Perfectly Grilled Chicken Breasts with Lemon, Garlic & Herbs

5 stars based on 3 votes

Grilled chicken

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.)

Grilled chicken 2

As you know, grilled chicken breasts often come out dry and bland. This recipe ensures tender, flavorful grilled chicken every time.

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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.

Grilled chicken 8

Next, marinate the chicken breasts in olive oil, lots of fresh garlic, dried herbs, and lemon zest.

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.

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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.

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Finally, and this one’s obvious, don’t overcook them. When pounded thin, chicken breasts only need 2-3 minutes per side…no more!

Grilled chicken 1

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

Servings: 4

Ingredients

  • 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

Instructions

  1. Place chicken breasts between 2 pieces of wax paper and, using a meat mallet, pound to an even ½-inch thickness.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Reviews & Comments

  • 5 stars

    This is now my go-to marinade for chicken breasts! I discovered it recently when I was trying to find the best chicken breast marinade for Dobar Chicken (which I highly recommend if you’ve never had this dish before – it’s a dish from Seattle restaurant, Pogacha).

    This marinade is so easy and fast (I generally let the chicken marinate for 30 minutes) and then it’s a quick 4-6 minutes on the grill. I’ve used it for Dobar Chicken and Chicken Pesto, and will probably find more ways to incorporate it in salads and other meals.

    Thanks so much Jenn for finally proving to me that chicken breasts can be cooked perfectly with great flavor, and without coming out dry!

    - Alexa on July 20, 2014 Reply
  • 5 stars

    The perfect go-to chicken for salads, and easy to double for a make-ahead summer dinner party. In the winter I make this on my indoor grill pan for a healthy meal with broccoli and couscous. Love it.

    - Adrian on July 11, 2014 Reply
  • 5 stars

    This chicken was amazing! I am the daughter of a chef and I LOVE to cook. This is the first time I have left a comment on a recipe site because the chicken is that good. Thank you!

    - Paula Boylan on July 7, 2014 Reply
  • Can you use boneless chicken cutlets — already thin — so you don’t need to pound them? Thanks!

    - Wynn on May 27, 2014 Reply
    • Hi Wynn, Unfortunately, I think the cutlets would dry out on the grill; those are better for sautéing.

      - Jenn on May 27, 2014 Reply
  • These made my first catering gig a hit ..thanks 100

    - Jimi cash on May 11, 2014 Reply
  • Would it taste better with a char. grill ? Please answer by 8am

    - Jimi cash on May 10, 2014 Reply
    • Hi Jimi, Yes, I think everything tastes better on a char grill :)

      - Jenn on May 10, 2014 Reply
  • The calorie count would be nice to put with the recipie!

    - Monique on May 4, 2014 Reply
  • Can I cook this on a “George Forman grill”?

    - Janet on March 22, 2014 Reply
    • Hi Janet, Yes that should work fine!

      - Jenn on March 22, 2014 Reply
  • im trying this recepie out as we speak. i added grated chillie n chuckney. i hope it turns out well. will keep u posted. thank u for sharing ur knowledge with us!:-))

    - buhle on February 18, 2014 Reply
  • Attempting this without the garlic or lemon zest for a late lunch. Hope marinating the breasts for 30 minutes in the fridge will be good enough. Also, I’m going to be using a grill pan instead of a proper grill.

    - The Paras G on February 3, 2014 Reply
    • To follow up on my previous comment, I want to thank you for sharing this recipe on your blog. I successfully made the most tender and juicy grilled chicken breasts that I have ever had the pleasure of eating. Went great with my spinach-mint-cilantro pesto and a Mediterranean-style salad. I cut up the extra breasts, added them to the salad and refrigerated it for a quick meal. Can’t wait to eat that tomorrow! :)

      - The Paras G on February 3, 2014 Reply
  • I make this all the time and was a big hit for my party last night.
    Unfortunately, I overplanned and have a lot of grilled chicken left over. Does the cooked chicken freeze well?

    - Melinda on January 1, 2014 Reply
    • Hi Melinda, I suppose you could freeze it but the texture wouldn’t be quite the same. If it were me, I’d repurpose it for another dish. It’s delicious chopped up in my Chicken Tortilla Soup.

