6 Chicken Breast Mistakes That Can Easily Leave You With a Dry, Flavorless Meal

Do your chicken breasts regularly turn out tasting subpar? That ends today.

The most underrated cut of poultry in the game is, without a doubt, the humble chicken breast. Oftentimes overshadowed by it's darker, richer counterpart, the chicken thigh, chicken breasts are often cast as the dry, flavorless, you-must-be-on-a-diet portion of the bird. Well, I am here to tell you that when cooked properly, a chicken breast can be incredibly succulent and a great starting point for any flavor profile that you're going for. If your chicken breasts aren't quite coming out how you'd like them, there are a slew of common mistakes that you may be falling victim to. Here's where you might have gone wrong.

You Didn't Thaw Them Soon Enough

I'm pretty sure everyone can relate to the feeling of realizing that your significant other (or your parent, whatever) is on their way home from work, and they asked you earlier in the day to take some chicken out of the freezer...but you totally forgot to do it. Sigh. These days, chicken breasts can be quite large and thick, which means you shouldn't bank on thawing them from the freezer in a quick hour.

Instead, pull them out the night before and let them thaw in the refrigerator, or put them in a bowl of cold water and let them thaw for a few hours. If you try to cook a breast that's still partially frozen on the inside, it's going to cook unevenly — there's no way around it. And that means, you'll likely overcook the thawed part of the breast as you attempt to fully cook the icy portion.

P.S. — It's always a good idea to let your completely thawed chicken sit at room temperature for 30 minutes before cooking so that it's not super cold.

You're Not Using Skin-on, Bone-In

When you think of chicken breasts, most people assume boneless, skinless; however, I'm here to make the argument that you should always go bone-in, skin-on when you can. The bones and skin add a subtle layer of fat and flavor to whatever it is that you're cooking. Even if you prefer not to eat the skin, cooking the breast with the skin on and then peeling it off right before you chow down will yield a tastier, more succulent breast.

Save the bones for a homemade stock while you're at it.

Pan-Roasted Chicken Breasts
Photo by Allrecipes Magazine.

You're Not Marinating Them

I know, I know. Letting your chicken sit in a marinade requires a whole lot of foresight, but I promise you that if you can swing it (even for just a matter of minutes), it's so worth it. Whip up a yogurt- or olive oil-based marinade with your favorite spices, some minced garlic, ginger, chiles, and a squeeze of lemon or drizzle of vinegar. Letting your chicken sit in a marinade like this for at least 15 minutes can make a huge difference — but if you can let it go for 24 hours, that's even better. If you're pinched for time on the marinade, cut the breasts into smaller pieces so that more surface area is exposed to the marinade and it has a better chance of flavoring more meat.

You're Not Adequately Seasoning Them

You don't need any fancy tricks or an expansive spice cabinet here, it's just important to hit the most basic seasonings and hit them well. You see, without a generous sprinkling of kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, your chicken is basically destined for blandness. After you've pulled your chicken out of its marinade (or even if you're not using a marinade), always sprinkle all sides of the breast with salt and pepper.

You're Overcooking Them

This is likely the most common mistake cooks make when it comes to chicken breasts. Of course, nobody wants a medium-rare chicken breast, but sometimes in an effort to fully cook our chicken breasts, we unintentionally overcook them. The result? An unpleasantly dry, chalky texture. Where chicken thighs may give you a little bit more leeway when it comes to cooking them longer than necessary (because they're a fattier cut), breasts don't give you that same liberty.

That's why it's a great idea to invest in a meat thermometer so that you know when the chicken breasts have come to temperature (165°). Whether you're roasting, poaching, pan frying, or grilling, the thermometer is a great tool to have handy. Keep in mind that carry-over cooking will happen after you pull your chicken from the pan, so it's better to pull it just slightly before it reaches the goal temperature.

As you use your thermometer more and more, you'll get better at recognizing the visual and sensual cues for knowing that your chicken breasts are done cooking. Now, if you do happen to overcook your chicken breasts — don't sweat it. The best way to save them is to reintroduce moisture, which means whipping up a buttery pan sauce or a silky yogurt sauce.

You're Not Letting Them Rest

As I mentioned, carry-over cooking is a part of the process. After your chicken breasts are done cooking, let them rest for at least half the time that you cooked them for before slicing into them. This will ensure that the breasts stay super juicy and flavorful, and that they're fully cooked. Trust me, waiting the few extra minutes pays off big time — every time.


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