Tired of dry, tough boneless chicken breasts? These Juicy, Tender Chicken Breasts are so delicious and (like rotisserie chicken) can be used for a zillion different things as well as for an entreé!
Have you ever had something that you just couldn’t get right? I felt like that for a long time when it came to juicy tender chicken breasts cooked on the stovetop. In addition to tasting delicious, I wanted the chicken to have beautiful visual appeal. I tried lots of recipes that were touted to be “perfect pan-sautéd chicken breasts”, “best ever sautéd chicken breasts”, “how to cook chicken breasts that don’t dry out”, etc. But often, they didn’t “pan out” (literally!) So I took a few tips from each one and discovered some of my own. I’m happy to announce that it’s finally arrived!
When I look at the variety of chicken available at my local grocery stores, it’s obvious that boneless, skinless chicken breasts are the most popular. There’s always a disproportionally plentiful supply of this cut in comparison to any other. And I totally get it – these prepped breasts are healthy, lean and very convenient. And yet it seems there are also more complaints of dry, tough “rubbery” meat with this chicken cut than the others.
I’ve learned a few tricks over the years to make delicious grilled chicken breasts as well as a wonderful technique for Juicy, Tender Baked Boneless Chicken Breasts, but achieving delicious results on the stovetop just seemed to elude me.
Juicy tender chicken breasts are possible
But I knew it was possible, as I’ve had amazing (and attractive) sautéed chicken breasts at restaurants as entrées and on salads. So I was determined this time, to figure out my dilemma. As usual, I started out my quest with Mr. Google. When I queried “How to make juicy, tender chicken breasts on the stovetop.”, I was surprised at the results.
5,280,000 options to choose from! As I sorted through the “best of the best” it was (once again) obvious that there were lots of “tried and true” techniques: “pound the meat”, “slice the meat”, “brine the meat”, “cover the pan”, “don’t cover the pan”, “use butter”, “use oil”, “use butter and oil”, “season and refrigerate for 30 minutes”, “pat the chicken dry”, “rub the chicken with oil”… and on and on it went.
A few secrets
I’ve gone through a serious amount of chicken breasts, trying to figure this out, and have tried lots of the above techniques with varying degrees of success. In the end, I’ve come up with my own technique for juicy, tender chicken breasts. I’ve included all of the secrets in my Café Tips below, but there were a few things that really stood out. Here they are:
- I learned was that if you try to brown boneless, skinless chicken breasts you’re almost always going to come up with tough chicken. There’s no skin to protect the meat from the high heat it takes to achieve that beautiful golden hue. But that doesn’t mean you can’t have attractive looking sautéed chicken. The secret is to use a rub that will help brown the exterior without overcooking it. And a rub that contains paprika and a pinch of sugar along with other herbs and spices works really well.
- The second important factor is to not overcook (or undercook) the meat. Using an instant thermometer will ensure that your chicken is cooked to the perfect temperature. Instant thermometers don’t have to be expensive and can be used for all kinds of recipes; meats, candy, cake, lemon curd…
- Use a cast iron or heavy-duty stainless steel pan for best results. Although I love a non-stick pan for lots of things, I don’t recommend using one for cooking juicy, tender chicken breasts. You want a nice sear, which you won’t get with the non-stick surfaces.
I had fun creating a delicious rub for this chicken. It adds tons of flavor and a beautiful presentation. Don’t be skimpy with it. I often double or triple the rub recipe as it’s a great all-purpose seasoning for veggies, pork, shrimp, salmon. Also, the next time I want to make these Juicy Tender Chicken Breasts, I’m well on the way!
So, no more dry tough chicken! I hope you enjoy this easy technique for juicy, tender chicken as much as we have! One delicious and healthy way to use this chicken is in our Warm Chicken and Roasted Potato Salad. It’s a fresh, fabulous meal in a bowl. Bon Appetit!
Café Tips for juicy, tender, chicken breasts (on the stovetop)
- Look for smaller chicken breasts. These days, it seems that the chicken producers think that bigger is better. I think smaller breasts have better flavor and stay more tender. Often grocery stores will have packages with the same number of breasts in each one. Look for the least expensive/lowest weight package which will give you smaller individual pieces.
- Use a rub and allow it to sit on the chicken for 15 minutes before cooking. This acts as a dry brine to add flavor and also tenderize the chicken.
- The rub should include a pinch of sugar as well as paprika. The sugar will help the chicken sear nicely without a super high heat which can cause a tough outer coating. Paprika gives pretty color and if you use a mild paprika, it doesn’t add much additional flavor. I’ve included our favorite rub in the recipe below. (I purchased this mild paprika several years ago when Scott and I were in France. I loved it and was sad when it was gone. Now I’ve found it on Amazon and it’s so reasonable, yay!)
