Perfectly Grilled Chicken Breasts with Lemon, Garlic & Herbs
This is my basic, go-to grilled chicken — perfect for a quick weeknight dinner or cookout — and so versatile. You can serve the fillets on their own (kids love them), topped with cheese on a toasted bun, chopped up in a quesadilla or, as I often do, sliced over a Greek or Caesar salad. The added bonus? They are quick and easy…you do all of the prep ahead of time and you won’t even dirty a single bowl. (It doesn’t make for the prettiest pictures, but the marinade is made right in a zip-lock bag.)
As you know, grilled chicken breasts often come out dry and bland. This recipe ensures tender, flavorful grilled chicken every time.
Begin by pounding the fillets to an even ½-inch thickness. This both tenderizes the meat and ensures even cooking. It makes sense — left in their natural shape, the thin side of the fillet dries out while the thicker side finishes cooking.
Next, marinate the chicken breasts in olive oil, lots of fresh garlic, dried herbs, and lemon zest.
Contrary to popular belief, acidic ingredients, such as vinegar or lemon juice, do not tenderize lean boneless chicken breasts. Just the opposite — they “cook” the exterior of the meat (think ceviche) and give it a leathery texture. The lemon zest here is enough to give the chicken the essence of lemon, while still maintaining its smooth, succulent texture.
When you’re ready to eat, preheat your grill to high heat. You want nice grill marks and char in the short amount of time it takes to cook these.
Finally, and this one’s obvious, don’t overcook them. When pounded thin, chicken breasts only need 2-3 minutes per side…no more!
That’s all there is to it. Hope you enjoy!
Use a fine or Microplane grater to zest the lemon. Simply rub the lemon in one direction against the blades, turning the lemon as you go. Be sure to remove only the yellow part; the white pith underneath is bitter.
If you are using less than 4 chicken breasts, you’ll need to reduce the salt accordingly.
Perfectly Grilled Chicken Breasts with Garlic, Lemon & Herbs
- 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 1¾ pounds total)
- 6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 4 large garlic cloves, minced
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1-1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1-1/2 teaspoons lemon zest, from one lemon
- Place chicken breasts between 2 pieces of wax paper and, using a meat mallet, pound to an even ½-inch thickness.
- Mix all ingredients except chicken together in a 1 gallon zip-lock bag. Add chicken breasts and massage marinade into meat until evenly coated. Seal the bag and place in a bowl in the refrigerator (the bowl protects against leakage); let the chicken marinate at least 4 hours or up to 12 hours.
- Clean grill and preheat to high. 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 (make sure they are well-coated with the marinade; the more garlic, lemon zest and herbs on the chicken, the better!). Grill, covered, for 2-3 minutes per side.
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