I’ve heard about people marinating chicken in Italian dressing but have never actually tried it myself. Not until today. I am very glad I did, because my Italian dressing chicken turned out crazy good. It’s out-of-this-world delicious, yet so easy to make.
To make your chicken taste really special and richly flavored you need to marinate it in the dressing. Simply dumping a bottle of salad dressing over chicken and baking won’t do. I’ve done a number of experiments and the best results I got was when I marinated the chicken overnight and up to 24 hours. I read somewhere that even a 15-minute marination makes a difference but that’s not what my experience has been.
The reason why Italian dressing works as a marinade is not coincidental. It consists of fat, vinegar, salt, sugar and seasonings in the proportions that a typical marinade calls for – usually 3 parts oil/fat, 1 part acidic component, plus seasonings. The dressing I was using is fairly low sodium so I added some salt.
To make your Italian dressing chicken really good you need to do the following:
Pick the right chicken meat
Skinless, boneless chicken breasts are the best for this recipe. You’ve probably noticed that some chicken breast meat just comes out tougher no matter how carefully you cook it. So, pick a brand that you like and that you’ve had good results with.
Marinate sufficiently long
As I mentioned above, you have to marinate the chicken for at least overnight. If you plan on cooking the chicken in the evening, start marinating the night before. All it takes is 3 minutes to drop 4 chicken breasts and a cup of Italian dressing plus some salt in a Ziploc bag.
Bake, and bake at 325F
The best way to cook Italian dressing chicken is to bake it in the oven. This way you can cook your chicken in the marinade which will keep the meat moist. Another benefit of baking is that it allows you to get the juiciest breast you can get. At least that’s my experience. I love grilling, smoking and pan-frying chicken breasts, and each cooking method has its own pros and cons. But for me the most succulent chicken breast always comes out of the oven.
For skinless, boneless chicken breast I find that the temperature of 325F works the best. As I wrote in the Tender and Moist Baked Chicken Breast post, anything higher than 325F results in increased noticeable dryness of the meat. While cooking at lower than 325F provides no noticeable benefit at the expense of longer cooking time.
Use a BBQ thermometer
I’ve had so much success with using my outdoor BBQ thermometer in the kitchen oven that I now use it all the time. I like how I can set the desired target temperature and the thermometer will alert me when the food is done. No need to keep checking the temperature over and over, no over-cooked food, no stress.
If you are looking to buy a good BBQ thermometer, look into getting a ThermoPro TP07 single probe or the ThermoPro TP08 dual probe thermometer. They are excellent for kitchen use and are not nearly as expensive as the high-temperature grilling BBQ thermometers.
Cook to the optimal Temperature
To get the ultimate juiciness and tenderness, you need to hit the internal temperature of 165F. Anything higher is not necessary and will only be making the meat lose more moisture and dry out. That’s why many recipes nowadays call for pulling chicken breasts out of the oven as soon as they hit 160F and letting them rest for 5 minutes.
During this rest period the temperature will rise to 165F, recommended by USDA, and the meat will re-absorb some of the moisture it has lost during cooking. I did some experimenting and found that large pieces of meat, like turkey breasts need to be pulled at 162F to reach 165F within the rest period. Smaller pieces of meat, like chicken breasts can be safely pulled out of the oven at 160F. They must remain in the hot baking dish to reach 165F.
That’s all there is to it. Just pick good quality chicken breast meat, marinate, bake to 16oF internal at 325F, let rest for 5 minutes, and enjoy.
- 4 skinless, boneless chicken breasts
- 1 cup Italian dressing
- 2 tsp kosher salt
- 6-8 fresh basil leaves
- Place the chicken breasts in a Ziploc bag, add the Italian dressing, salt and shake very well. Expel as much air from the bag as possible and seal. If you own a vacuum sealer, an even better approach would be to vacuum seal the chicken with the marinade. Marinate in a fridge overnight and up to 24 hours.
- Preheat oven to 350F.
- Dump the chicken breasts and the marinade into a deep baking dish. Insert a BBQ thermometer probe into the thickest part of the largest chicken breast. Bake until the internal meat temperature reaches 160F.
- Remove the baking dish with the chicken from the oven. Let the chicken rest for 5 minutes before serving.
- Garnish with fresh basil leaves and serve.