The Secret to Perfectly Grilled Chicken Breasts

The Secret to Perfectly Grilled Chicken Breasts

Perfectly Grilled Chicken Breasts

This post contributed by Jennifer Segal, the chef behind the popular food blog, Once Upon a Chef.

For all their popularity, grilled boneless, skinless chicken breasts often come out dry and bland -- but they don't have to! This foolproof recipe ensures tender and tasty chicken every time. The best part? You can do all of the prep ahead of time and you won't even dirty a single bowl.

Begin by pounding the fillets to an even 1/2-inch thickness. This both tenderizes the meat and ensures even cooking.

Next, steep the chicken breasts for at least four hours in a flavorful homemade marinade of olive oil, lots of fresh garlic, dried herbs and lemon zest. Note that I don't use an acidic ingredient, such as lemon juice or vinegar, because it can make boneless, skinless chicken breasts a bit leathery. Instead, lemon zest gives the meat just the right amount of tangy flavor without affecting its texture.

Finally, preheat your grill to high heat. You want nice grill marks and char in the short amount of time it takes to cook these. When pounded thin, they only need 2-3 minutes per side.

Serve these tender chicken breasts on their own (kids love them), topped with cheese on a toasted bun, chopped up in a quesadilla or sliced over a Greek or Caesar salad. Enjoy!

Perfectly Grilled Chicken Breasts

Serves 4


4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 1¾ pounds)

6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

4 large garlic cloves, minced

1 teaspoon dried thyme

½ teaspoon dried oregano

1¼ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon pepper

1½ teaspoons lemon zest, from one lemon


  1. Place chicken breasts between 2 pieces of wax paper or in Ziplock freezer bag. Using a meat mallet, pound to an even ½-inch thickness.
  1. Mix olive oil, garlic, thyme, oregano, salt, pepper and lemon zest together in a 1 gallon zip-lock bag. Add chicken breasts to bag and rub marinade into meat until evenly coated. Seal the bag and place in a bowl in the refrigerator to protect against leakage; marinate at least 4 hours or up to 12 hours.
  1. Clean grill and preheat to high. Spray the grates with non-flammable cooking  spray. (Alternatively, you can lightly dip a wad of paper towels in vegetable oil and, using tongs, carefully rub over grates several times until glossy and coated.) Place chicken breasts on the grill and spoon any remaining marinade over top. Grill, covered, for 2-3 minutes per side.

To zest the lemon,  rub in one direction against the blades of a microplane grater, turning the lemon as you go. Be sure to remove only the top yellow part; the white pith underneath is bitter.

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