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Recipe File

Grilled Skinless Chicken Breast

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Skinless chicken breasts typically conjure up an image of a pale, flavorless, tough piece of protein. Definitely not appetizing. However, many recipes call for cooked chicken breast of some sort (chicken alfredo, chicken pot pie, etc.). But, how do we cook chicken breast in a flavorful fashion that allows it to stand on its own as an entree as well as being capable of reuse in later recipes? Here's a simple recipe for grilling skinless chicken breasts that yields tender and flavorful breast meat.

This is the secret: brine the chicken breasts. Take four cups of cold water and add a tablespoon of table salt (add more if using kosher salt - about 1-1/2 to 2 tablespoons). Stir the water to get the salt to dissolve. Once the solution is no longer cloudy and is clear, put the chicken breasts into a large resealable plastic bag and pour the solution into the bag. Seal the bag and refrigerate for at least three hours and no more than six hours (the chicken may become too salty). Rinse the chicken after you remove it from the brine and dry with paper towels.


Now rub 1/2 tsp. ground cayenne pepper, 1 tsp. ground coriander seed, 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon onto both sides of each breast.


Place the breasts onto a heated grill for 3 min. on each side. Adjust the grill to low (or move the breasts to the low side of a two level fire) and cook until the internal temperature reaches 160°F (70°C), about ten minutes (on my grill). If you don't have an instant read or meat thermometer, I recommend two alternatives. First, you can poke a hole in the breast (with a knife or fork) and see if the "juices run clear". If the chicken is undercooked, the liquid that comes out will carry a pink or yellow hue. When the chicken is done, the liquid that comes out is clear as water. Alternatively, you can cut into the chicken and look at the color. The breast should be completely white. Another popular method is to press on the chicken and feel if it is done. This is a technique that takes experience and is not recommended for your first time. The chicken will feel springy, but not soft. It should also not be hard (then it's overcooked). The benefit of this technique is that the chicken is not violated with holes or cuts that can release juices that would otherwise keep the breast tender and juicy. I recommend learning the touch technique by pressing on breasts that are done so you can get a feel for how the breast should feel for future meals.


I served the chicken breast with the Sauteed Okra with Roasted Red Peppers, Green Bean Casserole, and fresh corn bread.



Grilled Skinless Chicken Breast (serves 6)
Heat grill (two level fire)
4 cups watercombinebrine 4 hours
1 Tbs. table salt
3 boneless, skinless chicken breastsseasongrill on high 2 min. per sidegrill on low until 160°F
1/2 tsp. ground cayenne pepper
1 tsp. ground coriander seed
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
Copyright Michael Chu 2004
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Written by Michael Chu
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58 comments on Grilled Skinless Chicken Breast:(Post a comment)

On December 12, 2005 at 01:09 AM, Doug (guest) said...
The cinnamon is a good idea. I'll have to give this one a shot.


On December 12, 2005 at 01:10 AM, Chris_repost (guest) said...
Michael,

Normally you are very explicit in your instructions. However, this time you missed even a basic instruction:

What is 'brine' and how do you 'brine' chicken breasts?

Thanks.


On December 12, 2005 at 01:10 AM, an anonymous reader said...
re: brine

brine == salt-water, i.e. kinda like pickling, but not as severe....

it's clearer if you look at the flow-chart...

--S


On December 12, 2005 at 01:11 AM, Michael Chu said...
re: Brining

I'm sorry. I had meant to go back and write that section before publishing the article. Because of my schedule, I write my articles a little at a time (whenever I can grab a few minutes) and don't necessarily write them in any particular order. Usually, I will write a framework or outline of an article and then fill it in as time permits. In this case, I forgot to fill in the details to the brining.

Good catch,
Michael


On December 12, 2005 at 01:11 AM, Chris_repost (guest) said...
No problem, Michael! Thanks for the update.

