Baked chicken breast is delicious and very easy to make. Cooked perfectly, it’s moist, flavorful and juicy. All too often though chicken breasts are overcooked to the point where they become rubbery, dry and chewy. Granted, overcooking delicate white chicken meat is very easy if you are not careful enough. Below are some of my favorite baked chicken breast recipes and tips for how to bake chicken breast so that it’s perfectly cooked every time.
Baking is said to be the easiest method for cooking chicken and always produces excellent results. Let me add that this is true as long as you don’t overcook it. Cook chicken breast to the USDA recommended minimum safe internal temperature of 165F. If the temperature rises way above 165F, nothing will help. While brining, marinating, dry poaching or adding chicken stock may give you a wider margin of error, they will not save the chicken if you overcook it.
The trick to hitting 165F spot on
For optimal results, some recommend cooking the chicken to 160F and letting it rest for 5 minutes the internal temperature rises to 165F.
My tests show that in most cases the temperature rises by only about 5 degrees. To make sure I always hit 165F, I personally target the temperature of 160F before pulling the baked chicken breasts out and letting them rest for 5 minutes.
A thermometer is your friend
Use an accurate instant read thermometer. Baking a perfect chicken breast meat is not art, it’s science. This is an absolutely good thing as this means you have full control over how the final product will turn out. Start checking the temperature about 5-10 minutes before the recipe says it should be done. Pull as soon as the internal temperature in the thickest part of the chicken hits 165F.
A BBQ thermometer is even better
Better yet, use a programmable thermometer with a stainless steel probe like the ThermoPro TP08 BBQ Thermometer. Insert the probe into the thickest part of the chicken breast and the thermometer will alarm you when the chicken breast hits the desired temperature.
Baking temperature matters
Go easy on the oven temperature. Don’t get me wrong, you can bake a perfect chicken breast in the 450F hot oven, I’ve seen a number of recipes recommending that. The much easier approach is to bake ‘low and slow’. Why low heat? Because the lower the heat the harder it is to overcook the meat and catch the moment when it is cooked just perfectly. Toward the end of cooking internal temperature of the meat increases very rapidly. It may go from 155F to 185F in a matter of a few minutes if the oven is hot enough.
Now, we don’t want to go too low in the interest of time. After a few experiments I settled on 325F as the optimal cooking temperature for baking skinless chicken breast. Bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts can be cooked at higher temperatures, such as 375F. Check out my 12 Best Bone-In Chicken Breast Recipes post for some ideas.
No mixing and matching
Different chicken parts require different cooking times. Baking chicken breast pieces separately from other chicken parts is the easiest way to get a perfectly cooked breast.
To brine or not to brine
Brine the meat. Brine is a solution of water and salt with seasonings added for more flavor. Soaking chicken breast in brine will help achieve a more flavorful, moister and juicier product. You will need 2 to 4 hours to brine chicken breasts, but it will be absolutely worth it.
Marinate to tenderize and flavorize
If you have enough time at your disposal you can marinate your chicken breasts before baking. Some say even 15 minutes of marination will make a noticeable difference. My personal preference is to marinate for at least a couple of hours and as long as 12 to 24 hours. Longer marination will blow your mind with intense, deep and complex flavors, and tender and juicy meat. I like to whip up the marinade in the morning and let the meat marinate during the day, and then cook it in the evening for dinner.
Here is a fantastic Chicken Thigh Marinade Recipe that works equally well on baked chicken breasts.
- 4 bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts
- 2 Tbsp olive oil
- 1 Tbsp sesame oil
- 4 Tbsp low sodium soy sauce
- 1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
- 2 Tbsp lemon or lime juice
- 5 Tbsp honey or maple syrup
- 6 cloves of garlic, minced
- ½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tsp kosher salt (plus more to taste)
- Mix all ingredients for the marinade together in a Ziplock bag. Add the chicken breasts and shake well. Seal the bag and marinate in a fridge for at least 2 hours and up 12-24 hours.
