Behold, the boneless, skinless chicken breast. A blank canvas, at your service to add lean, affordable protein to any meal. It’s your weeknight go-to. However, for as perennially popular as chicken breasts are, cooking them perfectly remains a challenge. But not any longer. Tonight you will make the perfect baked chicken breast: moist, juicy and ready for anything!
This is the last baked chicken breast recipe you will ever need!
The very same negligible fat content that makes the chicken breast a perpetual staple on so many tables is the very same thing that makes them a challenge to cook. Meats that are higher in fat are more forgiving, so it’s no big whoop if you end up overcooking a chicken thigh a little. But take a chicken breast a few degrees too far? Your protein is now a dry and rubbery mess.
Conquer the dryness: a juicy science lesson
To understand what makes meat dry and tough, let’s pause for a brief chemistry lesson. I learned about why chicken becomes dry from food science guru Shirley Corriher, author of CookWise and BakeWise“
“The proteins in raw meat exist as a network of individual springlike coils. Each coil has bonds that keep it tightly compacted. As soon as you apply heat, the bonds that bind the protein coils break, and the coil straightens out. These straightened proteins then begin to link together in a loose mesh. The longer you cook the meat, and the higher the temperature, the tighter the mesh becomes, squeezing out more and more of the liquid within it. That’s why overcooked meat is tough and dry.”
So, the real secret culinary technique to the perfect baked chicken breast is no more complicated than controlling the temperature and time!
Tips for how to cook moist baked chicken breast
- Allow the chicken to come to room temperature before you cook it, or you’ll end up with meat that’s overcooked on the outside and raw in the middle.
- Set the oven at a moderate temperature. 350 degrees F is ideal.
- Use a meat thermometer. This inexpensive tool is hands-down the best way to ensure that every piece of meat you serve is perfectly cooked.
Recipe formula for the ultimate baked chicken breast
With a pack of chicken breasts in the fridge and a few seasonings in the cupboard, you’re on your way to a delicious meal. What’s even better is that you can make a big pan full of chicken, and you’ll be set with days of easy lunches and dinners.
This is not so much a single recipe but a series of recipes — the magic formula for endless easy weeknight dinners. Here are some of my favorite seasoning combinations for chicken breasts and ways to serve them. Scan your spice rack and your condiment shelves and you’re bound to come up with some inspiration of your own.
Step 1: choose your seasoning combo
- Seasoning: chili powder + cumin + cayenne + paprika
- Use in: tacos, burritos, enchiladas or taco salad
Sweet and spicy
- Seasoning: Sriracha sauce + honey
- Serve with: rice or garlic sautéed broccoli
- Seasoning: Dijon mustard + maple syrup
- Use in: sandwiches, Cobb salad
- Seasoning: minced garlic + olive oil + sun-dried tomato paste
- Serve with: pasta, chopped tomatoes and Parmesan cheese
- Seasoning: gochujang (Korean chili paste) + mayonnaise + sesame oil
- Serve with: Brussels sprouts, kimchi, rice
- Seasoning: apricot jam + minced ginger + lemon juice
- Serve with: couscous, carrots
- Seasoning: Thai curry paste + coconut oil
- Serve with: rice noodles, cilantro, shredded carrots and cucumber
- Seasoning: miso paste + minced garlic
- Serve with: asparagus, soba noodles
- Seasoning: barbecue sauce
- Serve with: mashed potatoes, green salad OR Use on: pizza, sandwiches
Step 2: gather your other ingredients
- Boneless, skinless chicken breasts – as many as you want
- Olive oil, salt, and pepper or the seasonings of your choice (see above for suggestions)
Step 3: prepare the chicken for the oven
Arrange chicken in a single layer on a foil-lined baking pan. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Drizzle chicken with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper, or cover with the seasonings of your choice.
Allow chicken to reach room temperature (about 20 minutes)
Step 4: bake it to perfection
Bake chicken in preheated oven for 25 to 40 minutes. The cooking time is so broad because of the differing sizes of chicken breasts, which can vary from petite to monstrous. This is why you really need a meat thermometer. Inserted in thickest part of the chicken breast, it should read 150 degrees F.
Allow chicken to rest 5 minutes before slicing. Leftovers will keep in the refrigerator for at least three days.
Can’t decide on what combination to use? How about trying one of each? Chicken shouldn’t have to be boring! You can elevate your cooking skills with our “scientifically proven formula” for the perfect baked chicken breasts!
Check out our free recipes page for more ways to spice up your weeknight meals!