The piece de resistance for your every day, never-lets-you-down, basic-done-better recipe needs: how to make the absolute BEST Baked Chicken Breast!
When it comes to the Popular Protein Awards, you can’t beat boneless, skinless chicken breasts.
They’re easy to find, endlessly versatile, healthy, and one of the most approved proteins by picky eaters.
While chicken breast is great in theory—a lean protein I can flavor anyway I like, enjoy on its own, or add to pastas, salads, sandwiches, and more, AND it’s good for me?!—too often, chicken breast is a total fail in execution.
Dry. Bland. Rubbery. All common outcomes of baked chicken breast.
For years, I’ve cooked a batch of boneless, skinless chicken breasts most weeks for meal prep.
Baked chicken, however, eluded me. I missed the juiciness and roasted nuances that I enjoyed from other baked meats.
While bone-in chicken is easy to keep from drying out (see my Baked Bone In Chicken Breast for a scrumptious recipe) unless we’re talking about Bacon Wrapped Chicken Breast, boneless can be another story.
And so our juicy journey begins!
After testing various methods, I’ve unlocked a simple method to bake your chicken breast without drying it out.
One of the things I love most about it, however, is that it truly tastes good enough to stand on its own as a main, a rarity among most simple chicken breast recipes.
The Best Way to Cook Chicken Breasts in the Oven
Chicken breasts are usually thinner on the ends and thicker in the middle, which means that by the time the chicken is cooked through at its center, the ends are rubbery and dry.
- Lightly pound your chicken to an even thickness so that it all cooks in the same amount of time.
- As a bonus, your recipe will finish up more quickly and pounding can help make the meat more tender.
Brining isn’t just for turkeys!
Salting your chicken by a wet brine or dry brine method for as few as 15 minutes will work wonders for its inner juiciness and ensure that the meat is seasoned all the way through, not just on the outside.
Brining has a scientific effect on meat. It changes the protein structure in a way that improves its texture and helps it to hold water so that it is juicier (you can read more about how brining works here).
As far as HOW to brine, you have two options:
- a wet brine (in which the meat is submerged in a saltwater solution or something like this delicious Chicken Marinade), or
- a dry brine (in which the meat is seasoned generously with salt and rests uncovered for a period of time).
Both the wet brine and the dry brine have their pros and cons. I tested this baked chicken breast with both brines to see which was best.
Here’s a side by side of the results:
Wet vs. Dry Brined Chicken Breasts
- Wet Brine
- Pros. Short brining time. Just 15 minutes yielded fantastic results. Chicken retained more moisture.
- Cons. Messy. I don’t love having my chicken sitting in a bowl of water. Wet brining takes up more space. You need to rinse the chicken after it is brined which is messy and has a slightly higher contamination risk (or you can skip the rinse and embrace having salty chicken, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing).
- RESULT. Some of the juiciest chicken I’ve ever tasted. It was plumper than the dry brine, though I can’t say one was more tender than the other.
- Dry Brine
- Pros. Neater and easier compared to the wet brine method. You do not need to rinse the meat after dry brining; simply brush off the excess salt.
- Cons. Longer brining time (30 minutes) compared to wet (15 minutes). Slightly less juicy chicken compared to wet.
- RESULT. The chicken was firmer and less plump than the wet brined chicken, but not in a bad way. It was still incredibly tender and much, much better than chicken breasts that are not brined.
Still deciding? Check out these close ups.
Wet Brined Baked Chicken Breast:
Dry Brined Baked Chicken Breast:
Honestly, I was super happy with both the wet brined and dry brined chicken. I would use either methods, depending upon how pressed for time I am.
If your chicken breast comes pre-brined, skip the brining step or it will be too salty.
Also, a fantastic option if you do not have time to brind but still crave quality flavor is my Pan Fried Chicken Breast.