I'm actually a semi-decent cook (enough that my wife prefers my cooking even though she's better at it) but I haven't 'brined' anything before. Looks like I'll have to experiment soon.

Love the site! Even more, I love baiting the anonymous idiot that leaves trolling comments... but then again, I'm evil (well, not really, usually).


On December 12, 2005 at 01:12 AM, jan-or-anson (guest) said...
It would be simple and taste about the same just to use Old Bay seasoning in place of your spice concoction.


On December 12, 2005 at 01:12 AM, an anonymous reader said...
Good recipe, served it with a squeeze of lime.
(I like lime with almost everything!)


On May 10, 2006 at 11:02 PM, Peter (guest) said...
Subject: Brine with sugar???
I have checked around the internet and a lot of recipes call for an equal amount of sugar added to the brine. Apparently the chicken grills to a nice color when the cooked because the sugar carmelizes. Why no sugar in your brine recipe?


On May 20, 2006 at 09:31 PM, Hawat (guest) said...
Subject: Re: jan-or-anson
Even money Jan-or-Anson is from Maryland!

Before I relocated here, someone in Michigan warned me: 'You better get used to the taste of Old Bay seasoning, they put it on everything'. Truer words have rarely been spoken.


On May 22, 2006 at 02:59 AM, GaryProtein said...
I regularly cook skinless chicken breasts on the grill--it's a very Atkins kind of snack, it is quick and easy to make and I can keep then in the refrigerator for whenever I want them if they aren't all eaten for dinner. I never brine it or do anything special. I throw on whatever genre of spices I am in the mood for, and set it on a hot grill. It always comes out juicy and flavorful. The most important thing to do is NOT overcook it! Skinless chicken breasts cook fast. Placing it on a hot grill will give you light char marks from the grids. Don't cook it to have a uniform seared surface like a steak or even like a skin-on or bones-in breast.


On October 22, 2006 at 01:55 PM, Happy Father (guest) said...
Subject: Sated Mother in law.......
Excellent.
Plump breasts, not chewy, kids both love it.
Mother in law asked for the recipe.
Don't think you could ask for higher praise!!!!


On October 22, 2006 at 02:18 PM, Happy Father (guest) said...
Subject: Sated Mother in law
Oh mi gosh, that reads so wrong.

I mean't the chicken breasts. Please excuse me!!!!!!!!!


On October 30, 2006 at 04:49 PM, yoda (guest) said...
Subject: yikes
plump Mother in law breasts... Now that's a vision that even Viagra won't do anything for :shock:


On December 02, 2006 at 12:15 AM, AlexisF (guest) said...
Subject: Grilled Chicken Breast
Hi Michael,

What is the purpose of the brining--what does it do?
Also, do you have any suggestions for someone who doesn't have a grill?

Thanks,
Alexis


On December 02, 2006 at 12:35 AM, Michael Chu said...
Subject: Re: Grilled Chicken Breast
AlexisF wrote:
What is the purpose of the brining--what does it do?
Also, do you have any suggestions for someone who doesn't have a grill?

Brining serves to purposes - 1. to intoduce more liquid into the meat so as it cooks it doesn't completely dry out if you overcook it slightly, 2. intoroduce some flavor into the meat.

I have an article on brining if you want more info.

If you don't have a grill, you can broil the chicken under your oven's broiler, or pan fry it. Cooking times will vary and the final result will be a bit different (especially if the chicken is allowed to sit in it's own juices while cooking.


