How to: Cook Chicken Breasts

So when a recipe calls for X cups of cooked or shredded chicken, I usually just use leftover chopped Fauxtisserie Chicken. But what about those days when I don’t want to cook a whole chicken just to use the leftovers the next day? Or when, maybe, it’s 3:00 in the afternoon and I haven’t started a chicken and my 2-year-old is napping and I can’t go buy a rotisserie chicken at the store (which reminds me of the time when my husband and I were broke college students and I was supposed to be cutting back on the grocery bill. I did NOT want to cook one night, so I got a rotisserie chicken, put it in the crock pot with the juices, and discarded the evidence). Or what about just how to cook a chicken breast just right, to the point where it’s not going to make you sick but it’s not dry and tasteless, either?

I’m going to cover the major methods of cooking a chicken breast. And because I’m living like a hobo right now (tonight, my kids ate spaghetti from paper bowls with plastic spoons on a towel that was on the floor because we’re squarely stuck between two houses), the lovely Sara was gracious enough to take the pictures for today’s post. But first, regardless of your method, there are a few chicken basics:

1. Defrosting. If you’re using frozen chicken, it’s best to defrost it first. If you’re really on top of it, you can defrost it a few days ahead of time in the refrigerator. I can guarantee you 100% that I am never that on top of things. This leaves the microwave defrost setting or placing it in a Ziploc bag in cool water, changing the water regularly. I prefer the cool water method because I almost always end up accidentally cooking at least part of the chicken in the microwave and unseasoned, microwaved chicken is not good.

1. Rinse the chicken breast in cool water. Especially if you’re buying it non-frozen. Especially if it’s non-frozen with skin and bones. Even if your chicken is well before its expiration date, those liquids it’s sitting in don’t smell good and if you don’t rinse the liquid off, it will affect the flavor of your chicken after it’s been cooked.

2. Pat the chicken dry. Unless you’re poaching the chicken, it’s not a bad idea to dry it off, even if it’s going straight into a marinade. Just grab a few paper towels and blot the water off the chicken.

3. Be safe. This is pretty much a no-brainer, but just in case your mother did not instill the same fear of salmonella in you as mine did in me, I figured I’d do it for her. More so than many other meats, uncooked or undercooked chicken can make you sick. Make sure you’re keeping track of where those chicken juices are going and what you’ve touched. Designate a knife and plastic cutting board that will only be used for cutting up the chicken and then make sure they go straight into the dishwasher. Wash your hands well and often and if you get chicken or chicken juices on the counter, wipe them up right away with something that will kill the germs. If you’re marinating your chicken and want to baste it while it’s cooking, reserve some of the marinade that will never touch the raw chicken instead of using marinade with salmonella germs to baste the chicken.

4. Marinating. I almost always marinate chicken breasts because it’s a great, cheap way to get some flavor into the chicken. You can use anything that has a little bit of acid (not the drug…we’re not that kind of blog…) in it–your favorite salad dressing, lemon, lime, orange juice, etc. One of my favorites is just juice from a few limes, a splash of red wine vinegar, and a few cloves of garlic. It works great on fish, too, but that’s another post.
Generally, you want to marinate chicken in the fridge for 4-8 hours or overnight. If you go for longer than 24 hours, things might start getting a little weird.

Okay, now that we have the basics underway, these are the most popular methods for cooking chicken breasts:

Poaching or Boiling
I have a quick disclaimer about poaching or boiling chicken. I seriously can’t even remember the last time I boiled or poached chicken, even in recipes that call for boiled chicken. I just don’t like it and I don’t like how it makes my kitchen smell afterwards. I think there are methods that are just as easy and so much better, so I just never do it. So if you’re dying to know about the intricacies of boiling chicken, I’m probably not the best person to ask; I would feel dishonest because I don’t feel like, for me at least, that it’s the best way to cook a chicken breast. For those of you who are dying to know the best way to poach a chicken breast, I begrudgingly present you with a great tutorial… 🙂  Just take note that there is a big difference between properly poaching chicken, and just boiling the heck out of it.  One produces moist, tender, flavorful meat, and the other can just make stringy, flavorless, chewy meat.

Fauxtisserie Chicken Breast
So for those of you who like the taste of rotisserie chicken but don’t want to buy a whole chicken or don’t like dark meat, this method is for you. You use the same method as you use for Fauxtisserie Chicken, you just use bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts instead. Just form 3 balls of aluminum foil and place them on the bottom of your slow cooker. Season your chicken breasts as desired (use a salt-based seasoning like seasoning salt, Cajun seasoning, lemon pepper, barbecue seasoning, etc.) and cook, breast-up, on low for 4 hours.

Oven Roasting
Okay, for this one, you can use bone-in or boneless, skinless chicken breasts. Boneless skinless is quick and easy, but bone-in will give you chicken with more flavor and it tends to be juicier.  But they both work great.  If you’re after a particular flavor, marinating is a great way to go. However, if you’re after a more neutral flavor for something like chicken salad or a casserole, rub the chicken with a little extra-virgin olive olive oil

and sprinkle with coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper.

