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 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.

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.

See more recipes:

Comments

  • Made this tonight. I did not have any thyme so used Italian seasoning which had thyme and oregano. Other then that followed the recipe. We loved it. Will be making again.

    • — Marilyn Jacobs on June 24, 2022
    • Reply
  • Thank you for always posting such wonderful recipes! May I please, however, BEG YOU to
    STOP using single use plastic bags! You can pound a chicken cutlet under a piece of waxed paper and you can marinate any food item in a bowl. Let’s stop polluting the earth and start being responsible!!!!

    • — Alison on June 24, 2022
    • Reply
  • This was THE BEST chicken! My kids usually groan when I say we’re having chicken for dinner but tonight after the first bite of this recipe my teenage son’s eyes got big and he gave me a huge smile and said “Mom, you did it! This is so good!” and he reached across the table to give me a high five! It was so easy and great! I’m never going back! THANK YOU!!

    • — Emily on June 23, 2022
    • Reply
  • Wonderful recipe! Everyone loved it! The chicken turned out tender and so yummy!

    This is a tip for the person who didn’t have a lemon. Did you know that you can freeze lemons? I usually buy a few extras and put them in the freezer. When I need a lemon to zest, I always have one. You can simply zest the frozen lemon (make sure you use a doubled paper towel to hold it as you zest). The rest of the lemon can be used for slicing and putting into water after it has thawed. How simple is that! Thanks again for yet another great recipe!

    • — Jennifer Hobbs on June 23, 2022
    • Reply
  • I love this recipe Jenn having made it a number of times. I’m thinking of cubing the breasts to make kebabs, have you tried it like this? I think it should work just as well don’t you?

    • — Maxine on June 17, 2022
    • Reply
    • Hi Maxine, Glad you like it! Yes, you could cut these into cubes for kebabs (just don’t pound the breasts first). I’d love to hear what you think of them!

      • — Jenn on June 17, 2022
      • Reply
  • I’ve never been able to cook skinless, boneless chicken breasts that were anything but dry. Saw this recipe and decided to give it a go. Great tip about not using citrus juices but zest only. Who knew because it’s amazing how many recipes call for marinating in juices. This was delicious, juicy and flavorful. Even my husband liked it and he’s never been excited about me trying new chicken breast recipes. Ha! He said this one is a keeper!! Thanks, Jenn!

    • — Glinda on June 11, 2022
    • Reply
  • Wow!!! Thank you Jenn:) This was amazing. My 14 year old daughter said “mom, this is the best chicken you’ve ever made and the seasoning is so good, it is lemony.” My daughter rarely gives compliments. It was also my first attempt at grilling and I am so happy with the results!! I followed your recipe exactly except I only marinated for 2 hours due to time. It was awesome!

    • — Julie on May 31, 2022
    • Reply
  • This was great. I’ve saved it to Pinterest to use again

    • — M. Johnston on May 26, 2022
    • Reply
  • Can I use fresh Oregano and Thyme from my garden?

    • — Kirsten on May 25, 2022
    • Reply
    • Hi Kirsten, Sure – you’ll need about 1 Tbsp. of fresh thyme and 1-1/2 tsp. fresh oregano. Hope you enjoy!

      • — Jenn on May 26, 2022
      • Reply
  • It really is the best! Chicken breasts always come out chewy when cooked on the grill…no matter what…not these…i’m amazed…i love it! We’ll be making these all summer…thanks

    • — Connie on May 24, 2022
    • Reply
  • I just asked a question about using lemon juice in lieu of lemon zest, and I wanted to clarify that my lemon juice says: 100% Real Premium Lemon Juice, not from concentrate – on the package. Not sure if that matters. Thank you.

    • — Sandy on May 12, 2022
    • Reply
    • Hi Sandy, it doesn’t matter if it’s 100% lemon juice. When marinating boneless chicken breasts, using anything acidic like lemon juice or vinegar will make the chicken tough. The lemon zest gives the chicken some lemony flavor without toughening it up. Hope that clarifies!

      • — Jenn on May 12, 2022
      • Reply
  • Hello, I don’t have fresh lemon, I only have lemon juice. Should I wait to make this until I get fresh lemon for the zest or can I use lemon juice, but marinade it for less time so it doesn’t get tough. Thank you, We really enjoy your recipes.

    • — Sandy on May 12, 2022
    • Reply
    • So glad you like the recipes! I would definitely wait until you have fresh lemon for this.