On December 07, 2006 at 02:49 PM, arthritis (guest) said...
What if my breasts have skin and bones? Should I grill them with the skin up or down first? I like the skin when roasted, but have had a problem with the skin charring on the grill.

thanks, love the site :)


On February 21, 2007 at 09:32 PM, ADT (guest) said...
Subject: mmm good!
I had never tried brining chicken breasts.. dont know why coz it tasted so good! Great recipe! I did add a little extra cayenne, and some cumin and a sprinkle of garlic salt to it, just coz i like it spicier I've tried so many recipes, and the chicken always overcooks on the bbq, and it never has much flavour besides the top layer.. brining it totally changed that. The meal was juicy and flavourful throughout. I served it with some herb pasta. Thanks! :)


On May 14, 2007 at 10:58 PM, guest (guest) said...
Subject: brining
Hi Michael,

I'm trying to picture brining on the molecular level (can't help it, I'm a chemist). Do you think salting the chicken, i.e. without the water, will produce the same effect? I saw Maddhur Jaffrey do this with shrimp whilst rinsing them throughly before cooking. I tried it myself and it transformed the texture of the shrimp. It gave a kind of crispiness or snap if you will that you don't get otherwise.

A good experiment to try: chicken breast in varying amounts of salt and water.

LT


On May 15, 2007 at 04:35 AM, Michael Chu said...
Subject: Re: brining
guest wrote:
I'm trying to picture brining on the molecular level (can't help it, I'm a chemist). Do you think salting the chicken, i.e. without the water, will produce the same effect?

I wrote an article on brining a while ago that might help explain how brining works. Salting a chicken (without water) goes a long way to providing flavor, but you can't do it too long or the outer areas of the meat get too salty while the interior stays about the same (unless you cut it into thin pieces). The texture of the chicken also changes a little. Brining works well for larger chunks of meat because the lower concentration of salt allows the salt to penetrate at a slower rate and results in a more evenly salted interior.


On June 03, 2007 at 07:08 PM, New2Grilling&LovinIt (guest) said...
Subject: Outstanding results for normally tasteless meat ...
I landed on your site in a desperate search for a way to take frozen skinless chicken breast (the kind you pick up at your local BJ's) and do something decent with them on the grill. I am NOT a good cook, as my husband and kids can attest. What a shocker when they turned out to be juicy, tender, flavorful ... absolutely perfect! Even my picky teenage son raved about them! I didn't actually follow the recipe, but the basic concept must have been there because they turned out so well. When I found your site, the breasts were already soaking in a marinade of olive oil, sea salt and some leftover homemade honey vinaigrette dressing that no one liked. They soaked for about five or six hours at room temperature and were still chilled when I put them on the hot grill. What I believe was the key was NOT OVERCOOKING them.


On June 07, 2007 at 09:39 PM, W6CWJ (guest) said...
Subject: Brine
This site is a good start, but still could use some improvement:

1. Include grams instead of cooking measures... accurate digital scales make this easy.

2. What is the concentration of the brine - in grams per cc?

3. It might be practical to use non contact IR thermometer reading for chicken breast internal temp ... this is somewhat dependent on the emmisitivity of the material being measured, but might be handy - perhaps someone has done the correlation between IR reading and internal temp.

Keep up the good work... a proper recipe and equipment should give good results every time.


On June 08, 2007 at 03:06 AM, GaryProtein said...
Subject: Re: Brine
W6CWJ wrote:
This site is a good start, but still could use some improvement:

1. Include grams instead of cooking measures... accurate digital scales make this easy.

2. What is the concentration of the brine - in grams per cc?

3. It might be practical to use non contact IR thermometer reading for chicken breast internal temp ... this is somewhat dependent on the emmisitivity of the material being measured, but might be handy - perhaps someone has done the correlation between IR reading and internal temp.

Keep up the good work... a proper recipe and equipment should give good results every time.


You cannot use an IR thermometer to get an internal temperature.


On June 14, 2007 at 06:23 AM, lisa (guest) said...
Subject: brining
Can you brine for a few hours and then rinse and then put chicken in a tandori marinade and finally grill? is that too much to do to the chicken?


On June 14, 2007 at 08:48 AM, Michael Chu said...
Subject: Re: brining
lisa wrote:
Can you brine for a few hours and then rinse and then put chicken in a tandori marinade and finally grill? is that too much to do to the chicken?