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
- After marinating, place chicken breasts along with the marinade in a deep baking dish. Then bake at 375F for about 35-45 minutes, basting the meat in own juices at around 25 minutes. The chicken is done when the internal temperature reaches 165F.
- Let the chicken rest 5 minutes before serving to let it reabsorb some of the liquid it lost during baking.
Dry poaching magic
When you don’t have the time for brining or marinating, or you are out of chicken stock, try the super simple ‘dry poaching’ method. Just before putting the chicken breasts in the oven, cover the baking dish with a piece of parchment paper or aluminum foil. The paper will keep the moisture inside the baking dish which will protect the chicken from drying out. This method is a hybrid of braising and roasting. The chicken bastes in its own juices, resulting in more tender and juicy chicken breasts.
Joy of Cooking: All About Chicken describes a similar method, in French called ‘en papillote’. In this method chicken breasts are cut in halves, stuffed, then wrapped in parchment paper envelopes and baked on baking sheets. This method is said to result in very moist and tender meat.
Liquids and butter make for a juicy breast
Baking chicken breast with a little bit of chicken stock and butter added to the baking dish is a good alternative to brining and marinating when you are short on time. As a matter of fact, the meat comes out so juicy and buttery tender using this method in my baked chicken breast recipe that it may very well become your favorite.
Here is a short version of the recipe:
- 4 skinless, boneless chicken breasts
- 1/2 tsp kosher salt
- 1/2 tsp cane sugar
- 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
- 2 tsp paprika
- 2 tsp vegetable or olive oil
- 1/2 stick unsalted butter, sliced into 8 thin pats
- 1/2 cup chicken broth
- Preheat oven to 325F.
- Rub chicken breasts with oil, then apply the dry rub consisting of salt, sugar, cayenne pepper and paprika.
- Place the chicken breasts in a baking dish. Stick butter pats to the sides of the dish. Gently pour in chicken broth so as not to wash off the rub.
- Bake at 325F uncovered for about 60 minutes. The chicken is done when its internal temperature reaches 165F. For better browning and to prevent tops from drying out, baste the chicken breasts in pan juices 30-40 minutes into baking.
- Remove from the oven, let rest for 5 minutes and serve immediately.
Wrap your chicken breasts in bacon. Bacon makes the ordinary chicken breast dish an extraordinary one. The bacon adds complex, smoky flavor and helps keep the chicken breast pieces moist and juicy.
Bone-in, skin-on for juiciness
If possible, use bone-in chicken breast. No, the bone does not make the meat any more flavorful. Seriouseats.com came to the conclusion that there is absolutely no flavor exchange between the meat and the bone. They did find, though, that the bone in the meat “insulates the meat, slowing its cooking, and providing less surface area to lose moisture.” So, there you go. Bone-in is better then boneless.
The skin on the chicken breast protects the meat from drying out. On the other hand, baked chicken skin is rubbery and doesn’t taste that great. To make the skin taste better, crisp it up by switching to broil in the last 3-5 minutes of baking. If you plan on removing the skin before serving, make sure to brine or marinate the meat. Alternatively, loosen the skin and rub seasonings underneath it. If you only season the surface and then remove the skin, the meat underneath will be bland and tasteless.
To keep the top part of the meat moist, baste the chicken with pan juices and turn the pieces over once or twice during the bake.
Rest time is crucial
Let the chicken breast rest after cooking. During the rest meat fibers will reabsorb some of the moisture they lost while cooking. If you cut the meat immediately, the juices will quickly run off and make the meat drier. Five minutes of rest is enough.
Good meat makes good dish
Buy the right chicken breast meat. Some chicken breast meat, no matter what you do, will invariably turn out tough and chewy. It’s just the way it is. My guess is it depends on the breed and how chickens are raised. Organic does not mean buttery tender. The solution is to experiment and pick the meat that works.