How to make your boneless chicken breast less boring

Chicken breast

This article was originally published in the Fall 2015 issue of Cottage Life magazine.

Like a celebrity worshipped by millions despite an acknowledged lack of talent, the boneless, skinless chicken breast easily wins the Most Popular Poultry Award on cottage grills. But even with its non-threatening good looks, everyone knows a grilled B-S breast can be boring, flavourless, and dry. Let’s fix all these flaws.

Change the shape

Chicken breasts dry out on the grill because someone overcooked them, which is easy to do because their fat teardrop shape makes it impossible to cook one part properly without ruining the other. Brines are trendy and can make breasts “juicier” by adding water content, but a brine can’t overcome the breast’s odd shape. So, if you can’t work with the shape, why not change it? Start by looking for the tenderloin, that cute little morsel on the inside of the breast. If it’s still there, remove it (save it for chicken fingers or cook as a chef’s treat). Thinner breasts can be gently pounded with a meat mallet or the bottom of a heavy pot to even them out, but resist the urge to pulverize the flesh into mush. Thicker breasts should be either sliced in half or butterflied, and then pounded—gently.

Fix the flavour

Wet marinades are fun and easy, but most of the flavour gets left behind in the plastic bag or burned off on the grill. More importantly, wet meat won’t brown properly, which really hurts in the flavour (and looks) department. A better way to pump up the flavour is to give the flattened breasts a very light coating of oil and a liberal dusting of dry spice rub. If you make your own rubs, instead of buying them, you can control the salt content. Refrigerate the seasoned breasts for an hour or two before cooking.

Cook it right

We are terrified of undercooked chicken, so guess what happens? Cardboard! To prevent fear-induced overcooking, grab an accurate meat thermometer and grill breasts over direct medium-high heat, flipping often, until the thickest part of the breast reaches 140°F (60°C). It won’t take long. Apply any sauces or glazes at this point, then continue cooking, using indirect heat now, until the chicken registers 160°F (71°C) at the thickest part. Remove breasts from the grill and let rest, loosely tented under foil, for about 5 minutes. They’ll come up to an internal temperature of about 165°F (74°C) and any bacterial bogeymen will have been destroyed. Job done. The B-S breasts are delicious and you have avoided the dual spectres of both undercooked and dried-out poultry.