      - Jenn on January 1, 2014 Reply
  • Thanx for the reply. I left the chicken with the said stuff for almost 4 hrs then sauté it on the pan. It went flying at the dinner table. It was a pound party and I felt good about myself . This recipe is winner.

    - sonia on December 28, 2013 Reply
  • Can we use an oven instead of a grill?! If so what are the directions for it?!

    - Sam on December 19, 2013 Reply
    • Hi Sam, These are definitely better on the grill, but if you want to cook them indoors you can broil them. Place them on a broiling pan and broil 4 to 6 inches from the heat for 5 minutes. Turn the chicken and broil an additional 5 minutes or until chicken is done.

      - Jenn on December 21, 2013 Reply
  • Hi, I don’t have a grill. .. but I would love to do the same on the pan on the burner. Hw to go about it.

    - sonia on December 15, 2013 Reply
    • Hi Sonia, I would sear the chicken in an oven-proof sauté pan over high heat (a min or two per side until browned) then finish the chicken in a 350 degree oven for 5-10 minutes, or until done. Hope you enjoy and please let me know how it turns out.

      - Jenn on December 15, 2013 Reply
  • What if i couldnt mince the garlic but cut it in small/medium pieces will thay affect flavor.

    - lily on November 20, 2013 Reply
    • Lily, No worries, it will be fine.

      - Jenn on November 20, 2013 Reply
  • I had the chicken in the marinade for 24 hrs. Is it still okay to cook?

    - Melinda on November 17, 2013 Reply
    • Hi Melinda, It is absolutely still fine to cook. Since there’s no acid in the marinade, the meat holds up very well. It will just be very flavorful.

      - Jenn on November 17, 2013 Reply
      • Just an update. You’re right Jenn. The chicken was delicious. I served it waith a salad and everyone in the family enjoyed it. Now I’m trying to figure out what to make tonight. THANKS.

        - Melinda on November 19, 2013 Reply
  • The chicken was so juicy, and flavorful; it goes perfectly with the Big Italian Salad. The recipe for the salad dressing is so good, I could, and would drink it! The only difference I do for the dressing is more basil, and a little more honey, about a tablespoon.

    - Dwana Bull on November 7, 2013 Reply
  • what can you substitute for olive oil?

    - Jen on August 14, 2013 Reply
    • Hi Jen, You could use vegetable oil or canola oil.

      - Jenn on August 14, 2013 Reply
  • Hi Jen,
    Going up to a cottage this week end and we will be cooking a couple of meals. To make it easier I thought I would do the breasts up ahead of time in the marinade and the freeze for easier transport and thaw when needed.
    Any problems doing it this way?

    - Karen on July 17, 2013 Reply
    • Hi Karen, It should be fine. Have a nice weekend :)

      - Jenn on July 17, 2013 Reply
  • Made this dish for dinner last night…it was really tasty.

    Thanks!

    - neetu on July 2, 2013 Reply
  • Can you make the marinade a couple days ahead
    and keep on refrigerator?

    - Carol on June 28, 2013 Reply
    • Hi Carol, Yes, definitely.

      - Jenn on June 28, 2013 Reply
  • This is a nice chicken dinner. The marinade is not a strong one, but mellow and tasty. Thanks to your excellent instructions to cook on the bbq, they came out moist and juicy. Thank you.

    - Lucille on June 26, 2013 Reply
  • this was AMAZING!!!!

    it was tender and not dry at all! every body just loved it! thank you very much.

    - bash on June 21, 2013 Reply
  • This was a very tasty recipe! I had company this afternoon and wanted a healthy fresh grilled chicken recipe to go over salad. This was perfect and company loved it as well! Thank you!!

    - Lori on April 28, 2013 Reply
  • I loved this recipe! My boyfriend is the PICKIEST chicken eater ever and he raved about this chicken. It was so flavorful and easy to do. I will keep this recipe on hand for a LONG time…you can do so much with it!

    - Julia on March 10, 2013 Reply
  • This was the most flavorful and moist grilled chicken ever – it is my new go-to recipe for chicken on the grill! My husband grilled it just as you said and it came out perfectly! We served it with grilled zucchini and roasted potatoes. Delicious!

    - Rebecca on March 9, 2013 Reply
  • This chicken marinade is fantastic. I did not have thyme so I subbed in a little basil. I have read that acidic ingredients will toughen meat (and turn beef a nasty grey color) but it is hard to find a marinade that doesn’t use some type of acid. Thanks for the great recipe.