If you want to meet somewhere in the middle, you could go the salt-based seasoning route from the Fauxtisserie Chicken method again–just sprinkle it on there.

Preheat oven to 350.  If you’re using bone-in chicken breasts, place chicken, breast side up, on the baking sheet and roast for about 35-45 minutes (depending on the size it may less or more) or until the juices run clear and, if you’ve somehow magically found a meat thermometer that works (see diatribe here), the internal temperature is 160 degrees.

If you’re using boneless skinless chicken breasts (wow, I feel like I’m using the word “breast” a lot in this post…I hope I’m not attracting the wrong kind of audience from Google!), it will take less time.  Depending on the size, about 20-30 minutes.  Again, the juices running clear and the internal temperature are the best ways to be sure!

Whether you use boneless or bone-in chicken, remove from oven and allow to stand about 5 minutes before serving. This keeps the meat juicy and flavorful (and hey, not burning yourself is a positive side benefit).  You can just toss the skin from the bone-in chicken.

This is hands-down my favorite method. It’s quick and easy and I just think nothing else tastes as good as grilled chicken.
It’s largely the same as roasting, although I pretty much always marinade the chicken and sometimes I use a spice rub as well. But really, once your chicken is seasoned the way you want it, preheat your grill on high for about 10 minutes. If you have a temperature indicator, it will probably be around 450. Place seasoned chicken, on the grill and turn heat down to medium. Cook bone-in chicken breasts for about 8-9 minutes per side and boneless skinless chicken breasts for 7 minutes per side (don’t ask me where this 7 minutes came from, but it has never, ever failed me). Remove from grill and allow to stand 5 minutes before serving.

pictured: Taco Chicken

So are you all excited about chicken breasts now? Here are some of our favorite recipes to practice with:

Taco Chicken
Chicken Pot Pie
Chicken and Dumplings
Chicken Tortilla Soup

Lemon-Herb Zucchini Fettuccine
Teriyaki Chicken Salad Sandwiches
White Chicken Chili
Chili-Lime Mango Chicken Skewers
Asian Cabbage Salad
Thai Peanut Noodle Salad


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Meet The Author

Sara Wells

Sara Wells co-founded Our Best Bites in 2008. She is the author of three Bestselling Cook Books, Best Bites: 150 Family Favorite RecipesSavoring the Seasons with Our Best Bites, and 400 Calories or Less from Our Best Bites. Sara’s work has been featured in many local and national news outlets and publications such as Parenting MagazineBetter Homes & GardensFine CookingThe Rachel Ray Show and the New York Times.

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Questions & Reviews

  1. I’ve been trying a few of your recipes and finding that I may actually enjoy cooking after all! I like to eat chicken, but I hate cooking it, because I feel like it always turns out gross, but I’m so excited to try these new (and easy!) ways. I really want to try the Fauxtisseri, but I just wanted to clarify that you don’t need to put any water or anything in the bottom of the pot, right? I know that’s probably such a dumb question, but I’m quite inept at cooking, (which is why I’m loving these tutorials!)

  2. Thank you! You just saved me from one of my (typical) kitchen disasters: rubbery, over-cooked chicken!

  3. Hi! Thanks for posting these basics for cooking chicken. I need it! I wasn’t sure if the lid should be closed or not when grilling the chicken. I assume it is because you had us preheat the grill. I’m grilling the chicken up right now. Pretty soon I guess I will have my answer!

  4. I posted over on “Fauxtisserie Chicken” but feel like I need to chime in here, too: the crockpot method makes a PERFECT chicken breast. The meat is tender and juicy, with no toughness like I get with boiling, and no overcooking like I get in the oven. I’ve done a breast once a week for a month, keeping meat for whatever and making broth from the remains (add water, an onion, and a celery stalk to the bones/skin and cook on low overnight). DELICIOUS every time. I let it go 4.5 hours in my crock pot, which seems just about perfect for mine. I will add this to my “perpetual rotation” recipes.


  5. Thank you, Sara for your reply, and for the corrections: I'm going to try it again, this time using the new instructions.
    You might be interested to know that the OLD instructions are still floating around out there – so far I've found them at,, and I don't know if you're in any kind of position to do anything about that, but, anyhoo…
    I'll leave another message to let you know how my next attempt went.

  6. john_d_corr- the juices shouldn't burn so I'm not sure what's going on there! You may have some residue on your pan, or did you use a seasoning mix that might have some other ingredients that don't stand up to the oven heat? Just olive oil salt and pepper wouldn't cause any sort of burning.

    As for the cooking time- I actually think there were some typos in the post! It does take longer than that- especially if you have large pieces of meat. I've changed the instructions just a bit to be cooked longer at a slightly lower temperature. That should help both of your issues. Sorry!

  7. I followed your directions for roasting boneless skinless chicken breasts, and ran into two major difficulties:

    1. My kitchen filled with smoke from the burning chicken juices on the foil every time I opened the oven door, and I had to open it numerous times, because

    2. It took longer to cook than 7 minutes, flip, 7 minutes. It actually took 7 minutes, flip, 7 minutes, flip, 5 minutes, flip, 5 minutes, flip, 5 minutes for the juices to stop running red.

