if your chicken is taking longer to cook than expected. There are some huge chicken breasts out there these days, and they will take significantly longer to cook than a 6-ounce breast. Just keep adding water if it all simmers away and trust your thermometer!
- Seasonings: Unless the recipe calls for additional seasonings, I typically just salt and pepper the chicken, but you can get creative with the spices to add extra flavor. Italian seasoning and taco seasoning are both excellent options.
How to Cook Chicken Breasts for Recipes
1. Salt and pepper both sides of your chicken breasts and heat your skillet over medium-high heat. Once hot, lightly grease with cooking spray or a drizzle of oil. Place chicken breasts in the pan and cook until the first side is nicely browned, 3 to 4 minutes.
2. Flip chicken breasts and brown second side, 2 to 3 minutes. Once both sides are browned, add about 1/2-inch of water to the pan. Turn heat down to medium, cover and cook for 5 to 8 minutes (longer with larger breasts). Walk away and do your prep work for the rest of your recipe, checking every once in a while and adding more water if it all evaporates.
3. The chicken is done when an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the breast reads 165°F.
4. Remove breasts from heat and allow to rest for 5 minutes before cutting as recipe calls for. Enjoy!
Now tell me that wasn’t the easiest thing ever!
Making Shredded Chicken for Recipes
If your recipe calls for shredded chicken, this cooking method works great. Just let your chicken breast rest a little longer after cooking, about 10 minutes and then use two forks to pull the chicken apart.
For more shredding methods and extra tips and tricks, go check out my post How to Make Shredded Chicken.
Recipes Using Cooked Chicken
Not sure what to make with your cooked chicken? Here are a few of my favorites:
How Many Chicken Breasts Equals a Cup?
Recipes usually call for cooked chicken measured by volume, and that can be tricky to estimate when you’re holding a package of raw chicken measured by weight.
Chicken breast sizes vary a ton, but a good rule of thumb is that you can expect to get a little over 2 cups of cooked meat from 1 pound of raw chicken. Medium-sized raw chicken breasts usually weigh about 8 ounces so:
For 1 cup cooked meat, cook 1 medium chicken breast.
Unless you are trying to accurately estimate calories (in which case, you should be using a scale, not volume), being a little over or under on chicken is not going to hurt your recipe, so don’t stress too much about it.
Can I cook chicken this way and freeze it?
Yes. Once your chicken is fully cooked and cooled, you can either freeze it whole or cut into pieces in a freezer bag. Be sure to squeeze as much air as possible out of the bag before freezing to reduce the chance of freezer burn. Cooked chicken can be stored in the freezer for up to 3 months.
How many chicken breasts can I cook at once using this method?
You can cook as few or as many chicken breasts as you’d like as long as the chicken fits in a single layer in the pan without being crowded. It’s okay if some edges touch, since the chicken will shrink as it cooks, but you don’t want a solid layer of chicken with no space in between. You won’t get good browning or even cooking.
Chicken Breast Recipe Tips
- There will typically be some liquid left at the bottom of the pan after your chicken is cooked. This liquid is full of flavor, so if making soup, add it to the broth for a flavor boost. And if making the chicken in advance, you can pour it back over the chopped breasts to help keep them moist.
More Chicken Tutorials
- How to Cook Perfect Chicken Breasts for Salads and Sandwiches
- Roasted Chicken Guide
- How to Cook Chicken Shredded Chicken
- How to Make Chicken Stock
- How to Make Soup from a Chicken Carcass
How to Cook Chicken Breasts for Recipes
- Skillet with a lid
- Boneless skinless chicken breasts
- Salt and pepper both sides of your chicken breasts.
- Heat skillet over medium-high heat. Once hot, lightly grease with cooking spray or a drizzle of oil. Place chicken breasts in the pan and cook until the first side is nicely browned, 3 to 4 minutes.
- Flip chicken breasts and brown second side, 2 to 3 minutes. Once both sides are browned, add about 1/2-inch of water to the pan. Turn heat down to medium, cover and cook for 5 to 8 minutes (longer with larger breasts), adding more water if it all evaporates, until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the breast reads 165°F.
- Remove breasts from heat and allow to rest for 5 minutes before cutting as recipe calls for. Enjoy!
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