Grilled chicken really is the little black dress of your meal planning repertoire. You can eat it on its own, make salads with it, chop it up and throw it in some cooked pasta, soups, fajitas, wraps, sandwiches, appetizers, even breakfast burritos. The only dish I haven’t been able to fit grilled chicken into is dessert, but I’m sure it’s been done SOMEWHERE.
But the problem with grilled chicken, especially boneless and skinless breasts is that it is often over cooked. The end result is tough and dry and not worth doing much more with than chopping up and smothering with mayonnaise for chicken salad. Poor boneless and skinless chicken breasts; they removed all your fat and bones to make you healthier and easier to cook, but left you an outdoor grilling pariah. My litmus test for any really good BBQ joint is how well they can do their chicken; it’s a bitch to get right.
But the fix to this is so easy you’ll wonder why you haven’t been doing it all along. I know I did. The solution to leathery, dry grilled chicken breasts (or any grilled chicken) is brining. Here’s how:
1. BRINE: Take two tablespoons of kosher salt (not table salt) and add to about a quart of warm water in a glass or stainless steel bowl. Stir to dissolve the salt. Add whatever flavoring you would like your chicken to have to the brine (just make sure it’s salt free). I am using an Italian Herbs blend from Penzeys. You could add fresh herbs, lemon zest, a little white wine, whatever floats your boat.
Add your chicken breasts to the brine, making sure they are all submerged, cover the bowl with Saran Wrap, and place the bowl in the refrigerator. Chill for ONE hour. Be sure to note the time because you do not want your chicken breasts to become too salty by being left in the brine too long.
2. GRILL: After an hour, remove the chicken from the brine and discard brine. Do not rinse chicken, but simply allow them to drip dry over the bowl as you pull them out then place them on a platter. Preheat ONE HALF of your grill on high and leave the other half off. When at temperature (about 400 degrees), place your chicken breasts on the hot side of the grill and allow to sear for approximately 4-5 minutes. Flip breasts over and sear the other side for the same time. After searing, move the chicken to the unheated side of the grill, close the lid, and allow the chicken to cook from the residual heat for another 5-15 minutes. Total time should be around 20-25 minutes. Test for doneness by taking a quick peek inside one of the breasts with a knife, or use a thermometer (160 degrees).
3. REST: Take chicken off the grill, place on clean plate/platter, and cover with tin foil to allow to REST for about 10 minutes. This is important! This allows all the juices in the meat to redistribute and not run out if you immediately cut into the meat. I like to cook up a whole package of breasts at a time and graze off them all week and they are juicy and flavorful all week long. I leave them whole until I’m ready to use them for whatever.
After I’ve started doing this, I will never, ever grill chicken the same again. Even if you are grilling bone-in, skin-on breasts, give them a little time in a brine, they’ll thank you for it and so will your friends and family!