- Sprinkle the chicken fairly liberally with the delicious rub. The proportion of salt in the rub allows you to be generous without making the finished product too salty. That being said, you might not use it all.
- A lot of recipes call for pounding the chicken breasts to an even thickness. I’ve found this to be unnecessary most of the time. I haven’t had a problem with the thinner portions of the breasts drying out. The only time I might pound would be if the pieces were exceptionally thick in the center. Even then I would just pound a bit as the presentation is much prettier and more natural if they are not pounded flat.
- Don’t crank the heat up too high. I like to start with a medium heat then check the underside after a few minutes. If it’s browning too fast, I reduce the heat a bit. A HUGE bonus to using medium heat in lieu of a high temperature (as most recipes call for) is that there’s very little spatter on to the stovetop. Although I love pan-seared entrées, I HATE making a big spatter mess on my stovetop!
- I use butter and olive oil to sauté these chicken breasts. Butter adds fantastic flavor and is another factor in creating a pretty, golden presentation. The olive oil keeps the butter from burning.
- If using a tongs (or metal spatula) to add and turn your chicken, make sure to wash it in between uses. It will have raw chicken bacteria on it which you don’t want to transfer to the cooked chicken.
- Use an instant thermometer! It’s the best way to ensure that your chicken is not over or undercooked. Check the thickest part of the breast and place the tip of the thermometer about halfway into it. You want a temperature of 160˚F. 165˚F is the ideal temperature for chicken but the temp will go up a little more once you remove it from the heat. This is a great instant thermometer.
- Once the temperature reaches 160˚F, remove the chicken from the heat and cover loosely with foil. Allow the chicken to rest for at least 5 minutes. This will allow the juices to redistribute and not run out when the meat is sliced into.
- If you don’t own a cast iron pan, they are wonderful and can be used for both sweet and savory dishes. If cared for properly, a cast iron pan will last for generations! Mine is like an old friend and actually belonged to Scott’s grandmother. I wish it could speak as I’m sure it would have wonderful tales to tell! Cast iron pans like this one aren’t expensive and, they’re great for both cooking and baking.
- Most cast iron pans don’t come with a cover. Check to see if a cover from another pan will fit otherwise use foil to cover the pan after flipping the chicken.
- If your chicken breasts vary in size, the smaller ones will be done first. Allow a few extra minutes for larger portions.
- This recipe is totally adjustable regarding serving yield. Just use a large enough pan so that the meat is not crowded and a little extra butter/oil for each additional breast. That’s it!
Thought for the day
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore, we will not fear, even though the earth be removed or the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea. Psalm 46;1
This post was originally published in January 2018. The pictures, text and recipe have been updated.
Tired of dry, tough boneless chicken breasts? These Juicy, Tender Sautéed Chicken Breasts are so delicious and (like rotisserie chicken) can be used for a zillion different things as well as for an entreé!
- 2 teaspoons garlic salt
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 2 teaspoons mild paprika
- 2 teaspoons dry Italian seasoning
- 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 4 medium boneless skinless chicken breasts see notes above in post
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
For the rub, combine all ingredients in a small bowl and stir well to combine. Set aside.
Place chicken breasts on a plate or shallow pan. Pat dry with paper towels. Sprinkle liberally with the rub, then rub it in with your hand. Allow breasts to sit with the rub on for 15-20 minutes, at room temperature.
Heat the butter and olive oil in a cast iron or heavy stainless steel pan over medium heat. Butter should sizzle a bit and be fairly hot but watch it at this point to prevent burning. Make sure the pan is large enough to accommodate all of the breasts without crowding.
- Add the chicken and allow to sit for 3 minutes without touching. After 3 minutes, take a peek at the underside of one of the breasts. If it’s browning too quickly lower the heat a bit. Continue cooking for a total of 5 minutes or until the underside is nicely browned.
Flip breasts to the opposite side and immediately lower heat to medium-low. Cover and continue to cook for another 5-10 minutes OR until internal temperature reaches 160˚F when an instant thermometer is inserted into the center of the thickest part of the breast. (The time will vary depending on the size of each portion -see notes above in Café Tips)
Once 160˚F is reached, remove the chicken to a clean plate and cover loosely with foil. Allow to sit for 5 minutes, then slice and enjoy! If serving as an entreé, pour the delicious juices from the pan over the chicken.
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