Perfectly Grilled Chicken Breasts with Lemon, Garlic & Herbs

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!

Perfectly Grilled Chicken Breasts with Garlic, Lemon & Herbs

Print Recipe
Servings: 4


  • 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


  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.

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.

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  • Dwana Bull

    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.

  • Melinda

    I had the chicken in the marinade for 24 hrs. Is it still okay to cook?

    • Jenn

      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.

      • Melinda

        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.

  • lily

    What if i couldnt mince the garlic but cut it in small/medium pieces will thay affect flavor.

    • Jenn

      Lily, No worries, it will be fine.

  • sonia

    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.

    • Jenn

      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.

  • Sam

    Can we use an oven instead of a grill?! If so what are the directions for it?!

    • Jenn

      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.

  • sonia

    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.

  • Melinda

    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?

    • Jenn

      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.

  • 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.

    • 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! :)

  • buhle

    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!:-))

  • Janet

    Can I cook this on a “George Forman grill”?

    • Jenn

      Hi Janet, Yes that should work fine!

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