      • — Jenn on May 12, 2022
      • Reply
  • Can this recipe also work with Boneless, skinless chicken thighs?

    • — Lisa on May 11, 2022
    • Reply
    • Sure! The cook time will be slightly different. I’d follow the guidance from this recipe. Hope you enjoy!

      • — Jenn on May 11, 2022
      • Reply
  • I’d like to make this a couple hours before serving. Can I keep it warm, and when would I slice it?
    Thanks!

    • — Dan Schnur on April 22, 2022
    • Reply
    • Hi Dan, I wouldn’t recommend keeping it warm for a few hours as I’m concerned that it would get overcooked. You can reheat it before serving though; I’d reheat it, covered with foil, in a 325°F-oven until hot. And I’d slice it after you’ve reheated it. Enjoy!

      • — Jenn on April 24, 2022
      • Reply
  • ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️Delicious! This is my new go to. Used it to make skewers as well. Very good!

    • — :) on April 20, 2022
    • Reply
  • I made this tonight with slight variations. I butterflied and pounded the chicken breast then sprinkled over baking soda on both sides letting is sit at room temperature for 40 minutes. In the meantime, I prepared double the marinade (I had about 3lbs of chicken) adding the juice of one lemon and garlic powder. I also increased the salt a bit. After the 40 minutes passed, I rinsed and dried the chicken well. I then added the marinade, covered and set it aside for 2 hours. OMG!! So delicious and tender!

    • — Brenda on April 17, 2022
    • Reply
  • Jenn, not sure if you will check this in time as you are probably prepping for Passover too! I am bringing this to my parents to cook for sedar and they do not have a grill. Would it be better to broil this or bake it at 375 and take it out at 165 degrees? I worry that broiling will overcook the outside before the inside is cooked. If you don’t get to this in time for sedar, I will figure it out and follow your directions for next time!

    • — Elizabeth on April 14, 2022
    • Reply
    • Hi Elizabeth, for indoor cooking, I use both the stove and the oven. On the stove, I’d sear the chicken 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. Hope everyone enjoys and happy Passover!

      • — Jenn on April 15, 2022
      • Reply
  • Can I use this recipe to marinate chicken skewers?

    • — Dorota on March 27, 2022
    • Reply
    • Sure!

      • — Jenn on March 28, 2022
      • Reply
  • Hi Jenn,
    Are there any variations to this recipe that would work? For example, lime or orange zest? Any other herbs that would be nice with lime or orange? Thanks as always! Can’t wait to try it!

    • — Turtle on March 13, 2022
    • Reply
    • Sure, feel free to play around with the zest you use. With lime, cumin and/or parsley would be a nice combination. For orange, you could experiment with cinnamon, thyme,m, and/or rosemary. Please LMK what you think if you try any of these combos or experiment with any others!

      • — Jenn on March 14, 2022
      • Reply
      • Thanks Jenn! I will let you know how it goes. One last question; what nonstick pans do you use? I can’t find a good brand that doesn’t require a bunch of maintenance. I’d like to find a nontoxic one. Hoping you have some good tips on that!

        • — Turtle on March 14, 2022
        • Reply
  • What are ingredients for the marinade? Can’t see the list on this site! Many thanks sandyhenshaw@gmail.com

    • — Sandy on February 27, 2022
    • Reply
    • Hi Sandy, 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 February 28, 2022
      • Reply
  • We had this chicken today for lunch and dinner and it was wonderful! I marinated it overnight. I used a grill pan and cooked the chicken on the stove. If has those nice chargrill marks and was really tender and juicy on the inside. Thank you for this recipe! Will definitely save it so I can make this again.

    • — Jessica on February 24, 2022
    • Reply
  • We greatly enjoyed this grilled chicken last night. Thank you Jenn!
    I would like to try this with chicken thighs – either bone-in or boneless, skinless. Would that work? Do I need to make any alterations for this?

    • — Mary on February 19, 2022
    • Reply
    • So glad you liked it, Mary! Yes, this recipe will work with either bone-in or boneless thighs. For boneless, I’d refer to the cooking time from this recipe, and for bone-in, use the guidance from this one. Please LMK how they turn out!

      • — Jenn on February 21, 2022
      • Reply
  • Can I use chicken tenders? Thanks

    • — Thea on February 3, 2022
    • Reply
    • Sure (and no need to pound them out). Enjoy!

