How to Grill Perfect Skinless, Boneless Chicken Breasts, Part 1
Skinless, boneless chicken breasts seldom get the love they deserve. Because let’s face it: Who among us has not, at one time or another, been served a wan, dry, tasteless chicken breast?
Yes, this stripped-down version of chicken breast (missing its bones, the small fillet on the underside, and of course, its skin) is predisposed to be dry, especially when overcooked. But in the hands of a savvy griller, skinless, boneless, chicken breast can be transformed.
Skinless, boneless breasts are actually the easiest part of the chicken to grill.
Because they’re so lean, you don’t get the flare-ups associated with whole chickens or chicken legs and thighs. This lack of fat can also be a drawback: Chicken breasts must be brined and/or generously basted with a rich mop sauce, butter, or oil during grilling to keep them from drying out. Here’s how to treat skinless, boneless chicken breasts so they come out juicy and flavorful.
How to Grill Skinless, Boneless Chicken Breasts
1. Remove the loose pieces of meat called a tender from the chicken breasts.
If your butcher has not already done so, remove the loose piece of meat—called a tender—that runs lengthwise on the underside of the breast. (You can recognize it by a prominent white tendon that runs through it.) If left on the breast, the tenders give it an uneven thickness, making it more difficult to grill properly.
Simply grill the tenders separately: They’re small size ensures they will cook quickly, needing only 1 to 3 minutes per side, depending on their thickness and the heat of your grill.
2. Brine the breasts.
Brine the breasts—i.e., soak them in heavily salted water—for at least an hour (and up to 3) before grilling for the juiciest meat. Combine 4 tablespoons of coarse kosher salt with 4 cups of cool water in a deep bowl or pot and stir until the salt crystals dissolve. (Double the recipe if you have more than 6 chicken breasts to brine.) Refrigerate for 1 hour.
Alternatively, marinate the breasts in your favorite marinade. (Note: Do not combine the two techniques—brining and marinating—or the chicken may become too salty.) Drain the chicken and pat dry with paper towels.
3. Preheat the grill.
Preheat the grill to medium-high, about 400 degrees.
4. Use hardwood chunks or make a smoking pouch for extra smoke flavor.
When ready to cook, brush or scrape the grill grate clean and oil it well. For extra smoke flavor, toss a a couple of hardwood chunks or a handful of soaked, drained wood chips on the coals before grilling.
If using a gas grill, make a smoking pouch by enclosing the soaked wood chips in a pillow of heavy-duty aluminum foil and poke holes in it with the tip of a skewer or meat thermometer to allow the smoke to circulate. Lay the pouch directly on the grill grate.
Alternatively, position one or two chunks of wood directly over one of the burners.
5. Arrange the chicken breasts on the grill.
Arrange the breasts , top sides down, on a diagonal to the grill grate, all facing the same direction. (This attention to detail will make you look more professional.) Grill them for 2 to 3 minutes. Using tongs, rotate the breasts 45 degrees and grill them for 2 minutes more to create an attractive crosshatch of grill marks.
6. Turn the chicken breasts and grill the other side.
Turn the breasts with tongs and grill the other side, again rotating each breast 45 degrees after 2 minutes. The total cooking time for a skinless, boneless chicken breast will be 4 to 6 minutes per side.
7. Baste the chicken breasts.
Generously baste the breasts, if desired, with melted butter, oil, or marinade (fresh marinade—not the marinade the breasts soaked in). Baste the cooked side only to avoid cross-contamination. If using a glaze or barbecue sauce, apply it the last 2 minutes of grilling; glazes usually contain sugar and can burn easily, so watch carefully.
In Part 2, we’ll share the many ways you can prepare chicken breasts, which are popular in all the world’s grilling cultures. In the meantime, here’s a simple but flavor-packed recipe—Bourbon-Brined Chicken—to get you started grilling the best skinless, boneless chicken breasts of your life.