Perfectly Juicy Grilled Chicken Breasts are 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. The steps in this recipe are so fool proof, you can even swap out your favorite flavors in the marinade or the type of seasoning to get perfect grilled chicken breasts that taste exactly how you like!
Step 1: Trimming Chicken Breasts (How to)
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 or you can 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! Just make sure you 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: The BEST Chicken Marinade
Spoiler alert- the best chicken 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:
1 part acid (think vinegars, wines, fruit juices, Worcestershire sauce or a combination of these)
1 part oil (I recommend sticking with affordable options here: vegetable, canola, etc.)
1/2 part flavor and seasonings (fresh herbs, garlic, ginger, peppers)
1/4 part salt (you can also use savory ingredients like soy sauce)
1/4 part sugar (brown sugar, honey, molasses all work well)
This formula really gives you a lot of freedom to create exactly the flavor profile you are after. OR, 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. My family loves that Olive Garden Italian dressing, so that’s the one we default to on busy weekdays.
A big element to the marinade step is to be 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 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 to chew chicken.
Step 3: Grilled Chicken 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 The BEST Sweet BBQ Rub. It’s especially awesome paired with a great slather of BBQ sauce while grilling (more on that in the next steps.)
If you prefer something that is a little more versatile, give this Homemade Veggie Shake a try. It is sugar free and loaded with herbs and seasonings that punch up the flavor of the chicken itself. 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: Perfect Grilled Chicken Breasts Need 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 breasts. The key is too bring the chicken up to temperature over indirect heat. This means if you are on gas or charcoal to be sure that you have direct heat going on in half of your grill and low or no heat happening on the other side.
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, they start at $29 for the ThermoPop. 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, 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, that 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 minutes.
That’s How To Grill Chicken Breasts!
I know this article wasn’t written like a traditional recipe, but if you can follow these steps you will never have to chug beverages to get through a dry grilled chicken breast ever again.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!
My Favorite Grilled Chicken Recipes
Here’s a little round up of my favorite recipes to use that grilled chicken breasts and some fun flavor variations for you. Just click the image to head to the recipe.
Perfect Grilled Chicken Breasts
- 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts About 2 pounds
- 2 cups Italian dressing
- 2 Tablespoons Homemade Veggie Shake
- Trim any excess fat from your chicken breasts and place them in a gallon zip top bag. Pour the Italian dressing over the chicken. 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).
- When you're ready to cook, preheat your grill to 350 degrees F with two-zone heat.
- Remove the chicken from the marinade and lightly shake off any excess. Season on both sides of the breast with the homemade veggie shake.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.