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The Best Grilled Chicken

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Say goodbye to dry, bland grilled chicken breasts. This recipe guarantees juicy, flavorful chicken every time.

Sometimes in cooking the simplest dishes are the hardest to get right, and grilled chicken is a perfect example. Because boneless chicken breasts are so lean, they often turn out dry, rubbery, and bland. Contrary to popular belief, marinating alone will not prevent grilled chicken from drying out; in fact, it’s often the marinade that causes the problem!

My technique and marinade ensure tender, juicy, and flavorful grilled chicken every time. You can serve the fillets on their own as a healthy main course (kids love them), topped with cheese on a toasted bun, or, as I often do, sliced over a Caesar salad. Bonus: the recipe is quick and easy. You do all of the prep ahead of time and you won’t even dirty a single bowl.

What You’ll Need To Make THE BEST Grilled Chicken

ingredients for grilled chicken breasts

STEP-BY-STEP Instructions

Step 1: Pound the Chicken

Place the chicken breasts in a 1-gallon freezer bag and pound to an even ½-inch thickness. This both tenderizes the meat and ensures even cooking. Left in their natural shape, the thin side of the fillet dries out while the thicker side finishes cooking. If you don’t have a meat mallet, a rolling pin or a saucepan will both work well.
pounding the chicken breasts

Step 2: Make the Marinade

Lemon is a key ingredient in this marinade, but I only use the zest. Contrary to conventional wisdom, 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 and give it a leathery texture. The zest gives the chicken ample lemon flavor without affecting the chicken’s succulent texture.

zesting the lemonThe best tool for zesting citrus is a fine or microplane grater. 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.

Once you’ve zested the lemon, mix all of the marinade ingredients except for the chicken together in a 1-gallon zip-lock bag (go ahead and use the same one you used for pounding if it is still in good shape).

marinade ingredients in bag

Add the chicken breasts to the bag and massage the marinade into the meat until evenly coated.

massaging marinade into chickenStep 3: Marinate

Seal the bag and place in a bowl in the refrigerator (the bowl protects against leakage); let the chicken marinate for at least 4 hours or overnight.

sealed chicken in bowl ready to marinate in the fridge

Step 4: Grill

When you’re ready to eat, preheat your grill to high heat and oil the grates (clean, oiled grates will give you the best grill marks). Be sure your grill is very hot before cooking the chicken; you want nice grill marks and char in the short amount of time it takes to cook these. When pounded thin, chicken breasts only need 2 to 3 minutes per side…no more! If you try to flip the chicken and it feels stuck, try giving it 30 seconds. It’ll release naturally when it’s ready.

You’ll notice that the recipe calls for the grill to be covered while the chicken is cooking. This creates convection heat which helps give the chicken a nicely charred exterior and a tender, moist interior.

chicken breasts on the grill

After removing the chicken from the grill, let it rest for 3 to 4 minutes before cutting into it. This will help keep the juices in and retain the meat’s moisture. (The timing is perfect as it’s just enough to get it onto plates, add sides, and put on the table).

While this chicken is best right off the grill, it’s also the kind of thing you can make a double batch of and freeze for future use in salads, pastas, and sandwiches.

video tutorial

Freezer-Friendly Tips

  • Make sure the chicken is completely cooled before freezing it.
  • Keep the chicken pieces whole (no slicing before freezing).
  • To avoid multiple pieces stuck together (which extends defrosting time), wrap each piece individually in plastic wrap and then place them all in a ziploc bag. This also allows you to defrost one piece at a time if you’d like.

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The Best Grilled Chicken

Say goodbye to dry, bland grilled chicken breasts. This recipe guarantees juicy, flavorful chicken every time.

Servings: 4
Prep Time: 20 Minutes
Cook Time: 10 Minutes
Total Time: 30 Minutes, plus at least 4 hours to marinate

Ingredients

  • 1¾ lbs boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • ½ teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1¼ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1½ teaspoons lemon zest, from one lemon

Instructions

  1. One at a time, place the chicken breasts in a 1-gallon zip-lock bag; using a meat mallet, pound to an even ½-inch thickness.
  2. Mix all of the ingredients except for the chicken together in a 1-gallon zip-lock bag (go ahead and use the same one you used for pounding if it is still in good shape). Add the chicken breasts to the bag and massage the marinade into the meat until evenly coated. Seal the bag and place in a bowl in the refrigerator (the bowl protects against leakage); let the chicken marinate for at least 4 hours or overnight.
  3. Preheat the grill to high heat and oil the grates. Place the chicken breasts on the grill and cook, covered, for 2 to 3 minutes per side. Do not overcook. Transfer the chicken to a platter and serve.

