posted January 11, 2021
Perfect Grilled Chicken Breast
Making delicious Grilled Chicken Breast is easier to achieve than you think! I’ve got 5 simple steps to follow that ensure you get perfectly cooked, incredibly juicy, seasoned just-right chicken breasts every single time.
Grilled Chicken Breast
Chicken breast is simultaneously one of the easiest and trickiest pieces of meat to grill juuuuust right. Chicken breast can quickly dry out when grilled, but with some simple technique (and a handy meat thermometer!), you’ll be grilling that perfectly juicy grilled chicken breast in no time.
The key to perfect grilled chicken breast is to use both direct and indirect heat. If you need a refresher on setting up your gas or charcoal grill for this, refer to my post on How to Cook with Two Zone Cooking.
How to Grill Chicken Breast
If you’re ready to unlock the secrets of juicy chicken breast, scroll below to the 5 key steps to making perfectly grilled chicken breast every time.
Step 1: Trim the Chicken Breasts
Picking the right ingredient is always a key step to ensuring you end up with great results. Make sure you are buying boneless, skinless chicken breasts. These often come untrimmed in the package with minimal processing. You can also buy them trimmed (meaning that any excess fat, connective tissue, rib meat, or membranes have been removed for you).
If you’re not a fan of trimming chicken, buying them hand trimmed from the butcher can be a great time saver, just be aware it will usually cost you a bit extra per pound. If you want to save yourself some money, trimming yourself is a great way to go! Remove any dangling pieces of fat, rib meat, connective tissues, or loose pieces of chicken meat to create nice, uniform breasts.
No matter if you buy trimmed or trim yourself, be sure that your chicken is fully defrosted before you attempt the next steps. Having chicken that is frozen in the middle can cause several issues during the marinating and grilling steps. My favorite way to defrost is to set the chicken in a zip top bag and then onto a plate and onto the bottom shelf of your refrigerator. Make sure your bag is open to allow the chicken to breathe while defrosting. Most chicken breasts will defrost within 24 hours in the fridge.
Step 2: Marinate the Chicken
Once you have your chicken trimmed well, you’re ready to marinate the chicken. For this recipe I used a homemade mix that is perfect for chicken. It combines all the elements that make a good marinade to bring a good balance of salt and flavor to the chicken without being overpowering.
Make sure your chicken is entirely covered with the marinade. My favorite way to do this is to pour the marinade over the chicken in a gallon-sized zip-top bag, press out the extra air from the bag and seal tightly and keep in the fridge until you’re ready to use.
Chicken doesn’t need to marinate very long since it isn’t really very thick. I recommend marinating between 4 and 8 hours. Any longer than 8 and the acid in your marinade can break down the proteins in the chicken to the point where you’ll end up with rubbery, tough chicken.
Grilled Chicken Breast Marinade
Spoiler alert! The best grilled chicken breast marinade isn’t an exact pre-measured packet of sauce that you buy at the store. The perfect grilled chicken marinade is one that you can customize yourself.
Every great marinade has 5 key elements that make your chicken absolutely lip-smacking and the best part is that you can build it to your liking. The basic recipe looks like this:
- Acid. White wine vinegar goes great with chicken but other vinegars, wines, fruit juices, Worcestershire sauce or a combination of these are tasty options as well.
- Fat or oil. This recipe uses olive oil, a solid choice, but you can use other affordable options here as well (vegetable, canola, etc.)
- Flavor and seasonings Snag some pepper, Italian seasoning, garlic, and Parmesan cheese for this recipe, or add your own favorite fresh herbs, garlic, ginger, or peppers.
- Salt. Tossing in some good ol’ kosher salt or sea salt is a great option. You can also use savory ingredients like soy sauce to add some salt to your marinade.
- Sugar. White sugar is all you need for this recipe, but I’m fond of using brown sugar, honey, or molasses in my marinades as well.
If you don’t want to make your own marinade from scratch every time, take a tip from my competition BBQ pitmaster friends and marinate in Italian dressing. Seriously, they really do use Italian salad dressing as a chicken marinade for their competition entries! It has the perfect ratios of vinegar, oil, seasonings, salt, and sugar. So if you’re strapped for time, there’s no shame in snagging something tasty like this Olive Garden Italian dressing, and going from there.
Step 3: Grilled Chicken Breast Seasoning
Now that you’ve marinated your chicken to infuse moisture and flavor to the inside of your meat, it’s time to season the outside. If you like a classic sweet BBQ flavor to your chicken, I definitely recommend using my Signature Chicken Seasoning. It’s a balanced blend of herbs and spices with just a little heat to make your chicken sing.
If you don’t have any Chicken Seasoning on hand, my Best Sweet Rub recipe is incredible as well. It’ll give your chicken a sweet and savory flavor that can’t be beat. I love to use this one if I am preparing several chicken breasts at a time for meal prepping because I can use the chicken for basically anything I want after it is cooked. Think chicken salad, shredded chicken for soups or casseroles, the options are endless!