You can do that... but why not add some salt to the tandoori marinade? The yogurt base of the marinade should work well with the salt to add flavor into the flesh of the chicken.


On July 01, 2007 at 04:43 PM, Lisa (guest) said...
Do you cook on low for an additional 10 minutes after the initial 6 minutes on high or is it for 10 minutes total?


On July 02, 2007 at 08:20 PM, Michael Chu said...
Lisa wrote:
Do you cook on low for an additional 10 minutes after the initial 6 minutes on high or is it for 10 minutes total?

For me, it was 10 minutes after the initial six. This is dependant on your grill and your chicken breasts, so please use a thermometer or a knife to cut into the breast to determine if it's done.


On September 10, 2007 at 09:22 AM, an anonymous reader said...
I tried this recipe with a slight change. In the brine three spoons of curd was added. It came out well.


On September 12, 2007 at 05:28 AM, Sanjay (guest) said...
Subject: Addition of curd in brine
Quote:
I tried this recipe with a slight change. In the brine three spoons of curd was added. It came out well.


Yes. Addition of curd in brine helps a lot in softening chicken. Further, it improves the flavour.


On October 17, 2007 at 05:55 AM, mrestko said...
Subject: Higher salt concentration
I tried this recipe but I also relied on some information I found at http://www.virtualweberbullet.com/brining.html. According to that website, brining needs to be done at a high salt concentration for it to have any real effect. I used 1 quart of water with a 1/2 c. of kosher salt to brine about 2.5 lbs of boneless, skinless chicken breasts for about an hour. I then seasoned them according to this recipe. They turned out quite well and I will definitely try it again, probably with slightly less salt and/or less brining time. However, I can't imagine that a salt concentration as low as 1 T/quart would actually be effective.


On December 13, 2007 at 02:08 PM, xmdp (guest) said...
Subject: Nice concept
Too bad tou serve so many pop ups with your recipes.
PLONK!


On December 13, 2007 at 10:56 PM, Dilbert said...
what we have here is a user failure / inability / inexperience to block pop ups. here is no different than anywhere else on the web.

jeesh, I haven't seen one popup, not o-n-e........


On February 08, 2008 at 07:26 PM, an anonymous reader said...
Is it ok to just put frozen chicken breast tenderloins straight into the brine, or does it need to be thawed first? Thanks.


On February 08, 2008 at 07:34 PM, Dilbert said...
>>Is it ok to just put frozen chicken breast tenderloins straight into the brine, or does it need to be thawed first? Thanks.

yup. keep refrigerated for anything more than 30 minutes or so.


On February 08, 2008 at 07:41 PM, Michael Chu said...
Anonymous wrote:
Is it ok to just put frozen chicken breast tenderloins straight into the brine, or does it need to be thawed first? Thanks.

You can definitely thaw the chicken breast in the brine, but the duration of the soak time will have to be adjusted through experimentation.


On February 11, 2008 at 08:19 PM, an anonymous reader said...
Can you use lite salt, for those on low sodium diets?


On February 12, 2008 at 06:45 AM, Michael Chu said...
Anonymous wrote:
Can you use lite salt, for those on low sodium diets?

Yes, but your chicken will be lower in sodium.


On April 15, 2008 at 09:37 PM, kelly (guest) said...
Subject: grilled chicken breasts
do these cook well without olive oil? i don't think i've ever grilled chicken that wasn't rubbed in olive oil. does it affect the end result?


On June 04, 2008 at 01:34 AM, Jeanne (guest) said...
Subject: Brine then marinate?
I am prepping for a big party and am grilling 100 chicken breasts for a four hour OPEN HOUSE. Call me crazy!!??
I am a bit concerned about dry chicken. Can you brine, then drain and marinate? Or will marinate do the trick. If so, what would you recommend for timing. I planned on marinating the chicken for 24 hrs. prior to grill time.

