The Best Grilled Chicken

Tested & Perfected Recipes

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 save 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.

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

Ingredients

  • 1-3/4 lbs boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 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. 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.

Nutrition Information

Powered by Edamam

  • Serving size: 1 chicken breast (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.)
  • 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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Reviews & Comments

  • This chicken is the bomb! I’m wondering if you have tried freezing the cooked breasts and how they turned out? Would love to have some in the freezer ready to go.

    • — Beth Gebhardt on March 9, 2021
    • Reply
    • Hi Beth, I haven’t frozen them myself, but I think you could (and glad you liked it)!

      • — Jenn on March 9, 2021
      • Reply
  • If cooking just for two should all of the the ingredients simply be halved?

    • — Michael on March 1, 2021
    • Reply
    • Sure – enjoy!

      • — Jenn on March 1, 2021
      • Reply
  • I made this tonight and my 6 year old gobbled it up and told me “this chicken is yummy mommy!” Thank you!

    • — Whitney on February 28, 2021
    • Reply
  • I can’t wait

    • — trading on February 3, 2021
    • Reply
  • I hope I am in the right spot to review this. This is an amazing chicken dish. I love the simplicity of the directions, and I appreciate the photos to show step by step how to prepare this meal. Thank you for being so descriptive, it really makes it fun to see how to do this.

    • — Madeleine Migne' on February 2, 2021
    • Reply
    • You’re in the right spot – glad you like the chicken!

      • — Jenn on February 3, 2021
      • Reply
  • The recipe title speaks for itself; it is truly “The Best Grilled Chicken”
    Flavorful and moist, quick and easy to prepare.
    This recipe has become a year round staple grilled on the ourdoor barbeque and the indoor grill pan!
    Company have raved and asked for a 3rd helping.

    • — Susie Factor on February 2, 2021
    • Reply
  • Thank you Jenn!! This is hands down the”Best” grilled chicken I have ever made at home. I have always wondered how restaurants can serve the juiciest chicken breasts and why mine are always dried out! I used my cast iron skillet and fried them for 2-3 minutes and let them rest. I served it with steamed broccoli and made your Caesar salad dressing. Better than going out! My husband loved it!

    • — Pamela Watkins on February 1, 2021
    • Reply
  • This is my go-to chicken marinade! Based on Jenn’s recommendations with some of her other chicken recipes, I also like to use chicken tenders. I have a large family and find the recipe is easily doubled. The ziplock bag technique is genius…easy and mess-free!

    • — Polly Frampton on January 30, 2021
    • Reply
  • This is my go to marinade for chicken. I use it on chicken thighs then use a grill pan with the weighted top to get the markings. I dice up the chicken over jasmine rice with diced green onions. It’s a household favorite. I love the lemon zest to add brightness of flavor. Star recipe as usual!

    • — Christy on January 30, 2021
    • Reply
  • I’m amazed at the difference using lemon zest makes to the chicken! It was so juicy and flavorful it tasted like a great quality restaurant dinner! My husband and I were very surprised and enjoyed every bite. We ate the leftovers the next day instead of freezing them because it was so delicious! Now I’m stocking up on chicken breasts when they’re on sale so I always have some on hand. Thanks, Jenn for a terrific simple recipe.

    • — Phyllis Gallagher on January 29, 2021
    • Reply
  • This is THE BEST marinade for chicken. I use chicken cutlets and in 4 hours can have juicy delicious chicken on the table. I love that Jenn uses the lemon zest rather than lemon juice – that’s got to be the secret to not drying out the chicken. It makes delicious chicken salad too!

    • — Rebecca M on January 29, 2021
    • Reply
  • This is my go to chicken recipe it’s delicious! Make it all the time!

    • — Michelle Bryant on January 28, 2021
    • Reply
  • This was really good and had great flavour, though I found my chicken on the dry side when I cooked it on the BBQ… Though I almost always find it on the dry side unless cooked sous vide.

    Do you think I can cook the chicken in the marinade sous vide, or should I take it out of the marinade before cooking? will it be too strong on the chicken with the garlic if cooked in the marinade?

    • — Julia Oakley on January 28, 2021
    • Reply
    • Hi Julia, I’d love to be able to help but I don’t have any experience with sous vide cooking — I’m sorry!

      • — Jenn on January 29, 2021
      • Reply
    • Hi, I just saw this question when I looked up this recipe to sous vide these chicken breasts today!🙂 So to answer your question, we sous-vide these chicken breasts regularly, and enjoy them hot as well as cold for sandwiches, salads, wraps, with pasta, etc. Works great – perfect flavor and texture! FWIW, I usually don’t pound them, but slice
      them horizontally to get thinner cutlets, then SV them at 140 degrees for about two hours.

      • — Marisa on March 20, 2021
      • Reply
  • This is the best chicken in the world. I have never been a great griller, and especially with chicken! But this? It’s almost fool proof, plus you can take out your bad day on the poor raw beast while you pound it to within an inch of its life. I always bring this, sliced beautifully, when I go to a pot luck. Everyone raves about it- so good AND easy!!

