How to Prepare a Perfectly Baked Chicken Breast in 6 Simple Steps
Master the steps to cooking this healthy source of lean protein: boneless, skinless chicken breasts!
Chicken is one of the most popular types of poultry, and boneless, skinless chicken breasts are one of the main staples of a healthy diet. Chicken breasts, unlike chicken thighs or legs, are arguably the healthiest option of the whole chicken, since dark meat from the legs and thighs contain more cholesterol and more saturated fat. Whenever possible, it’s also best to reach for boneless chicken without the skin—because it’s healthier and easier to work with, too!
If you’re brand new to the kitchen or just starting out as a home cook, we promise these simple steps will have you conquering juicy chicken breasts with ease. Learning how to bake perfect chicken breasts doesn’t have to be hard. When seasoned and baked properly, chicken breast can be a flavorful, juicy, and delicious way to add lean protein to any meal—and today, we’ll show you the easiest way to get the best results. Let’s get cooking!
Defrost Your Chicken (If Necessary)
If you aren’t working with a fresh chicken breast, the first step is to defrost it. The best way to defrost any meat is overnight in the fridge. Why? Well, the cold temperatures of the fridge keep the meat safe from bacteria that thrives at higher temperatures, and you don’t risk the rubbery texture that can come from defrosting meat in the microwave. To defrost in the fridge, place the chicken on a plate and keep it wrapped, or covered in plastic wrap.
If you’re running low on time or forgot to plan ahead, you can also defrost the chicken by submerging it in cold water—not warm—in the sink. Just make sure you change out the water every 20-30 minutes to make sure it stays cold.
As a very last resort, you can microwave defrost your chicken breast by using the defrost setting on your microwave or by microwaving it at 20-30% for 1-2 minutes at a time, until defrosted. Using the microwave to defrost frozen meat can be tempting due to its quickness, but it has the ability to affect the texture of your chicken—yuck! For this reason, we really recommend the cold water method as a back-up.
Preheat the Oven
The best chicken recipes are ones that use the oven, because it’s one of the healthiest ways to prepare meat, and the method almost always guarantees to produce juicy and flavorful chicken. For this method, we recommend baking your chicken breasts at 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
Bonus: baking chicken breasts in the oven doesn’t require babysitting. No flipping or turning. Just pop it in the oven and forget it—just kidding, we didn’t mean that. Be careful to not cook the chicken at an overly high temperature, as the high heat can result in dry chicken. It may be tempting to spike up the degrees in the oven to cut down on cook time, but we promise it’s not worth it.
Season the Chicken
Before we jump into seasoning the chicken breast, let’s talk about doing a quick brine on the meat first—say what? Let us explain. To start, raise your hand if you like dry chicken! Yup, that’s what we thought. We don’t either. A brine on your chicken breast is another surefire way to serve up juicy and tender poultry, and make sure every piece of chicken is a winner. To brine your chicken, all you need is a small bowl, water, and kosher salt. A classic brine is simple, and it really doesn’t take a long time.
How to Brine Your Chicken Breasts:
- Dump ¼ cup of kosher salt into 4 cups of lukewarm warm.
- Stir until the salt fully dissolves.
- Next, submerge the chicken breasts into the salt-water mixture, cover, and let sit in the refrigerator for 15-30 minutes (which is most likely the amount of time your oven needs to preheat). The salt helps the chicken absorb extra moisture, so it doesn’t dry out from the high heat of the oven when cooking.
- Remove the chicken breasts from the mixture and pat the skin dry. Be sure to remove as much of the excess fat from the chicken breast to make it even healthier.
- Add your seasonings to the chicken to create different flavors. For seasoning inspo, keep reading.
Note: brining your chicken is completely optional. If you choose to skip this step, try coating the raw chicken breast in olive oil for a little added moisture.
In most easy chicken recipes, seasoning suggestions usually go as far as salt, pepper, and maaaybe a little garlic powder and onion powder. Boring, right? You and your high-quality chicken breasts deserve better, so get ready to channel your favorite cuisines with the herbs, seasonings and flavors you have right in your spice cabinet. Not sure where to start? Don’t worry, we’ve got you! Here’s a few of our favorite combos.
Italian-Inspired: drizzle olive oil + dried oregano + basil + garlic powder + onion powder + parmesan cheese.
Mexican-Inspired: cumin + chili powder + salt + cayenne pepper + a squirt of lime juice.
Chinese-Inspired: soy sauce or peanut oil + fennel seed + cinnamon + ginger powder + garlic powder + a little chili powder.
Mediterranean-Inspired: drizzle olive oil + rosemary + bay leaves + thyme + coriander + basil. Did you know thyme has 3x more vitamin C than oranges?
Thai-Inspired: basil + cumin + garlic powder + ginger powder + turmeric + curry powder.
Wild-card: brown sugar + garlic (just trust us on this one).
Which will you try first? The Italian seasoning blend or the brown sugar and garlic combo—or both? We don’t judge.
Place chicken breasts on an ungreased, oven-safe baking dish, and bake in the oven preheated to 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes, depending on the thickness of your chicken breast. Note: You’ll need to add a bit more time for bone-in chicken breasts. And, don’t forget: the larger the chicken breast, the more time it will need in the oven. Makes sense, right? But something that may not be so obvious is the fact that you can change the thickness of your chicken breast. How? By pounding it down with a meat tenderizer or mallet! Your goal when cooking multiple chicken breasts is to try and make sure the thickness is standard across all the breasts to ensure that they cook at an even rate and prevent leathery, dry chicken. If one seems to be thicker than another, try smacking it with your meat tenderizer to help with cooking—it might even be a quick stress relief, too! We would never officially recommend this, but a hammer covered in plastic wrap can also do the trick if you’re fresh out of meat tenderizers. Just go easy on the poor, little chicky.
Test the Temperature
A lot of cooks swear they can tell when chicken is cooked by texture or appearance, but we believe you can only know your chicken is fully-cooked by finding its internal temperature with an instant-read thermometer for meat—because who wants to gamble with food poisoning? Not us.
Chicken is considered done when its internal temperature reaches 165 degrees (note: you should always check the meat’s internal temperature at its thickest part.), but we recommend that you take your chicken out of the oven at about 160 degrees. Why? Well, the next step (see below) is to let the chicken rest. And during that resting time, the chicken will continue to cook because it’s still at a high temperature from the oven. If you continue to cook until 165° in the oven, the chicken will overcook during the resting time.
Remove and Rest
If the chicken breast is done, pull it out, and let it rest for at least five minutes before serving. This resting time allows all the juices to redistribute throughout the breast. That way, when you cut into the breast, the juices stay in the meat instead of making a puddle on your plate. If you remove the chicken from the oven at 160°, go ahead and cover the chicken with aluminum foil to keep the heat in while it rests.
Serve immediately with a side of your favorite veggie, or, if you prefer, you can slice the chicken, let it cool and stash in the fridge for an addition to lunchtime salads.
Ta-da! That’s it—you have made a perfectly juicy oven baked chicken breast with little-to-no sweat. See, we told you this was an easy chicken recipe! Enjoy!