I have a grilled pepper lime chicken recipe with fresh lime juice/cracked pepper/hot sauce/onion marinate. I have Costco boneless skinless chicken breasts-I would like have some 'on deck' to place in the oven on warm, while I wait to restock chafing dish.



Any advise? Suggestions
Jean[/b]


On June 11, 2008 at 04:15 AM, shaypop (guest) said...
Subject: chicken recipe
that was delicious. thanks


On August 26, 2008 at 12:23 PM, anon (guest) said...
Subject: kosher chicken
Does kosher chicken need to be brined? I seem to recall that salting is part of the kashering process.


On August 26, 2008 at 05:19 PM, Michael Chu said...
Subject: Re: kosher chicken
anon wrote:
Does kosher chicken need to be brined? I seem to recall that salting is part of the kashering process.

Kosher chicken is salted already. I don't recommend brining it full strength since it will taste overly salty then. You can try soaking it in plain water or water with a little bit of salt in it to "plump" it up before cooking.


On September 13, 2008 at 02:19 AM, jmcharry said...
I used to do this, but took to using equal parts of salt and sugar. The amounts aren't critical. I only brine for a maximum of two hours, usually only one. Then I found out this can really be jazzed up by adding a key lime and clove of garlic, and smashing them with a mallet before adding the water. I usually don't add any additional spices and use an instant read thermometer to avoid over cooking.


On November 04, 2008 at 05:10 AM, dlsinchi (guest) said...
Subject: worked out great
This worked well...finally chicken I can eat on my diet that is actually good. I had time to brine tenderloins for only half an hour. Will do it longer next time. The cayene and cinnamon make it look tasty too!


On July 09, 2009 at 10:00 PM, lanlord5 (guest) said...
Subject: great!
worked out really well for me. I used a derivative of this recipe to make some oven-baked chicken strips. came out pretty well for my first time ever cooking chicken in an oven. the brine really helps. what effect would adding some kind of vinegar have? preparing the brine and stuff was a nice break from diff. eq. homework. lol.


On July 10, 2009 at 01:11 AM, Dilbert said...
well, there's a bit of 'terminology' to get past.

a brine - usually salt & sugar in water - is aimed at making the meat more moist and juicy.

one can add 'stuff' to a brine for flavor.

pushing that, there's a marinade - which is aimed primarily at introducing flavor.

most brines do not include an acid component
many / most marinades do include an acid.

acid may be vinegar, fruit juices, wine, lots of liquids on the acid scale.

so what? valid question.

the process of "cooking" - typically by heat - causes changes to the structure of proteins.

interestingly enough, "acids" produce the same changes.

some tv chef once demonstrated you can "cook" fish at room temperature in a bowl of lemon juice. the acid makes the same protein changes as the heat. if you need a home proof, buy some salmon, cut in half, put one pc in oven, liberally douse other pc with lemon juice, observe results.

so.... vinegar & chicken -
first vinegar has a taste - and that'll show up in the finished product. wine vinegar, cider vinegar, balsamic, etc. all have their own flavor profiles.

second, it will denature aka start to cook the proteins. too much too long can produce a chunk of chicken that is tough/chewy on the outside.

in my experience a splash of vinegar does help with marinade flavor penetration. a really mild acid - such as buttermilk - can go overnight with good results.

however, overdoing the acid is not a good approach.


On September 20, 2009 at 01:30 AM, Alex (guest) said...
Thank you so much for this!! I hate having to buy pre-cooked chicken because I don't know how to properly grill my own. I Googled "seasoned grilled chicken breasts" expecting to find some generic cooking site, but then I saw the result for Cooking for Engineers and immediately clicked it because I know I can trust your recipes. I've had enormous success with your English toffee and peanut butter cookie recipes before. THANK YOU!! :)


On January 28, 2010 at 05:47 PM, an anonymous reader said...
Excellent! I thought I would never buy boneless skinless breasts becuase the way they turned out before (hawaiian slipper to start with) until I saw this. With this method, it turned just the way as they serve in restaurants. Brining is the most important step. Apart from the rub you used, I sprinkled steak seasoning (from costco). My wife and I just loved it.