    • — Doogus on January 28, 2021
    • Reply
  • This is my ALL TIME FAVORITE way to grill chicken! I just learned to grill this summer and Jenn’s recipe was my first solo performance. It came out perfectly. The lemon zest, herbs and garlic enhance the flavor of the chicken without overpowering it. For me, I like to mix my marinade in a measuring cup and then pour it in the ziploc that I’ve used to pound the breasts. It’s an absolute winner!

    • — Maria Shaw on January 28, 2021
    • Reply
  • I gave up on grilling chicken till I discovered this recipe. Boneless chicken can be challenging but this recipe makes tender juicy chicken every time. During the marinating time I like to move the marinade around and make sure all parts of the chicken are covered. A mini massage!
    Mary

    • — Mary on January 28, 2021
    • Reply
  • This is such an amazing recipe for grilled chicken. I automatically double the recipe
    and serve what is left for another night that week, in addition to freezing any additional leftovers. The marinade spice mixture is the best and results in very juicy and tender chicken breasts. I love the mediterranean spices and lemony flavor.

    • — connie on January 28, 2021
    • Reply
  • This recipe is amazing and easy. Pounding is key to creating, juicy, and tender chicken. Flavors are so fresh!

    • — MCarla on January 28, 2021
    • Reply
  • This recipe is amazing and easy. Pounding is key to creating, juicy, and tender chicken. Flavors are so fresh!

    • — MCara on January 28, 2021
    • Reply
  • I love this easy grilled chicken recipe, one of my go to recipes when I’m running, but still want something delicious and healthy.
    This is just one of many favorites from your website Jenn, thank you for sharing. I love the recipes in your book too!

    • — Sury on January 28, 2021
    • Reply
  • This is such a fool proof marinade for amazing chicken!! I love that it gives you such a perfect seasoning to use the meat or other recipes!! Quite versatile! Follow this to a T and you won’t regret it!

    • — Kristin McP on January 28, 2021
    • Reply
  • Last summer, I finally assembled the grill that I got for my birthday a couple of years ago. My bf, the grill guy, tried grilling chicken without a recipe, and we ended up having pizza for dinner that night.

    So, I searched this site, and found this recipe. This is now our go-to grilled chicken recipe, and what we served at every socially distanced, outdoor dinner we hosted last summer. The flavor is amazing. And it’s easy enough that my bf – who considers pouring milk on cereal to be cooking – doesn’t have any problems.

    Generally, we use a slightly lower heat, but other than that, no substitutions or changes are necessary.

    • — Ericka on January 28, 2021
    • Reply
  • Another family favorite! This recipe is so simple and makes the chicken so moist. I’ve even made the chicken and let it marinate for 15 min instead of the full time, when I forgot to do it ahead of time and it still made my chicken so good! Fast and easy.

    • — RS on January 28, 2021
    • Reply
  • Best grilled chicken ever! So tender and juicy and easy. Awesome!

    • — Kathryn Ponn Muhler on January 28, 2021
    • Reply
  • This is the only recipe I will ever use for chicken breast on the grill. I do switch the thyme for dill , but only because I’m not too fond of it. I call this my Greek chicken! Don’t skip the pounding because this recipe made me realize just how tender it makes it. My kids ask what’s for dinner and I say grilled chicken. They then ask if it’s that good grilled chicken I make! They get excited and that’s the response I get from all of Jenns recipes! You truly have been a Gods send for my kitchen skills!

    • — Kim Kapetanis on January 28, 2021
    • Reply
  • This is truly a very good flavor for chicken! Very fresh tasting!

    • — Kim Young on January 28, 2021
    • Reply
  • This marinade is amazing. It’s a staple in our household and gets worked into our regular rotation. Everything pairs so well with this chicken. You wont be dissapointed!

    • — Meaghan on January 28, 2021
    • Reply
  • I thought I knew how to make a really solid chicken breast. But Jenn’s recommendation to hold off on the acid during the marination is genius. The chicken breasts made this way were perfect. All the kids commented, which surprised me a little, but the chicken really was that much better. I absolutely love learning new tricks in the kitchen to make the basics better.

    • — Kristi on January 28, 2021
    • Reply
  • Thank you Jen for another great recipe! Love that it is so easy and healthy in these times when we are cooking more. I serve it with a dollop of tzatziki on the side-so yummy!

    • — Mary F on January 28, 2021
    • Reply
  • this is an excellent, healthy and quick marinade. Highly recommend. Really takes a chicken breast up a notch!

    • — Susan on January 28, 2021
    • Reply
  • Love the simple ingredients and the detailed instructions. This is a go recipe!

    • — Pamela Kennedy on January 28, 2021
    • Reply
  • This is the best grilled chicken recipe. The chicken stays moist and tender and is packed with flavor! Our grandchildren request this chicken when they come to visit!

    • — Lori Mc on January 28, 2021
    • Reply
  • This is the first time I’ve actually made good chicken! This recipe taught me how to make the chicken juicy and tender. I still can’t believe I made it!

    • — Mica Beckman on January 28, 2021
    • Reply
  • I made this a couple weeks ago and it was a huge hit with the whole family. I made extra so that we could slice and have in a salad the next day. Very juicy and flavorful, I’ll definitely make again soon.