      • — Jenn on February 3, 2022
      • Reply
  • I made this and it was AMAZING!!!

    • — Quincy on January 26, 2022
    • Reply
  • Hi Jenn!

    Can you please specify; do you use kosher salt or fine salt? I used fine sea salt and it seemed a bit salty. But overall the flavor was delicious and chicken was moist. I want to make again. Thanks!

    • — JANE on January 21, 2022
    • Reply
    • Hi Jane, 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. I’m sorry to hear you found this a bit too salty. Feel free to cut it back a bit next time.

      • — Jenn on January 21, 2022
      • Reply
      • Thanks for clarifying; I will make again using regular table salt. I’m sure it will be better! ~ Jane

        • — Jane on January 21, 2022
        • Reply
  • Found this recipe just before I was due to cook and as such only had the chicken marinading in the fridge for half an hour; still tasted amazing. Looking forward to trying again with the recommended time. This recipe is going into my staples. Loved it!

    • — Steve on January 12, 2022
    • Reply
  • I absolutely love this recipe!!
    Can I use it with beef?

    • — Norma Lucero on January 6, 2022
    • Reply
    • Hi Norma, I’d probably use a recipe that’s intended specifically for beef. You may like this one.

      • — Jenn on January 7, 2022
      • Reply
  • I have tried a lot of different marinades, trying to get my husband to like chicken. This was the best!! Even my husband liked it. It was delicious, and the chicken was nice and juicy and tender. I’ve finally found my go to recipe!

    • — Kathy on December 26, 2021
    • Reply
  • I made this recipe. It was delicious!! My husband love it and he want this to be one of my go to recipes for chicken breasts. Thanks for sharing.

    • — Wanda on December 26, 2021
    • Reply
  • What a great recipe and explanation. The tough chicken breasts I was serving before just weren’t cutting it and I was getting desperate even while thinking, I don’t think any recipe can make a chicken breast delicious and juicy — must be luck of the draw with the bird. Well, I was totally amazed by how good the chicken breast was using this recipe — juicy, flavorful. I think she’s right on in saying that lemon juice makes chicken tough. This was really really good. I followed her recipe very closely. It was a hit with everyone. You too can achieve this level of renown.

    • — RCO on December 3, 2021
    • Reply
  • Delicious tender chicken. Your tip about NOT using the lemon juice, only the zest is a real game changer. I have modified all chicken marinades to remove the citrus juice..

    • — Cindy on December 2, 2021
    • Reply
  • This has quickly been adopted into our weekly rotation. I’ve grilled it on a gas grill, used a panini press (messy), and baked it. All cooking methods yield fantastic, flavorful chicken.

    • — Jennifer on November 29, 2021
    • Reply
  • I tried this recipe a couple of times, sometimes with different but the same method and it’s just great. Really moist chicken 🙂

    I’m wondering though, how do you tell when the chicken breasts are cooked? Also, I don’t have access to a grill so I have just been using the stovetop and the oven. I’ve read somewhere here you should put the braise the chicken breast using a cast iron skillet first and then into a 350-degree oven but I found that to be too weak. Could I just put the oven to a broil setting instead?

    • — Dennis on November 24, 2021
    • Reply
    • Hi Dennis, Yes it’s fine to just broil the chicken, and the easiest way to check for doneness with thin chicken breasts is to just cut one of the pieces with a knife. There shouldn’t be any pinkish hue and the juices should run clear. Hope that helps!

      • — Jenn on November 24, 2021
      • Reply
    • A meat thermometer. Boneless chicken breast is best cooked at 160 degrees. It will continue to cook once removed so remove it at 158 to 160 degrees. Let it rest for about 5 minutes before cutting it.

      • — Donna on January 31, 2022
      • Reply
  • I love baking but am not so great with cooking meats/poultry. I made this marinade, let the chicken sit in it overnight, and grilled it the next day. It was absolutely delicious. Everyone loved it, and it was a good and simple intro to marinades.

    • — Lindsey on November 4, 2021
    • Reply
  • Took me 5-6 minutes longer but I think it’s a user pounding error. Taste is fantastic.

    • — Anna K on October 25, 2021
    • Reply
  • This was unbelievably tasty and everyone to whom I’ve served has raved and requested the recipe!!!! Thank you!!

    • — Lisa Blackburn on October 25, 2021
    • Reply
  • Very tender but I didn’t like the herb flavoring

    • — David on October 21, 2021
    • Reply

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