How to Grill Juicy Boneless Skinless Chicken Breasts

Wondering how to get juicy, grilled chicken breast every time? It's all in the brine! A quick 30-minute brine makes the difference between dry chicken and perfect chicken.

Overhead view of grilled and brined chicken on a plate.
Eliezer Martinez

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

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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.

Overhead view of grilled and brined chicken on a plate.
Eliezer Martinez

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 chicken breast sliced on a plate and two whole breasts behind it on another plate.
Eliezer Martinez

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 grains. 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 1 1/2 tablespoons of table salt in this recipe. You can also use 1 1/2 tablespoons of fine sea salt.

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

From the Editors Of Simply Recipes

How to Grill Juicy Boneless Skinless Chicken Breasts

Prep Time 10 mins
Brining 30 mins
Total Time 40 mins
Servings 4 servings

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.


Ingredients

For the brine:

  • 4 cups water

  • 1/4 cup (33 g) Diamond Crystal kosher salt, or 1 1/2 tablespoons (33 g) fine sea salt

For the chicken:

  • 2 pounds boneless skinless chicken breasts

  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons paprika

Method

  1. 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.

    Chicken breasts brining in a glass bowl to show how to cook chicken breast.
    Eliezer Martinez
  2. 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.

  3. Coat the chicken with oil and paprika:

    Remove chicken breasts from brine and pat dry. Coat with olive oil, and sprinkle evenly with paprika.

    Chicken breasts being brushed with oil on a cutting board to show how to cook chicken breast.
    Eliezer Martinez
  4. 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 (low heat, not no heat). Cover, and let them finish cooking.

    Remove chicken from grill when the internal temperature of the chicken reaches 155°F. (Note: USDA guidelines recommend cooking chicken to 165°F or until no longer pink in the middle. However, we prefer to remove the chicken from the grill when it reaches 155°F, covering with foil, and letting it rest to finish cooking. The chicken should reach 165°F as it rests; check with an instant read thermometer before serving.)

    Three chicken breasts on a grill to show how long to grill chicken.
    Eliezer Martinez
    Chicken on the grill to show how long to grill chicken breast.
    Eliezer Martinez
  5. 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.

    Grilled chicken breast on a baking sheet and covered in foil.
    Eliezer Martinez
    Grilled chicken breast on resting on each other on a cutting board.
    Eliezer Martinez
Nutrition Facts (per serving)
466 Calories
18g Fat
0g Carbs
70g Protein
Show Full Nutrition Label Hide Full Nutrition Label
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: 4
Amount per serving
Calories 466
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 18g 24%
Saturated Fat 4g 19%
Cholesterol 193mg 64%
Sodium 3957mg 172%
Total Carbohydrate 0g 0%
Dietary Fiber 0g 1%
Total Sugars 0g
Protein 70g
Vitamin C 0mg 0%
Calcium 46mg 4%
Iron 3mg 15%
Potassium 601mg 13%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate. In cases where multiple ingredient alternatives are given, the first listed is calculated for nutrition. Garnishes and optional ingredients are not included.