    - Karen on March 9, 2013 Reply
  • Thank you for sharing! it really was the best grilled chicken breast. the key was leaving out acidic stuff n the hi temp !! thanks once aGAIN

    - sidra on February 12, 2013 Reply
  • Jenn, is there anything you don’t do well? This recipe was superb, like everything else I’ve tried. Thank you!

    - Pauline on January 10, 2013 Reply
    • Thank you, Pauline! I’m so glad you enjoyed!

      - Jenn on January 10, 2013 Reply
  • Such a great tasty marinade made it on my George Forman came out great !

    - Sabrina on December 29, 2012 Reply
  • These were awesome!!!

    - Kelly W. on October 22, 2012 Reply
  • It was my first time to (electric) grill chicken breasts and I followed your recipe – the result? Juicy, flavorful chicken breasts. So stoked! Will definitely try more recipes from your site.

    - Dee on October 11, 2012 Reply
  • I made this for dinner the other night. I only made one serving, so I decreased the marinade accordingly, and it worked wonderfully. The chicken cooked evenly and wasn’t dry at all. I’ll be pounding out my chicken from now on! Thanks!

    - Suzannah on October 4, 2012 Reply
  • I never pound meat . Instead, I will butterfly the chicken and plan on using a grill pan (apartment life sometimes leaves something to be desired).

    - Winston on October 4, 2012 Reply
  • This chicken recipe is excellent. The advice to pound the chicken breast evenly and to avoid acid juice in the marinade was appreciated. I sprinkled fresh herbs on everything just serving. The texture of the chicken was superb, and leftovers were fabulous in chicken salad. Thanks!

    - Kathy on September 6, 2012 Reply
  • Yum yum! LOVE grilled chicken!

    - Perrie on June 27, 2012 Reply
  • These are great! I’m big on pantry/fridge/freezer ingredients – so I’ve used a couple T’s of lemon juice instead of zest and it works well. This chicken is so versatile – you can switch out the seasonings for cumin, onion and chili powder for mexican dishes, or use some soy sauce with the marinade, remove the basil and oregano, and you’ve got a yummy asian marinade. I love this recipe on your caesar salad with some homemade croutons and sun dried tomatoes!

    - Leslea on June 20, 2012 Reply
  • Thanks for the recipe! I am trying it tomorrow so I will be back with the verdict, which I’m sure will be great! Never knew that about the lemon juice.. I always juiced and zested but will be trying your method.

    - Anna M on May 26, 2012 Reply
  • My new favorite go to chicken! Delicious!

    - Kathy on May 15, 2012 Reply
  • This is one of my favorite recipes to make – its easy, delicious and full of yummy flavor!

    - Renee LeVine on May 15, 2012 Reply
  • This is my new go-to recipe for grilled chicken. Sometimes I sub fresh herbs for the dried, but other than that, there are no changes needed! Delicious!

    - Amber R on May 15, 2012 Reply
  • Simple and delicious. Leftovers are great in a salad.

    - Susan on May 15, 2012 Reply
  • Jennifer!!!!!!!!!! Are you married? Awesome recipe. I have instanly become the king of grilled chicken amongst my friends and family!

    - Steve on April 24, 2012 Reply
  • Made these tonight and served them with a lemon and caper pasta recipe I also found online. Great pair and the chicken was tender and moist and delicious. Thanks!

    - Rose on March 31, 2012 Reply
  • Just as the title promises-perfect. Love your recipe and directions. Thanks for the inspiration!

    - Julie Backas on March 2, 2012 Reply
  • The. best. grilled. chicken. ever. Hands down. The chicken is so juicy. My family loves it. I make this chicken at least twice a week in the summer. And cook it indoor on grill pan in the winter and late fall.

    - Beata Harnett on March 1, 2012 Reply
  • This chicken recipe is terrific. Not only do I make it, but my sisters and friends do!

    - Beth on March 1, 2012 Reply
  • This is my second comment on this recipe, spurred of course by the chance to win the Le Creuset Dutch oven, but every time I use this recipe I think about commenting again. It truly is my go-to recipe for grilled chicken. The combination of method (pounding the breasts and highest heat grilling) plus using lemon zest instead of juice to marinate is pure genius and transforms bland boneless, skinless chicken breasts into the most flavorful and moist grilled chicken ever. I have started making extra to freeze and have on hand for salads. Truly a stellar recipe!