Pair with

Nutrition Information

Powered by Edamam

  • Per serving (The nutritional information includes all of the ingredients for the marinade, so one serving is likely significantly lower in calories and fat than the numbers below. servings)
  • Serving size: 1 chicken breast
  • Calories: 413
  • Fat: 25 g
  • Saturated fat: 4 g
  • Carbohydrates: 2 g
  • Sugar: 0 g
  • Fiber: 0 g
  • Protein: 42 g
  • Sodium: 958 mg
  • Cholesterol: 127 mg

This website is written and produced for informational purposes only. I am not a certified nutritionist and the nutritional data on this site has not been evaluated or approved by a nutritionist or the Food and Drug Administration. Nutritional information is offered as a courtesy and should not be construed as a guarantee. The data is calculated through an online nutritional calculator, Edamam.com. Although I do my best to provide accurate nutritional information, these figures should be considered estimates only. Varying factors such as product types or brands purchased, natural fluctuations in fresh produce, and the way ingredients are processed change the effective nutritional information in any given recipe. Furthermore, different online calculators provide different results depending on their own nutrition fact sources and algorithms. To obtain the most accurate nutritional information in a given recipe, you should calculate the nutritional information with the actual ingredients used in your recipe, using your preferred nutrition calculator.

Gluten-Free Adaptable Note

To the best of my knowledge, all of the ingredients used in this recipe are gluten-free or widely available in gluten-free versions. There is hidden gluten in many foods; if you're following a gluten-free diet or cooking for someone with gluten allergies, always read the labels of your ingredients to verify that they are gluten-free.

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Comments

  • This is my go to for grilled chicken. I have been using fresh thyme as I have an abundance from my garden! Delicious, easy and I always double the recipe for the leftovers! Thanks Jen.

    • — Beth Jackson on September 28, 2022
    • Reply
  • Hi Jenn! I would like to use this recipe for a dinner party but my friend can’t eat lemons or limes due to the acid. Is there an alternative for the lemon zest?

    • — Deborah Hester on September 24, 2022
    • Reply
    • Hi Deborah, you can omit it. If you have lemon pepper on hand (and she can tolerate that), you can sprinkle a bit of that on top. Just look at the ingredients on the bottle — if it has salt, you’ll want to cut back on the salt in the recipe (and I’d cut back on the pepper a bit).

      • — Jenn on September 26, 2022
      • Reply
  • I have made this multiple times now, and it’s always a winner! Great in a time crunch too – comes out tender, flavorful, and juicy every time. I’m not always wonderful at the grill, but this recipe makes me an “ace!” Thank you so much! We pretty much only use Once Upon A Chef recipes in this household.

    • — Diane on September 22, 2022
    • Reply
  • Aloha Jenn!
    What a flavor bomb! This was so moist and tender. I’ve never been a fan of chicken breast until two weeks ago! It’s so good that I’m making it again tonight, this time for my husband and myself. We’ll have grilled chicken salad tomorrow with the leftovers. Thank you for your wonderful recipes! ❤️

    • — Gale on September 7, 2022
    • Reply
  • Absolutely the best way to cook skinless, boneless chicken breast. The lemon and garlic flavor is wonderful. The chicken cooks quickly and with the juiciest results. I’ve made this numerous times now. Have frozen the leftover cooked chicken and also frozen the uncooked chicken in the marinade with great results. The tequila lime chicken recipe on this site uses the same methodology but with different flavor profile. Will try that next.
    I have never been disappointed by any of Jenn’s recipes!

    • — MP on September 1, 2022
    • Reply
  • Do you use kosher salt or table salt in this recipe?

    • — Nina on September 1, 2022
    • Reply
    • Hi Nina, I used table salt here. And when a recipe of mine says salt in the ingredient list, I am referring to regular/table salt. If it calls for something else like kosher salt, I will specify that in the recipe. Hope that clarifies!

      • — Jenn on September 2, 2022
      • Reply
  • I’m always looking for a good grilled chicken for our guests at the lake. This one is the best I’ve found!! I tried it out this evening, followed the directions to a T, and it was delicious! I wouldn’t change a thing. I’ll be making this again this coming weekend for our visitors (Labor Day).

    • — Cindy S on August 29, 2022
    • Reply
  • Chicken came out sooooo tender and juicy! Great recipe for breasts. We used our charcoal grill and 3 breasts took 4min per side. Followed rest of receipt to the tee including pounding the chicken to make uniformed.

    • — Lynn on August 28, 2022
    • Reply
  • Not adding acid is the best tip in years! I always wondered why the outside of the chicken was fibery. I used huge chicken breasts and even with all that oil I couldn’t get the spices evenly distributed over the chicken pieces. So I added half a cup of water and it made for a great emulsion that covered everything.