3. Room Temperature
While you can leave your chicken in the refrigerator to brine, don’t throw it into the oven cold right out of the refrigerator. If you do, it will not cook evenly. By the time the middle cooks through, the outsides will be dry.
- Let your chicken rest at room temperature for at least 10 minutes before baking.
4. Bake at 425 Degrees F
I’ve tested how long to bake chicken breasts at 350, at 400, at 425, and at 450.
- Based on my tests, the best temperature to bake chicken breasts is 425 degrees F.
At this temperature, the chicken turned golden on the outside and unbelievably juicy inside. If you go lower, the chicken can dry out, as it will need to be in the oven for a longer period.
5. Use an Instant Read Thermometer
I CANNOT overstate this point enough. =
- An instant read thermometer like this one is inexpensive and is the absolute best way to not overcook your chicken, fish, and other meats. I even use it to tell when my banana bread is done (195 degrees F)!
6. Let the Chicken Rest
This is non-negotiable.
- Resting meat allows the juices to reincorporate back into the meat. If you cut the chicken right away, all that juiciness you worked for will slip right out.
- For boneless, skinless chicken breasts, 5 minutes of resting time is sufficient, though you can go up to 10 if you like.
Step-by-Step: How to Bake Chicken Breasts
- Pound the chicken.
- Pat the chicken dry.
- For a dry brine: salt the chicken and refrigerate it.
- For a wet brine: mix warm water and salt together in a bowl. Add the chicken. Let rest 15 minutes at room temperature or refrigerate it for up to 4 hours.
- Let the chicken come to room temperature. Rinse or wipe off the brine.
- Toss the chicken with oil and spices, then lay it in a baking dish.
- Bake at 425 degrees F. See the suggested cook times in the recipe below.
- Let the chicken rest for at least 5 minutes. DIG IN!
Chicken Breast Seasoning Ideas
Once your chicken is brined, you can bake it right away, or add any seasonings you like. Here are a few ideas to get you started.
- Paprika. A delicious, sweet spice with a hint of heat.
- Garlic Powder. Garlicky goodness!
- Salt and Pepper. Classic and beloved.
- Red Pepper Flakes. For a little heat.
- Lemon Pepper. Always a crowd-pleaser. Most lemon pepper seasoning includes some salt, so adjust accordingly.
- Cayenne Pepper. Turn up the spice!
- Everything Bagel Seasoning. Add the popular seasoning blend to your chicken.
- Cajun Seasoning. Bold and a little spicy. Most cajun seasoning includes some salt, so adjust accordingly.
- Italian Seasoning. Scrumptious for Italian-style recipes.
- Curry Powder. Warm and wonderfully flavorful.
- Stuffed Chicken Breast. This elegant Spinach Stuffed Chicken Breast is a must-try recipe!
Ways to Use Baked Chicken Breast
Once you have your juicy baked chicken breast, there are so many incredible ways to use it!
- With Vegetables. Baked chicken breast is delicious served with vegetables. We especially love ours with Roasted Broccoli or Roasted Frozen Broccoli.
- With Pasta or Rice. Serve your chicken with any of your favorite pasta or rice dishes (Mediterranean Pasta and Lemon Rice are two great options).
- On a Salad. Pump up the protein of your favorite salad (like this Spinach Strawberry Salad with Poppy Seed Dressing) by adding some chicken.
- In a Recipe. Use this chicken in a recipe that calls for cooked chicken. See our full list of healthy chicken recipes for ideas.
For easy use, you can dice or shred this baked chicken breast. (I suggest using a hand mixer to make shredding extra quick and simple.)
- To Store. Refrigerate chicken breast in an airtight storage container for up to 3 days.
- To Reheat. Gently rewarm chicken in a baking dish in the oven at 350 degrees F.
- To Freeze. Freeze leftovers in an airtight freezer-safe storage container for up to 3 months. Let thaw overnight in the refrigerator before reheating.
