If there’s one lunch-and-dinner staple that never goes out of style, it’s chicken breast.
Not only is it an awesome source of protein, but chicken breast is extremely lean as well, which is great for managing your calorie intake.
The problem, though, is it’s not very exciting.
Recipes help, of course, but they can be a hassle, too.
Fortunately, there’s a solution: learn to cook a really good chicken breast and you’ll be amazed at how delicious it can really be.
You see, the reason most people think of chicken breast as dry, bland hunks of rubberized meat is they don’t know how to prepare and cook it properly.
If you’re one of those people, this article is going to change all that.
By the end, you’re going to know how to make the best chicken breast you’ve ever had. I promise.
So let’s get started.
How to Select Good Chicken
I like boneless and skinless chicken since it requires less preparation.
Chicken thighs and legs can be tasty but they’re also quite fattier, which can make them them less “diet-friendly.”
In terms of free-range, organic, or antibiotic-free options, I opt for free-range if it’s available and prefer that the chickens weren’t treated with antibiotics for reasons discussed here.
I normally get a big package of four to six breasts so I can have some leftovers (this is great for meal prepping as well).
When you are choosing a package of chicken, ensure that:
1. There is NOT a lot of liquid in the package.
It’s okay if there is a bit of moisture on the chicken but you don’t want to see more liquid than that.
2. The chicken breasts are evenly colored.
If you see dark pink around the edges, it’s most likely from freezer burn. You can trim it off, but I like to stay away from it altogether.
Both of these things are signs that the meat was frozen and thawed out multiple times, which makes for rubbery and chewy chicken.
I probably don’t have to say this but if, after opening the package, the chicken smells bad–similar to rotten eggs–then you should throw it out. It’s spoiled.
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How to Prep Chicken
When you know how to cook chicken breast well, just salt and pepper can be enough to make for some tasty eating.
That can get boring, though, so we’ll go over some more interesting seasoning options in a minute.
Let’s first talk about how to properly clean, weigh, and trim chicken before you cook it.
You don’t have to rinse your chicken before cooking it because the high temperatures will kill any bacteria.
That said, I like to rise chicken in cold tap water after opening the package and then dry it with clean paper towels.
When you’re done, clean your sink and the surrounding area to prevent cross contamination.
The goal here is simple:
Take our chicken breast from one piece of uneven thickness to 3 pieces that are roughly the same thickness. And we will do it in 2 cuts.
To do it, you will need a sharp chef’s knife, a plastic or composite (non-wood) cutting board, and a baking pan.
I like to use a non-wood cutting board to make cleanup easier since you can put a plastic or composite cutting board in the dishwasher (which damages wood boards).
I also line my baking pan with foil to make cleanup fast and easy.
Here’s how to cut the breast into cutlets:
Once your chicken is ready to cook, weigh it raw for meal planning purposes.
For example, if you need to cook a pound of chicken for four meals, you would first weigh out 454 grams raw, cook it all together, and then divide it into four (relatively) equal portions of about 114 grams.
How to Cook the Best Chicken
You can grill and saute chicken, but if you want to go with the easiest and fastest method to make moist, delicious meals, then you want to bake it.
Here’s how to do it:
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F or 175 degrees C.
2. Lightly coat the chicken cutlets with extra virgin olive oil.
The oil will help the seasoning to stick to the chicken while preventing the chicken from sticking to the pan. 1 to 2 tablespoons should do it.
3. Season it.
I make a point to not over-season when making a large amount of chicken so I have “room” to add other seasonings depending on the dishes I will be making.
A good “base” is simply salt, black pepper, and garlic powder, but others that work well are Italian, Greek, lemon pepper, barbecue, garlic pepper, mojo, and adobo.
Be sure to season both sides of the chicken.
4. Bake it.
Arrange the chicken on the tray so that it’s one layer and the pieces are not stacked on each other.
Bake for 12 minutes, flip over each of the cutlets, and rearrange the pieces so those that were on the outside are now on the inside and vice versa.
This helps everything cook evenly.
Place the try back in the oven for another 12 to 15 minutes.
You know it’s done when it reaches 150 degrees F (65 degrees C) or, when you cut it open, the meat is white and not pink and the juices run clear.
5. Let it cool.
Once the meat is done, take the tray out of the oven and let it cool for 2 to 4 minutes before eating.
This will make for juicier chicken than if you simply ate it right away.
How to Store Cooked Chicken
The absolute best way to store the chicken is using a vacuum sealer.
This allows you to remove the excess air from around the chicken, which slows down the oxidation process and helps prevent spoiling.
When vacuum sealed, cooked chicken should last about 10 to 14 days in the refrigerator.
You have other options as well:
- Plastic wrap or aluminum foil.
- Quart-sized, ziptop freezer bags.
- Sealable containers (i.e. Tupperware)
I prefer plastic wrap, aluminum foil, or plastic bags because they allow you to get rid of a fair amount of the air surrounding the chicken, which accelerates aging.
Generally speaking, cooked chicken should last about 7 days in the fridge.
How to Reheat Chicken
If you don’t reheat it correctly, chicken breast is a chore to eat. It’s dry, tough, and chewy.
Well, when you cooked something in the oven, the best way to reheat it is…in the oven.
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F, pop your cooked chicken in for about 15 minutes, and you’ll be set.
If you don’t have an oven or have the time to re-bake it, you can use the microwave.
It’s not ideal, but you can help keep it moist by drizzling some water on top. This way the steam that is produced while it’s cooking is drawn from this surface liquid, not liquid in the meat itself.
If you don’t mind the calories, drizzle some oil on as well.
In terms of cook time, cook the chicken for 45 to 60 seconds, take it out and mix it up, and then cook for another 45 to 60 seconds.
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The Bottom Line on How to Cook Chicken
Everyone knows that chicken is a great source of lean protein, but not everyone knows how good it can be when it’s well prepared.
Here’s what makes all the difference in chicken prep:
- Avoid chicken that has symptoms of freezer burn.
- Trim and cut your chicken properly.
- Bake it for consistently moist, delicious meals.
- Store it with as little air surrounding it as possible.
- Reheat it the right way.
Do all that and I promise that your chicken lunches and dinners will never be the same.