    • — Harald on August 20, 2022
    • Reply
  • I’ve made this marinade several times and have left reviews. It’s outstanding, and very adaptable to many flavour profiles. I recently made the marinade to grill chicken for gyros, adding 3 tablespoons Greek yogurt, subbing finely diced preserved lemon for the lemon zest, and a mix of cumin, oregano, smoked paprika, sumac, mint and cinnamon for the seasonings. The chicken was unbelievably moist and tender, and the flavour was incredible. It’s rare that I find a recipe that I consider a “go to” but this is a real treasure!

    • — Sadie on August 17, 2022
    • Reply
  • Where are the ingredients?

    • — Renae Foster on August 16, 2022
    • Reply
    • Hi Renae, It sounds like you are just looking at the portion of the page that has the pictures with some instructions underneath. If you scroll down a bit to under the pictures, you’ll find the full recipe. Alternatively, at the very top of the page, to the right of the recipe name, you’ll see an orange/red button that says Jump to Recipe – if you click on that, it will take you directly to the recipe. Hope that clarifies!

      • — Jenn on August 17, 2022
      • Reply
  • I really enjoyed this recipe. Here in Australia the chicken breasts are quite large so I had to slice them in half before flattening them with a mallet, but it worked very well. The marinade is light but distinctly Mediterranean, and goes well with similarly light dishes like Greek salad or pasta primavera. Definitely one to add to the arsenal.

    • — Joseph on August 13, 2022
    • Reply
  • Mmm good, Jenn! I like all your recipes that I’ve made so far. The chicken was so flavorful and tender. Didn’t have time to marinate 4 hours, only 2, but it was great.
    Thank you!

    • — Judy Fawley on August 9, 2022
    • Reply
  • Just made these tonight using the broiler (no grill.) Excellent, probably the best broiled chicken I’ve ever had. Served it with your pesto pasta salad, also a keeper. Thanks for all the great recipes, Jenn.

    • — Jim on August 8, 2022
    • Reply
    • 2-3 minutes per side? Huh?

      • — Jay on August 9, 2022
      • Reply
  • I made this dish last week and got rave reviews from my family – made it again tonight and they’re still talking about how delicious it is! It’s so easy to prepare and cook – awesome chicken recipe!! Thank you so much for sharing!

    • — Jeannie Cordell on August 8, 2022
    • Reply
  • Not using the lemon juice was life-changing! Best grilled chicken we ever made; thank you!

    • — Jenny B on August 5, 2022
    • Reply
  • I followed this recipe and let the chicken marinate overnight. It was as good or better than any grilled chicken breast I have had in my 64 years! Thank you sooo much😋

    • — Bob on August 3, 2022
    • Reply
  • This recipe really made me feel like a champ. It’s been a good while since I used my Ninja Grille…let me tell y’all something…I used a THIRD of the salt recommended, and it was the juiciest, tastiest grilled chicken I’ve ever made. Use it TONIGHT!

    • — Alex on August 2, 2022
    • Reply
  • Followed your directions exactly and, just like you said, the grilled chicken was juicy, tasty and just delicious. Thank you for this wonderful recipe.

    • — Alberta on August 2, 2022
    • Reply
  • This is a great recipe. Grilled up about 6 lbs of breasts for a family party and they were incredible. Best grilled chicken I have ever done, and the only way I will do it in the future.

    • — Kenneth on August 1, 2022
    • Reply
  • This surely has the correct title! I decided to give this grilled chicken and marinade a try. It was so tasty, moist and the best grilled chicken that I ever made. (I am not a very good cook, and have few seasonings in my kitchen. ) Thanks to Jen’s delicious step by step recipes, I am able to feel confident in serving yummy meals to my family and guests.
    I have your cook book and love receiving your newsletters/emails .
    Please keep them coming!

    • — Suzanne on August 1, 2022
    • Reply
  • Superb that’s all I can say!..My hubby and I love grilled chicken again.

    Thank you!

    • — Annette McLaughlin on July 31, 2022
    • Reply
  • I’m going to try this recipe this week! I’ve seen a lot of recipes that call for brining to ensure juiciness. Do you recommend brining?

    • — Andi on July 30, 2022
    • Reply
    • Hi Andi, I don’t think it’s necessary here. Hope you enjoy!

      • — Jenn on July 31, 2022
      • Reply
  • Marinated overnight exactly as per the instructions and grilled them last night. So juicy and flavourful – will next try it with pork chops or pork tenderloin. It’s an easy recipe and the results are outstanding.
    Jenn, thank you – this recipe is fabulous – absolutely fabulous daahhling! 🙂

    • — Susan P. West Kelowna, BC Canada on July 28, 2022
    • Reply

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