HOW to Bake the PERFECT Chicken Breast

Until I learned some basic chicken tips, my baked chicken breasts were usually dry when we cut into them. And add to the dryness a disappointing tastlessness.

One common mistake I’ve made (and I bet I’m not alone in this) is to cook them for a set period of time (say, 25 minutes), regardless of size or thickness. Not a good idea. Professional chefs are unanimous in the opinion that today’s chicken breasts should be cut in half (aka fileted or butterflied) and then pounded to an even thickness. This simple trick makes for even cooking. And speaking of a trick, place your cut chicken in a zippered plastic freezer bag before pounding. You can thank me later.

Another thing the pros advocate is to marinate the breasts overnight. This is easy to do in a zippered plastic bag. You’ll be able to press the juices into the chicken periodically throughout the day, and this technique saves clean-up time as well.

By the way, a clever idea here is to freeze chicken breasts in marinade (in zippered plastic freezer bags) for use later on. Not only is this smart planning ahead, but it also gives the chicken extra time in the marinade—always a good thing.

The acids in the marinade work a chemical magic on the flesh and make the chicken ultra moist and tender. I used this method recently and family said they’d never had such good chicken. We watched the grill time like hawks, though, because, as you probably know, it’s so easy to overcook chicken.

I’ve experimented now with several marinades and I’m finding that it doesn’t make a bit of difference what recipe I use—it’s all good. But I will say our favorite results have come from using a citrus-based marinade—orange juice and orange marmalade being tops.

The point though, whatever flavor marinade you use, is to give the chicken enough time in the marinade for the ingredients to work their magic.

Another approach, one many professional cooks and dieticians suggest, is purchasing bone-in chicken breasts with skin. They say baking chicken with the skin on locks in moisture and helps prevent the flesh from shrinking and drying. And the bone adds flavor and promotes even cooking.

If bone-in, skin-on is the route you want to take, then season the breasts with your favorite herbs and place them in a 9x9 baking dish (cast iron, clay baker, a Dutch oven, etc.). Bake at 375 degrees for about 45 minutes. (If you have a chicken breast that's one pound or bigger, give it 55 minutes.) After the chicken rests for 15 minutes, cut it from the bones and remove the skins to slash the fat count.

So now that I know how to bake and grill chicken the right way, the results are no longer dry and family is raving. Try these ideas and see if your results aren’t worth bragging about, too! And to get you ready for our approaching grilling season, here’s one of our favorite citrus-based marinades (that’s also superb on salmon, by the way!) that I found on several years ago. This is so good you just want to drink it.

Orange Marmalade Marinade


2/3 cup orange marmalade
1/3 cup rice vinegar
1/3 cup soy sauce
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
2 teaspoons dried dried minced onion
1 teaspoon sesame oil

Blend all ingredients together. Store in airtight container until ready to use.

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    Alice Osborne
    Weekly Newsletter Contributor since 2006
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