Thank you!!
Ajay


On May 31, 2010 at 04:54 PM, morganmoonlady (guest) said...
Subject: brined chicken breast
this is the only way I do chicken breast! The meat is so moist and tasty, it is like chicken from the deli when you use is for cold sandwiches! I have also done Turkeys and Pork. :P


On May 31, 2010 at 06:22 PM, an anonymous reader said...
What if you use a charcoal grill? It seems that this recipe only mentions grilling using a gas grill.

I use a charcoal Weber. Should I use the direct method? Indirect method? How many briquets shoud I use? And how should I time it?


On May 31, 2010 at 09:12 PM, Michael Chu said...
Anonymous wrote:
What if you use a charcoal grill? It seems that this recipe only mentions grilling using a gas grill.

I use a charcoal Weber. Should I use the direct method? Indirect method? How many briquets shoud I use? And how should I time it?

I would build a two stage fire. Start with a hot fire providing direct heat to sear, then move to a low fire to finish. I don't use briquettes - only hardwood charcoal which seems to vary from manufacturer to manufacturer quite a bit, so I can't really provide guidance on how much to use. Don't time, use a fast response digital meat thermometer and go by internal temperature instead.


On July 13, 2010 at 11:53 PM, donny dirk (guest) said...
Subject: pop ups
Never saw one single pop up.
Chicken's in the brine right now.
thx


On July 15, 2010 at 06:41 PM, an anonymous reader said...
On a gas grill Lid open or closed? Direct heat or indirect heat. Need details


On July 15, 2010 at 09:16 PM, Michael Chu said...
Anonymous wrote:
On a gas grill Lid open or closed? Direct heat or indirect heat. Need details

In this particular case, the chicken was cooked over low direct heat with the lid closed.

Sorry, this was one of my more poorly written articles/recipes...


On August 28, 2010 at 09:14 AM, me (guest) said...
Subject: can we use a frying pan for this?
can we simply cook it using a frying pan instead of a grill. do we need to apply oil on frying pan before doing so?


On August 29, 2010 at 09:50 PM, Meenie (guest) said...
Subject: Brining chicken
Bobbie Flay talked about brining on his grilling show, but he used much more salt. (he didn't measure, of course, just poured salt in from the box :) but he poured in quite a bit and said, you want it salty. Don't worry, it won't make the meat too salty. :)
I love brining - it makes the meat so much more juicy and flavorful!


On April 29, 2011 at 02:59 PM, jiffy (guest) said...
Subject: chicken made tender
brilliant recipe!!! thank you - and to anyone who hasn't tried it, do give it a go: you'll be wonderfully rewarded with completely yummy tender chicken


On May 26, 2011 at 11:40 PM, shooble (guest) said...
Subject: Great!
Just did it.

Defrosted 4 breasts.
Put 18g salt in 1 pint water.
Soaked for 2h
Dried off on towel.
Rubbed lightly with spices.

Seared 45sec each side oiled smoking hot cast iron broiling pan.

Finished in halogen oven 200C (400F?) for ~15min removing the thinner breasts earlier.

TASTY, TASTY, TASTY! Maybe a little less salt next time, but overall, WHAT A DIFFERENCE! Not dry in the slightest. An incredible transformation.

You sir are a genius. Cheapest frozen breast I could find, turned out as good as any I've had out. Without skin too. It's a miracle. - Will be replacing the spice rub with some Tikka / Tandoori / Cajun spice, but other than that, and reducing the salt a little. Other than that, simply perfect.


On September 21, 2011 at 12:03 AM, cincy smoker 420 (guest) said...
Subject: cinnamon
I found that less cinnamon is a good idea. It burns a little too much.

The brining is a great idea just take it easy on the cinnamon B)

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