Leftover chicken breast works beautifully as an addition to any pasta dish, rice dish, or salad. It’s also delicious when turned into a chicken salad recipe (like Curry Chicken Salad or Whole30 Chicken Salad). Or you can use the leftovers in my reader-favorite Healthy Chicken Pot Pie.
Recommended Tools to Make this Recipe
- Mixing Bowls. This set is easy to clean and store.
- Baking Dish. The perfect baking dish for this recipe.
- Instant Read Thermometer. My #1 hack for knowing when your chicken is cooked through.
WHEW! There you have it. The download on making the best ever, juicy guaranteed, baked boneless skinless chicken breasts.
If you try this recipe, I’d love to hear how it turns out for you, and if you use the wet or the dry brine. Your comments make my day!
Baked Chicken Breast
- 3 to 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 1 1/2 pounds)
- Wet or dry brine see below
- 2 to 4 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil 1 teaspoon per breast
- 1 teaspoon paprika*
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder*
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt add ONLY if rinsing the chicken, plus additional to taste
- 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper*
- Additional seasonings of choice see blog post above for suggestions
FOR A DRY BRINE:
- 1 to 2 teaspoons kosher salt
FOR A WET BRINE:
- 4 cups warm water
- ¼ cup kosher salt
- Place chicken breasts on a cutting board and lay a large piece of plastic wrap over the top to guard against splatters. With a meat mallet or rolling pin, pound the breasts into an even thickness.
- Pat the chicken breasts dry on both sides.
- TO DRY BRINE: Sprinkle the breasts generously on both sides with salt. Place in the refrigerator uncovered for 30 minutes or up to 1 day.
- TO WET BRINE: In a large bowl, stir together the warm water and salt. Place the chicken breasts in the water and let sit at room temperature for 15 minutes, or cover and refrigerate for up to 4 hours.
- TO COOK: Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. If the chicken is in the refrigerator, remove it. If dry brining, with a paper towel, wipe off the salt well from both sides (I do not rinse my dry brine). If wet brining, remove the chicken from the wet brine and rinse it off (to skip the rinse, omit any remaining salt from the recipe; your chicken will be salty but by no means inedible).
- Pat the chicken very dry on both sides, wiping away any clearly visible salt. If the chicken has been in the refrigerator, let it sit at room temperature for 10 minutes.
- Coat a ceramic or metal baking dish large enough to hold the chicken in a single layer (such as a 9×13-inch baking dish) with nonstick spray. (I do not recommend using glass/Pyrex, as the way it conducts heat will not cook the chicken as evenly. If needed, you can bake the chicken on a metal baking sheet.)
- Place the chicken in a large bowl (if wet brining, rinse out, dry, and reuse the same bowl if you like). Add the olive oil, paprika, garlic powder, salt (only add the salt if you rinsed your chicken), and pepper. Toss to coat the chicken evenly, then arrange it in the baking dish.
- Bake the chicken for 14 to 16 minutes (for small/medium breasts that are about 6 to 7 ounces), 16 to 20 minutes (for medium/large breasts that are 8 to 10 ounces), or 20 to 25 minutes (for larger breasts). For absolute best results, use an instant read thermometer. When the breasts reach 165 degrees F, they are done.
- REST: Transfer the chicken to a plate or cutting board. Cover and let rest for a minimum of 5 minutes. Slice, dice, or shred as desired. Enjoy!
- *Feel free to swap out these seasonings for the suggestions in the blog post above.
- Debating between a wet and dry brine? See the blog post above for the pros and cons of each.
- If your chicken breast comes pre-brined (sometimes it is sold this way) skip the brining step.
- TO STORE: Refrigerate chicken breast in an airtight storage container for up to 3 days.
- TO REHEAT: Gently rewarm chicken in a baking dish in the oven at 350 degrees F.
- TO FREEZE: Freeze leftovers in an airtight freezer-safe storage container for up to 3 months. Let thaw overnight in the refrigerator before reheating.
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