When I first started cooking real food — i.e. not Pop Tarts — it was during the health craze of America when boring, plain chicken breasts were the trendiest thing in the health & fitness world. My friends and I would gear up for summer bikini season by eating chicken breasts with steamed broccoli, chicken breasts with baked asparagus, or chicken breasts with a vegetable medley. If that sounds boring, it’s because it was.
Now, as a 30-something, I find that the more boring my meals are, the more likely I’m going to storm my pantry in search of flavorful food right before bed. I’ve learned that my body needs a certain level of satiety in flavor, fats, and balanced meals, or else it’s going to rage at the wrong hours of the day…or night.
Luckily for me, my first jobs were in the food industry, and I learned some things about cooking chicken that have since invigorated my at-home meal prep. Here are some tips that will SPICE. UP. YOUR. LIFE! — ahem, I mean meal time.
1. Start at room temperature
This is the absolutely must first step to ensure your chicken comes out of the oven absolutely juicy, tender, and (IMPORANTLY) cooked through. If you can’t figure out why your insides are raw while the outsides are overcooking, it’s this crucial step! Think of it this way: your fridge is set to 40°F. Your chicken has to be 165°F on the inside to be cooked all the way. If your chicken breast is thick, then the outside is going to get way hotter than 165° by the time the inside is cooked through, causing it to turn into dry, rubbery leather. No thanks! Instead, pull your chicken out of the fridge and let it rest on the counter at least 30 minutes before putting it in the oven.
Bonus tip: By pounding your chicken with a kitchen mallet, you’re ensuring it’s easier for the entire breast to cook evenly, resulting in perfection!
2. Spice it up!
My go-to spices for chicken breasts are: salt, pepper, garlic powder, smoked paprika, and Tony’s (only southerners will know what this is). I typically add 1 tablespoon of each spice into a bowl, mix it together, and hand-rub it into the chicken. Then I add more salt, because I like it that way.
3. Add fat back
If your chicken breasts are skinless, you absolutely must add fat back into the meat. To do this, melt some butter and brush it onto your chicken. Some people prefer to use olive oil because *health*, but trust me, it’s better for your meal to satiate your tastebuds and leave you feeling full than to deprive yourself and end up snacking on baked treats in the middle of the night. So, try butter!
4. Hot & quick
This is, admittedly, a point of contention. I polled my Instagram audience about whether they cook chicken slow & low or hot & quick, and it was a 50-50 split, with heated responses…no pun intended. I’ve tried both ways, and I have to attest that roasting at a high temperature for less time yields a juicier chicken breast. Memorize these numbers, and you’ll never have to Google the recipe again:
Roast the chicken breast at 450°F for 15-17 minutes, depending on thickness. Use a thermometer to ensure the internal temperature is at 165°F before pulling it out of the oven.
5. Let it rest
This tip is so easy that you’re going to laugh. After your chicken is cooked, DO NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES pull it out of the oven and slice it up. No, not unless you’re Edward Scissorhands and you can’t control yourself. Instead, let it rest for 10-15 minutes with a tinfoil tent on top. This allows for the chicken to cool, reabsorb those delicious spiced juices, and stay juicy even for up to 3 days in the fridge.
With these 5 steps, you’re going to be cooking up the best chicken breasts of your life. And, more importantly, you’ll not only feel good after you eat it, but you’ll be satisfied until your next meal. Win, win!
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