When it comes to grilling, chicken breasts can be problematic, especially boneless, skinless chicken breasts. The meat itself is lean, and without the bones to insulate it or skin to protect it, that naked chicken breast on the grill has a tendency to easily overcook and dry out.
So, what to do?
Grilled Chicken Breast: The Solution (Brine!)
One method is to marinate chicken cutlets, or chicken breasts pounded to an even thickness, and quickly grill them on high heat. We use this method for our cilantro lime chicken and it works fine.
Another way, which doesn't require you to change the shape of the chicken breasts, is to brine the chicken first.
VIDEO! How to Grill Boneless Chicken Breasts
Grilled Chicken Breasts
How Long to Brine Chicken Breasts?
All it takes is 30 minutes in a simple brine solution of 1/4 cup kosher salt dissolved in 4 cups water. This is all the time you need for the chicken breasts to absorb enough moisture so they can better hold up to the heat of the grill without drying out.
With a half an hour of brining, the salt that is absorbed isn't so much that the chicken becomes salty, but it is enough so that the flavor of the grilled chicken will be enhanced. We would normally salt grilled chicken breasts, right? You don't need to do that if you brine.
How to Grill Chicken Breasts
Then it's a simple rub with paprika (great for color) and olive oil (no sticking on the grill). Onto the hot side of the grill the chicken goes for searing, then the cool side for finishing. And you have beautiful, perfectly juicy grilled chicken breasts!
Love Grilled Chicken? Try These Recipes!
- Grilled Cilantro Lime Chicken
- Barbecued Chicken on the Grill
- Chipotle Grilled Chicken and Avocado Sandwich
- Grilled Salsa Verde Chicken
- Grilled Chicken Caesar Salad
What's the Difference Between a Brine and a Marinade?
Both brines and marinades are meant to enhance plain meat, but they do it differently. A brine has more salt than a marinade, and meat gets totally immersed in a brine. It works because the salt (and sugar, if any) penetrates the meat as the brine and the meat reach an equilibrium. Brining adds moisture to the meat that keeps it from drying out while grilling, helping it to come out juicy.
A marinade often (but does not always) contain oil, and the oil does not penetrate the meat. The meat is usually not immersed in a marinade. Marinade flavors only the outside of the meat so there's a chance it will come out dry after grilling.
Can I Substitute Table Salt in the Brine?
We don't recommend using table salt in this brine. There's a big difference between the size of kosher salt flakes and table salt flakes. Using table salt will add much more salt to this brine recipe, and the chicken will come out too salty.
If table salt is all you have, use 2 tablespoons of table salt in this recipe.
How Long Do I Grill Chicken Breast?
The grilling time depends on the temperature of your grill and the thickness of the chicken breasts. The temperature of a charcoal grill is difficult to regulate, and not all gas grills have a temperature gauge.
Your total grilling time for this recipe comes down to how long your chicken breasts take to get to the right internal temperature. When they reach an internal temperature of 155°F on an instant-read thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the breast, take them off the grill. Cover in foil and let rest for 5 to 10 minutes. The breasts will continue to cook and reach the recommended 165°F internal temperature.
Perfect Sides for Grilled Chicken Breast
- Grilled Corn on the Cob
- Pineapple Salsa with Jicama
- Caprese Pasta Salad
- Kale Salad with Balsamic Dressing
- Blistered Shishito Peppers
How to Grill Juicy Boneless Skinless Chicken Breasts
It's always a good idea to use a meat thermometer when cooking meat that's at least an inch thick. I take chicken off the grill at a little bit lower temp (155°F) than is usually recommended for poultry, but that's because the chicken will continue to cook for several minutes once it's off the heat and resting. Taking the chicken off the heat at this temperature helps insure that the meat doesn't overcook and get dried out. If you feel more comfortable taking the chicken off the heat at a higher internal temperature, please feel free to do so.
For the brine:
4 cups water
1/4 cup kosher salt (or 3 tablespoons sea salt)
For the chicken:
1 1/2 to 2 pounds boneless skinless chicken breasts
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (plus more for the grill)
1 1/2 teaspoons paprika
Brine the chicken breast:
In a large bowl, whisk the salt in the water to dissolve. Add the chicken breasts to the brine. Put in the refrigerator and chill for 30 minutes.
Prepare your grill:
Arrange your grill so that one side is for high direct heat, and the other side is cooler. Alternatively, you can use a grill pan, set over medium-high heat.
Coat the chicken with oil and paprika:
Remove chicken breasts from brine and pat dry. Coat with olive oil, and sprinkle evenly with paprika.
Grill the chicken breasts:
Brush some olive oil on the grill grates. Place chicken breasts on the hot side of the grill (or on the grill pan). Let the chicken grill, undisturbed, until the pieces start getting some grill marks (you can lift up one to check).
When the chicken pieces have browned on one side, turn them over, and move them to the cooler side of the grill. Cover, and let them finish cooking.
Remove chicken from grill when the internal temperature of the chicken reaches 155°F.
Rest the chicken breasts, then serve:
Cover the breasts with foil. The chicken will continue to cook in its residual heat while it rests. Let it rest 5 to 10 minutes before cutting and serving.