These test kitchen tips will take your chicken from eh to incredible.
Think fast—what does your ideal grilled chicken breast look and taste like? For us, it’s juicy and tender, browned, but not burned, cooked to the proper temperature, and flavorful. But despite how simple that sounds, it’s all too easy to end up with a grilled chicken breast that’s less than perfect. So we reached out to Nicole McLaughlin, recipe developer and Mom Vs. star, about the steps she takes to ensure grilled chicken that any meat eater will love.
Chicken breasts, especially boneless, skinless chicken breasts, don’t have a uniform size throughout and won’t cook evenly unless they’re properly prepped ahead of time. Nicole has two recommendations here: You can either cut the bottom of the breast off to create two pieces of chicken that can cook evenly at different rates, or pound the breast with something heavy, like a rolling pin or wine bottle, into a uniform thickness. If you prefer larger pieces of chicken, you’re gonna want to go with the second method.
Once you’ve gotten size and shape sorted out, you’re going to want to build some flavor. Nicole’s go-to poultry marinade is a mixture of olive oil, something salty (think soy sauce), something tangy (think Dijon mustard), something acidic (think lemon juice), and something sweet (think honey). Add some aromatics, like garlic, to the mixture to kick the marinade up a notch.
One key point when it comes to marinade ratios: You’ll want to use a proportionally small amount of the sweet element, because sugar burns on the grill. Additionally, you don’t want to let your chicken breast sit in an acidic marinade (i.e. one that contains lemon juice or vinegar) too long or the acid will start to break down the outside of the chicken. Once you’ve got your secret sauce ready, marinate the chicken for at least one hour in a zip-top bag. No time to marinate? No problem, just baste the chicken while it’s on the grill.
Before you fire up the grill, make sure the grate is clean. Scrub it down if you didn’t last time. Then, for nice grill marks, rub some canola oil on the grate with some paper towels. It’s important not to set the chicken on the grill until it’s reached high heat, because this will ensure the best possible caramelization. You can lower to medium-high later, as the chicken cooks. Put the chicken breasts down flat side-down first and let them cook for four minutes before flipping. If you’re basting, this is the time to do it. Nicole recommends moving the chicken around the grill, especially if it’s an older grill, to ensure more even cooking. Also, use a digital thermometer; safe chicken is good chicken. You want the chicken breasts to reach 160 degrees before pulling them off the grill. Let the chicken rest off the grill for 5-10 minutes, so it can reach the food-safe temperature of 165 degrees.