Quick and easy instructions for cooking perfectly juicy and tender chicken breasts for salads and sandwiches.
Boneless skinless chicken breasts are a great cut of meat. They’re lean, healthy, versatile, but they can be surprisingly tricky to cook.
If you’ve ever struggled with cooking chicken breasts on the stove, maybe your chicken always comes out dry or the outside burns before the inside is cooked through, friend, this is the recipe for you.
Cooking the perfect chicken breasts on the stove is actually really, really simple.
You just need the right tools and the right method, and your chicken will come out juicy, moist, and perfectly cooked every single time.
Tools & Ingredients
- Meat mallet: The secret to perfectly cooked chicken breasts is to pound them to an even thickness before cooking. You can use a rolling pin, or even an empty wine bottle to do this, but a meat mallet will work best.
- Instant-read thermometer: Using 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!
- Cling wrap or gallon plastic bag: Pounding chicken to an even thickness can be messy work, so you want to cover the chicken with either plastic wrap or enclose it in a plastic bag (with a small bit left open at the top for air to escape) before starting.
- Boneless skinless chicken breasts: Chicken breast sizes vary wildly, so don’t be alarmed if your chicken seems to be taking longer to cook than expected. You’re probably just working with a larger piece of meat.
- Spices: You’ll be surprised at how good this chicken is flavored with just salt and pepper, but you can get creative with the spices to add extra flavor. Italian seasoning and taco seasoning both work well.
How to Cook Moist Chicken Breasts for Salads and Sandwiches
1. Start with completely defrosted chicken breasts. (Have frozen meat you need to defrost quickly? Read this.) Never try to cook half-frozen breasts on the stove.
They won’t cook evenly all the way through, and that’s how you end up with raw insides and over-cooked outsides. Plus, if your meat is still frozen, it’s going to make the next step nearly impossible…
2. Pound your chicken breasts to an even thickness. This is the secret to tender, moist chicken breasts! Meat that is all the same thickness is all going to cook at the same rate, so you aren’t going to get parts that are over-cooked and dried out.
Place your chicken breast smooth-side up between two layers of plastic wrap or in a large disposable plastic bag (my preferred method) and go to town. Start with the thickest part of the meat and strike it, working outward until the breast is the same thickness all over.
3. Marinate or season your chicken breast before it goes on the heat. If you’re marinating, now’s the time for it. If the chicken is not being marinated, at the very least, salt and pepper that thing before putting it on the heat.
Even better, get creative and sprinkle on some of your favorite spices. Is it going in a Mexican salad? Use some taco seasoning. An Italian sandwich? A little basil and oregano would be perfection.
4. Start with a hot pan over medium-high heat. Spray with cooking spray and add your chicken to the pan. You should hear a sizzle when it hits the heat. Cook your chicken until it is nice and brown on the first side, 5-8 minutes, and then flip. Continue to cook until done, flipping again if necessary.
If at any time your chicken starts to brown too much, turn down the heat a bit and let it cook at a lower temperature.
5. Use a meat thermometer. As soon as an instant-read thermometer inserted into the middle of your chicken says 165 degrees, pull it. It’s done! Set on a plate, tent with foil and let sit for at least five minutes before cutting.
6. (Optional) Deglaze the pan with a couple tablespoons of white wine or chicken broth (or water, if neither is handy). Return the pan to heat, add liquid and scrape the black bits and juices off the pan. Pour back over the chicken breast while it rests.
7. Slice and enjoy that perfectly cooked chicken breast on a salad or in a sandwich! Chicken will keep in the refrigerator for 3 to 4 days or can be frozen in individual portions (read below for freezing instructions).
Does this work with boneless skinless chicken thighs?
Yes! This method works well with boneless skinless chicken thighs, but with thighs you don’t need to pound them thin first since they’re already pretty thin to begin with.
Just season the thighs with salt and pepper and cook them according to the recipe instructions. They’ll require a significantly shorter cooking time, usually 3 to 6 minutes per side, so keep a close eye on them to make sure they’re not overcooking.
Will this work with chicken fillets/chicken cutlets?
Yes. This will work with any boneless chicken breasts. If your fillets/cutlets are already an even thickness all the way through, you can just skip the pounding part of the recipe and start cooking them.
Can I freeze cooked chicken for later?
Yes. Chicken will keep in the freezer, in an airtight container or freezer bag for up to about 3 months.
To eat, defrost in the refrigerator. You can also defrost the chicken by putting it in the microwave for 1-2 minutes, sprinkled with about a teaspoon of water.
Can I make this ahead of time?
Absolutely. Cook the chicken for your salad today and you can store it in an airtight container (with the pan drippings if you deglazed the pan) in the fridge for 3 to 4 days.
What To Make With Cooked Chicken
Here are a few of my favorite recipes made with chicken cooked using this method:
- Pesto Chicken Sandwich on Sourdough
- Asian Chicken Salad
- Garlic Chicken Cobb Salad
- Fettuccine Alfredo for One
More Chicken Tutorials
- Roasted Chicken Guide
- How to Cook Chicken Shredded Chicken
- How to Cook Chicken Breasts
- How to Make Chicken Stock
How to Cook Perfect Chicken Breasts for Salads and Sandwiches
- Boneless skinless chicken breasts
- Seasonings or marinade of choice
- Start with completely defrosted chicken breasts.
- Pound your chicken breasts to an even thickness by placing your chicken breast smooth-side up between two layers of plastic wrap or in a large disposable plastic bag (my preferred method) and go to town. Start with the thickest part of the meat and strike it, working outward until the breast is the same thickness all over.
- Marinate or sprinkle both sides of your chicken with salt, pepper, and your preferred spices before it goes on the heat.
- Heat pan over medium to medium-high heat, grease with cooking spray or a drizzle of oil, and add your chicken to the pan. Cook for 5-8 minutes per side. Turn heat down if chicken begins to burn.
- Use a meat thermometer to check the temperature of your meat. Pull the chicken breast when it reaches 165 degrees and allow to rest for at least 5 minutes.
- Deglaze the pan with 2 tablespoons of white wine, chicken broth, or water and pour back over chicken.
- Slice and enjoy!
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