    - Charlene on March 1, 2012 Reply
  • These were the most tender, well-seasoned chicken breasts I’ve ever had! I had to use a rolling pin, but I’m definitely getting a meat mallet now. I put the Ziploc bag over a glass measuring cup (draping over its sides) to keep the bag standing up, making it easier for me to add the oil and the rest of the marinade. Thank you so much!!

    - Kim on January 1, 2012 Reply
  • I’ve never tried it, Kris. But please let me know how it turns out if you do!

    - Jennifer on October 12, 2011 Reply
  • Have you ever tried this marinade on boneless pork chops? If so how did they turn out?

    - Kris on October 12, 2011 Reply
  • I’d like to try your recipe on an old Jenn-Air grill. That means I won’t be covering the meat while it’s grilling. Any recommendations on how long to cook the pounded chicken on each side?

    Thanks,
    Robin

    - Robin on September 25, 2011 Reply
  • Wonderful marinade! I found my new favorite :) Lovely site too!

    - Jenni on August 3, 2011 Reply
  • Oh ho ho, I have found my go-to recipe/method for grilling chicken breasts. These were fantastic. Thank you so much!

    - Charlene on May 9, 2011 Reply
  • The wash is only an aesthetic thing not something I think would affect the taste. cool them,the first feeling I have that is many different ideas you wrote,insist it.now link my name to see my website,some about Retro Jordan,thanks.

    - Retro Jordan on October 15, 2010 Reply
  • Betty, You can do the chicken ahead of time if you need to, and fresh rosemary would be a fine substitute for the oregano. Enjoy!

    - Jenn on August 3, 2010 Reply
  • Can this chicken be grilled early and then reheated slowly in the oven later in the day?

    I am disabled and can’t do all the cooking all once unfortunately; thus the need to do the chicken early if possible.

    Also, can I use rosemary instead of the oregano? I have both fresh and dried.

    Any help or advice would be greatly appreciated:)

    - Betty Dahlberg on July 30, 2010 Reply
  • LOVE this recipe!! I was scared to grill at such a high temperature, but I followed your directions exactly and it was wonderful! Moist, flavorful without being overpowering, quick and easy prep. What more could you ask for? Thanks again for another keeper! This will be my go-to chicken recipe from now on.

    Carol Herndon

    - Carol Herndon on July 25, 2010 Reply
  • Like a child on the shoulders, like tears on the face, like a poet among the letters on the moon, like dolphins on ocean, you are my angel, is the first and last paradise!

    - Jordan retro 4 on July 9, 2010 Reply
  • Made this chicken for our Father’s Day BBQ and it was a big hit. Keep the recipes coming…my family is loving them!!

    - Shelly on June 22, 2010 Reply
  • Matthew, Unfortunately, this recipe won’t work in a saute pan. The only substitute for the grill would be a grill pan. Hope that helps!

    - Jenn on June 18, 2010 Reply
  • Made this tonight overtop angel hair pasta tossed with a lemon-chive sauce. The chicken is simply fantastic—and so easy to make. Just like you, this will be my basic go-to grilled chicken recipe too! Thanks

    - Danielle on June 15, 2010 Reply
  • I love a simple moist chicken breast, and doing it on the grill makes it even more enticing!

    - Kelli on June 7, 2010 Reply
  • We just cleaned up the grill for the season and I’ve been looking for great chicken breast marinades–perfect timing!

    - Shauna from Piece of Cake on June 6, 2010 Reply
  • This sound fabulous! Love easy chicken recipes – will definitely try this!

    xxMK
    Delightful Bitefuls

    - Mary on June 6, 2010 Reply
  • Thank you so much for these step-by-step instructions! I didn’t know that acid ingredients such as vinegar make the meat tough. I’m going to try this marinade today!

    - Reija on June 5, 2010 Reply
  • What alterations would you suggest if we don’t own a grill and had to saute the chicken instead?

    - MRK on June 5, 2010 Reply
    • I don’t see any reason this would not be delicious prepared in an iron skillet. I cook marinated chicken recipes all the time in my iron skillet, just be sure not to overcook them and make them dry. Look at the ingredients, I mean, how bad could it be?

      - Jo on July 27, 2013 Reply

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