    • — Stacy Iamele on January 28, 2021
    • Reply
  • This is an excellent method to keep chicken breasts from drying out. If the breasts are too large, I butterfly them and they cook more quickly and are just as good if not better.

    • — Mary Harrington on January 28, 2021
    • Reply
  • This easy and delicious recipe has become a staple in our house. Whenever I make a heavier pasta (like with your delicious alfredo or a vodka sauce), I serve this alongside. Also great on salads or alongside a starch and veggie. It’s super flavorful and moist – it really is the best!

    • — jane simon on January 28, 2021
    • Reply
  • We eat a lot of chicken. I love to grill it, but sometimes it is dry unless the skin is attached. Here is a chicken that stays moist and delicious even without the skin. Jenn mixes the right amount of seasoning and great directions to make it fail-safe. Everyone loves it and leftovers are still delicious.

    • — Ellen on January 28, 2021
    • Reply
  • Made these last night. Truly the Best Grilled Chicken – it’s my go to! What I love most is how easy the recipe is and that it is perfect every time. Truly foolproof! Only changes that I have made is that I use I tsp of kosher salt (not 1 1/4 tap) and I don’t measure the lemon zest – I zest one lemon. This recipe does not disappoint (ever)!

    • — Felice on January 28, 2021
    • Reply
  • Not only the best marinade for chicken, there are invaluable tips that accompany the recipe. Who knew that lemon zest worked much better than lemon juice to impart flavor without ruining the texture of the chicken? The basis of the marinade works well with additional or changed spices, including using dried basil. I make a batch of the Once Upon a Chef “chicken tenders” each week to include in salads or as a quick sandwich filling.

    • — Catherine Carpenter on January 28, 2021
    • Reply
  • Truly the best! Every time I make this for guests everyone raves about it. Thanks Jen!

    • — Amanda on January 28, 2021
    • Reply
  • Cooked chicken with this marinade and from now on it is my favorite! Meat is extremely juicy and delicious. Perfect for salads and as a main dish. My rate is 10 out of 5 stars.

    • — Olha on January 23, 2021
    • Reply
  • Can these be baked instead of grilled? If so, for how long?

    • — Ramona on January 21, 2021
    • Reply
    • Hi Ramona, If you don’t want to grill this, I’d use a combination of your stove and oven. Sear the chicken on the stove over high heat (for a min or two per side until browned) then finish it in a 350-degree oven for 5 to 10 minutes. Enjoy!

      • — Jenn on January 22, 2021
      • Reply
      • Thank you!

        • — Ramona on January 22, 2021
        • Reply
  • I always strayed away from boneless skinless chicken breasts due to lack of flavor but no more!!! This is absolutely Delicious! I only marinated for 3 hours and it still was great. Thanks for the tip about only adding the lemon zest. Save the lemon and offer wedges to your guests for extra lemony flavor. Yum and thanks!

    • — Ann on January 16, 2021
    • Reply
  • Another hit! The chicken turned out super delicious and juicy!

    • — Claudia on January 11, 2021
    • Reply
  • Why do you call this GRILLED CHICKEN, when your recipe is for chicken breast?

    • — fred on January 6, 2021
    • Reply
    • Hi Fred, I’ve always referred to any pieces/parts of chicken that are grilled as grilled chicken. Hope that clarifies!

      • — Jenn on January 6, 2021
      • Reply
  • Made for a group of 8 this week and got rave reviews from both kids and adults as well as a request for the recipe. We have a go-to lemon chicken recipe we typically use, but kind of wanted to try something new and took a shot with this one. Let 1 batch of the chicken marinate almost 24 hours and the 2nd batch (decided I needed more a few hours before dinner) only marinated a few hours. Only difference was we didn’t pound the chicken in advance so cooked on the grill as we normally would for chicken breasts. May have also skimped a little on the amount of oil b/c I didn’t want to use up so much evoo. Thanks for the new great recipe!

    • — Quinn on January 5, 2021
    • Reply
  • Hi Jenn! How do you adjust the time for cooking thighs instead of breasts?

    • — Tracy Driscoll on January 3, 2021
    • Reply
    • Hi Tracy, I’d give them 3 to 5 minutes on each side. Please LMK how they turn out!

      • — Jenn on January 3, 2021
      • Reply
  • Best grilled chicken EVER.

    • — Chris on December 21, 2020
    • Reply
  • This was the first recipe I made out of the cookbook, and if it was the only one I ever made(it’s not I love all of Jenn’s) it would of made the cookbook worth 10 times what I paid! It was so simple I didn’t expect such an amazing result! Made me realize I had been complicating recipes for years but didn’t really know the basics. I had always used lemon juice as a marinade until Jenn explained why you shouldn’t and now I will NEVER use another recipe. Needless to say I now make no less than 2 pounds of grilled chicken every week! We eat it on sandwiches, salads, as grilled chicken nuggets etc. Thank you for a wonderful simple staple in my kitchen!

    • — Kristen Bracken on December 15, 2020
    • Reply

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