Step 4: Grill Over Indirect Heat
I know our tendency when grilling is to cook hot and fast from start to finish, but we can tear a page out of the low and slow playbook to really improve the overall texture and tenderness of our grilled chicken breast. The key is to bring the chicken up to temperature over indirect heat. This means you have direct heat going on half of your grill and no heat on the other half.
Your chicken breasts are going to be grilled on the indirect heat side of your grill where the heat is circulating and cooking the chicken without charring the outside edges of the chicken or burning those thin ends to a crisp before the middle is done. Your overall grill temperature should be hovering around 350 degrees F. This means you will have juicy, flavorful chicken from edge to edge!
Use a great internal thermometer in the thickest part of your chicken breast to check the temperature of your chicken as it cooks. I recommend an instant read thermometer from ThermoWorks. Your target temperature for this indirect cooking step is 150-155 degrees F before moving on to the next step. If you can keep your grill temperature at 350 degrees F, depending on the size of your chicken, this should take about 20-25 minutes.
Step 5: Direct Heat to Finish a Grilled Chicken Breast
The last step to the perfect grilled chicken breast is a direct heat sear. This gives the chicken a few minutes on each side to crisp up and get all of that tasty grilled chicken flavor that we love. The key here is caramelization. The sugars in the marinade and seasoning we used will hit the high heat from the flames and start to bubble and brown.
Be careful to avoid overcooking and burning at this point. It will make your perfectly grilled chicken breasts taste bitter. You are looking for a target internal temperature of 160 degrees. Since chicken is safe to eat at 165 degrees F, this last tip is crucial. Transfer the chicken to a plate and cover immediately with a tight layer of foil. The carryover momentum from the heat rising within the chicken will create a little steam oven inside the foiled plate and push the final temperature up to 165 degrees F. This process takes about 5-10 minutes.
How Long to Grill Chicken Breast
From start to finish, it should take around 30 minutes to grill your chicken breast. As always, make sure you are cooking to temperature and not to time. Use your instant read meat thermometer to remove the chicken breast once the internal temperature reaches 160 degrees F.
After you remove your chicken, cover or tent it with foil for 5-10 minutes to allow carryover cooking to bring the chicken up to a finished temp of 165 degrees F.
I hope you experiment with your own flavor combinations to make a grilled chicken breast that is absolutely perfect! If you do, please come back and leave a comment with your recipe so we can all try out some new chicken methods!
Popular Grilled Chicken Breast Recipes
Here’s a little round up of my favorite grilled chicken breast recipes. Now that you’ve mastered the art of the grilled chicken breast, dive into playing around with variety in the recipes below:
- Bacon Wrapped Chicken Breast
- Sweet Heat Marinated Grilled Chicken Breast
- Grilled Chili Lime Chicken Breast
Grilled Chicken Breast Recipe
Perfect Grilled Chicken Breast
- 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (About 2 pounds)
- 2 Tablespoons Signature Sweet Rub ((link for homemade version in notes))
Grilled Chicken Breast Marinade
- ⅓ cup olive oil
- 3 Tablespoons white wine vinegar
- 2 ounces Parmesan cheese (shredded)
- 2 cloves garlic (minced)
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- 2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 teaspoon salt
- Trim the chicken breasts. Trim any excess fat, rib meat, connective tissues, or loose pieces of chicken meat from the breasts.
- Marinate the chicken. Combine the ingredients for the marinade in a gallon sized zip top bag and add the trimmed chicken to the marinade. Press any air out of the bag and seal tightly. Massage the dressing around the chicken breasts. Refrigerate for 4-8 hours (8 hours for the best results).
- Preheat the grill. When you're ready to cook, preheat your grill to 350 degrees F with two-zone heat.
- Season the chicken breast. Remove the chicken from the marinade and lightly shake off any excess marinade. Season on both sides of the breast with Signature Sweet Rub or Chicken Seasoning
- Grill over indirect heat. Place the seasoned chicken on the indirect side of the grill and close the lid. Cook until the internal temperature reads 155 degrees F with an instant read thermometer. This step typically takes 25-30 minutes, but will vary based on grill temperature, meat thickness, etc. This is why a good thermometer is crucial.
- Sear over direct heat. Move the chicken breasts over to the direct heat side of the grill and sear for 2-3 minutes per side until you have some nice color on the chicken and the internal temperature reads 160 degrees F.
- Rest and serve. Remove the chicken breasts to a plate and cover immediately with foil. Allow the chicken to rest, covered, for 5-10 minutes before slicing and serving.
**This post was originally published in January 2018. We recently updated it with more information and helpful tips. The recipe remains the same.
BBQ Must Haves
Join the Grill Squad
The Grill Squad is our exclusive membership program that will transform bland cookouts into booming barbecues that you'll remember for a lifetime. The technique and skills you learn will bring your backyard cookouts to a new level. For the cost of a full brisket, you'll get annual access to an exclusive BBQ community, Pitmaster Classes, discounts, and much much more!