    Am I missing something here? What am I doing wrong?

  8. I just used your directions for oven roasting, adding a little garlic powder for good measure and my husband was absolutely raving about it.

    I've always had a hard time getting my chicken cooked all the way through before getting dry and now I realize why – I was cooking it on way too low a temperature! Thanks for this post!

  9. When I need cooked chicken for a recipe (like your fab taquitos), I use a simple method that turns out great. I used to cook them in the oven but this is faster and easier, and the chicken comes out very moist.

    Heat some chicken broth over medium heat in a saute pan big enough to accommodate all the chicken with room to spare. Wash and trim the chicken breasts; cut into 1-inch cubes. Put cubes in broth; the broth should completely cover the chicken. If it doesn't, add more broth. Cook over medium heat until done, stirring occasionally (don't turn up the heat and allow the broth boil, as that will make the chicken tough). Scoop out chicken with a slotted spoon.

    If I need shredded or finely chopped chicken, I throw the chicken in a bowl and use this to chop it:

    This is a great tool that I use all the time for quick chopping that doesn't need to be "pretty".

  10. I have serious issues making chicken and hate having to do the 45 min in the oven so thank you so much! Made the oven roasted just as you explained and it was super yummy. Is it possible to do a breaded chicken this way as well or would it burn the "breading"? Also wondering if I'm baking it in a glass dish with the oil, do I still need the foil? Not certain if the purpose of that is to increase the heat or help it not stick. Thanks!

  11. Thank you, thank you, thank you! I remember you telling me once that you never boiled chicken and I have forever been perplexed as to what you actually DID do. I guess I could have just asked you… oh well. Either way, now I know! And I owe it all to you. You're awesome.

  12. Just wanted to stop by and tell you that I'm sharing a few of your recipes on my blog this week. I love finding good recipes, and then tweaking them a bit to fit our family better, then sharing them with others. I think a good recipe should be shared. Tomorrow I'm posting about the honey chicken salad. (FABULOUS!) Then later in the week, the coconut chicken and the baked taquitos. Thanks for giving me some new recipes! And of course, I've given you credit by linking to you!

  13. It is so helpful to go over the basics. Thanks. I like your rotisserie method in the crock pot.

  14. I was wondering if you had a fantastic oatmeal raisin cookie recipe.
    They're my husbands FAVOURITE and it would mean SO MUCH to have a 'tried and true' recipe to have forever and make him whenever he wants.
    My email address is [email protected]

  15. Hey, thanks! That was a very informative and helpful post. I'm one of those whose mother scared the heck out of her, (about chicken and salmonella)which lead to me cooking the heck out of my chicken. This lead my children to believe they do not like chicken. I'm getting better and they're starting to believe chicken can be tasty and not tough.

  16. Oh my goodness! I had chicken thawing this morning and wasn't sure what I was going to do with it for dinner tonight! I cooked it in the oven and it was PERFECT! Not dry at all. This post was very informative! Thanks so much for sharing such simple "fool proof" steps! 🙂

  17. What a great post! Very very helpful. Thank you so much.

    Now I'm craving chicken!

  18. i rarely cook chicken because i am so afraid of it. i dont have any sort of mental disorder, unless raw chicken is involved. i am an absolute freak about chicken. i dont know where i got it from either. my mother taught me to be practical about it. wash up and use some sort of antibacterial just to be safe. if i make chicken i have to wear rubber gloves, and even then i have to wash my hands and arms and used about 10 Clorox wipes on the counter, and faucet! i wont even order a dish at a restaurant if it has chicken in it, because im so scared that it will be under cooked (and i dont usually like the quality of commercial chicken)! the funny thing is…i make perfect chicken every time!

    1. I am the very same way. Good to know I’m not the only one LOL. But hey, at least the chicken is perfect each time right!

  19. Thanks for this post! Great info to have. This is exactly the problem I have when I want to cook my pot pie, or creamed chicken or other such dishes with leftover chicken when I don't have leftover chicken. And I defrost and bake chicken breasts, and never do it well, so I'm so bookmarking this!

  20. SWEET!!! I don't know why, but I just struggle with how to cook chicken. I'm bookmarking this post! And I am looking forward to trying the Fauxtisserie chicken – yum!

    Thanks for the info!

  21. Great info!! I always have the hardest time with chicken. And I am so, so excited about the Fauxtisserie chicken breasts. I wanted to try your Fauxtisserie chicken but my slow cooker is too small for a whole chicken. So I'm way excited. Thanks!

  22. I've been buying a couple whole chickens when they go on sale ($.98 or less a pound) and freezing them. Then I pull one out and do fauxtisserie chicken in my crockpot and either freeze packets of shredded chicken or start making meals right away. Last week I used some to make the Baked taquitos and froze them for later (tonight actually). I liked the frozen ones because they weren't trying to unroll when I put them on the baking sheet.

  23. Thanks for this post! I'm always overcooking my chicken because I'm afraid of getting sick. I'm going to have to try your slow cooker method. Looks easy, tender and flavorful.