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How to Cook Juicy Chicken Breasts and Tenders Every Time

Last Updated on January 22, 2021

Chicken is the most commonly eaten poultry in the world, and here in the United States, we’re often drawn to leaner cuts like boneless, skinless chicken breasts and tenders.

While these cuts are nutritious, they have a tendency to end up dry and rubbery when not cooked properly. This doesn’t have to be the case though; we’ll cover a few steps you can take to achieve perfectly cooked chicken breasts and tenders every time. We’ll talk about:

  • Marinating chicken (which ingredients tenderize and which have the opposite effect)
  • Using a brine
  • Cooking chicken breasts and tenders to right internal temperature
  • Adding fat and basting chicken
  • Introducing moisture with a quick pan sauce

Use this guide to whip up succulent chicken every time, even when it’s boneless and skinless.

Marinate Your Chicken Breasts and Tenders

One sure-fire way to tenderize meat and pack in plenty of flavor? A solid marinade. Chicken breasts and tenders are no different in this regard; a marinade will help keep them tender, moist, and juicy.

Fortunately, there are many flavor profiles to choose from with a marinade. While highly acidic ingredients actually firm up meat rather than tenderize it, they can be tempered with truly tenderizing ingredients like yogurt, milk, or buttermilk. Meanwhile, wines, fruits, and juices can add complex flavor compounds as they caramelize while cooking.

Need some chicken marinade inspiration? Check out these recipes:

Try a Brine for Crispy Chicken Tenders

If you’ve ever bitten into a crispy, fried chicken tender to find impeccably juicy meat inside, there’s a good chance that chicken was brined.

A brine is a highly concentrated salt and water solution, which can be as simple or as complex as you’d like. You can add flavor enhancers like peppercorns, sugar, herbs, or spices. Some people even brine with pickle juice!

You may have tried brining with large birds like a Thanksgiving turkey, but brining is an easy way to retain juiciness in any lean cut of meat. You can use a specific recipe, but the simplest version is to combine water, salt, and sugar then brine the chicken in a bag.

Be Mindful of the Chicken’s Internal Temperature

One culprit for dry chicken breast and tenders? Overcooking. It may seem obvious, but you can avoid overcooking your chicken by keeping a vigilant eye on its internal temperature.

Use a meat thermometer to gauge the chicken’s internal temperature. You’ll want to cook it to 165°F, and not a degree past that to ensure the chicken stays moist and juicy.

Add Fat for Richness

When you eat chicken with its bones and skin, you’re retaining quite a bit of its natural fat. In fact, that fat can be rendered down to a cooking fat called schmaltz.

With boneless, skinless chicken, the fat has largely been trimmed away, so add some of that fat back in for rich flavor and texture. Cook your chicken with fats like butter, ghee, avocado oil, or olive oil. You can even baste your chicken breasts and tenders the same way you would a steak, pouring melted fat over them repeatedly.

Introduce Moisture with a Sauce

We’re all hoping that, by following these key steps, we don’t end up with dry, overcooked chicken breasts or tenders. But if you find yourself in this position, all hope is not lost. You can introduce moisture back into dry chicken with a quick pan sauce.

A pan sauce is ideal if you’ve already seared your chicken or cooked it on the stovetop. You can just add your favorite aromatics—think garlic, shallots, onions—and your favorite seasonings to the pan. Then deglaze the pan with a white wine or some broth, scraping off the flavorful, sticky bits on the bottom. Add some more broth to make a sauce, simmer until the sauce thickens, and throw in a pat of butter for good measure. That’s your pan sauce!

Courtney Hamilton is a writer and editor with over seven years' experience in journalism, blogging, communications, and other media. She has written for publications like PaleoHacks, PaleoPlan, The Center for American Progress, OC Weekly, and more. 
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