This recipe delivers the juiciest grilled chicken breasts you’ll ever make, and it includes instructions for different types of grills.
Disclosure: I’m sharing this as a proud Cowboy Charcoal ambassador. The post is sponsored. Opinions are my own.
I went through numerous chicken breasts in my test kitchen to come up with the juiciest method for grilled chicken breasts. Because this is a special Grill Smoke U recipe, I tested it on multiple types of grills and include instructions for them all.
I recommend reading the trimming and brining sections of the post and then, following the method for the type of grill that you have.
How to trim a chicken breast
When shopping for chicken breasts, you can buy bone-in or boneless chicken breasts. Personally, I like to grill boneless, skinless chicken breasts hot and fast. Whereas I barbecue bone-in, skin-on breasts longer at lower temps.
Today’s recipe is for boneless, skinless chicken breasts with rib meat.
I have found that how chicken breasts are butchered varies greatly, depending on the brand. You can purchase breasts that say pre-trimmed on them, but they’re usually more expensive, so I’m going to show you how to trim them yourself.
When you take the breasts out of the package, look them over. One side will likely have a thin white layer of fat. I like to trim this off.
The other side will have the socket where the wing was connected to the breast. Feel it with your finger. If you notice a little gristle, trim it away with a sharp boning knife.
When you flip the breast over, it should have a flap. This is the chicken tender or rib meat. I like to leave this attached, because it helps balance out the thickness of the breast.
If the breasts you buy already have the tenderloin removed, you may notice that one end will be significantly thicker than the other. If that’s the case, place the chicken between two sheets of plastic wrap and pound the thicker side a bit, so it’s even with the thinner side. This will help it cook more evenly.
How to make sure the chicken breast is juicy
Now that your chicken breasts are trimmed, it’s time to ensure they are juicy.
While some people like to use marinades, I find the brine method works much better. Marinades are generally made with oil and vinegar and flavor enhancers like soy sauce and garlic.
Those do a great job at flavoring the meat, but they don’t necessarily make it juicy. And if you leave your chicken in an acid-based marinade for too long, it will actually start to cook and will get rubbery.
Brining, on the other hand, works differently. When the chicken breast is introduced to a salt water bath, the proteins begin to break down and relax while the meat absorbs the liquid. It’s like juicy chicken magic.
Brining Bonus: Brining liquid doesn’t include oil, so it’s much healthier and lower in calories than marinades.
A typical brine is made up of water, kosher salt, sugar and seasonings. For this recipe, you don’t need to make a big batch. I use a really simple technique.
Mix one bottle of room temperature water with a tablespoon of kosher salt, a tablespoon of sugar and a tablespoon of my personal Chicken Rub, which is a blend of salt, pepper, sugar, paprika, garlic, onion, bell pepper, lemon zest, chiles and natural hickory smoke.
You don’t need to heat the water or anything. The salt, sugar and seasonings will dissolve just fine. Stir it up. Pour it in a zip-top bag, and add the chicken breasts. Massage it gently, and place the bag in a bowl (just in case it leaks).
How long does it take to brine chicken
Honestly, there is no need to over think this. I have brined chicken for 30 minutes, and I’ve brined chicken for 24 hours.
I find 1 hour to be a nice sweet spot. It gives the meat plenty of juiciness without me having to plan dinner hours in advance.
I start the meal by trimming the chicken, making the brine and letting it soak in the bag on the counter. Then, I heat up the grill, prepare my sides and set the table. Once that’s done, the chicken is ready to be seasoned to go on the grill.
How long to grill chicken breasts
One of the most important things to learn about grilling is that it’s better to cook to temp versus time. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has outlined safe minimum internal temperatures for all proteins.
If you follow their guidelines and cook your chicken breasts to 165F degrees, they will be incredibly juicy.
If you’re using full chicken breasts with the tenderloins attached, they should be cooked through in about 15 minutes.
To keep the chicken breasts from sticking to the grill, rub them with a drizzle of olive oil. Then, add a light dusting of Christie Vanover’s Chicken Rub to give them a beautiful ruby color.
I heat my grill to 350F degrees. Then, I grill them top-side down for 3 minutes. Flip them and cook another 3 minutes. Flip them again and rotate 90 degrees to get those grill marks, cooking for 3 more minutes.
Then, I flip them one final time and let them cook for another 3-5 minutes to that internal temp of 165F. Be sure to place the thermometer probe into the thickest part of the meat. It’s best to come at it from the side.
As with all meats, make sure you let the chicken rest for 5-10 minutes before slicing it. This will allow the juices to relax and settle into the meat.
Grill Smoke U – Grilling Steps for Different Grills
When using a gas grill, set your dial to medium to medium-high heat. You want the grill to heat up to about 350F degrees.
Place the foil pouch in the back of the grill over the heat. Once it starts smoking, add the chicken breasts to the grill.
Then, follow the grill and flip instructions, until the chicken reaches 165F degrees.
There are a variety of charcoal grills, including your standard kettle, a ceramic cooker and a campsite grill.
For kettles and campsite grills, I like to use Cowboy Hardwood Hickory or Apple Briquets. Fill a charcoal chimney with briquets and add a firestarter under the chimney. Light it up and let it burn, until the briquets are gray. Then, dump them into the grill.
Once the coals are ready, adjust the vents on the grill until the internal temperature reaches 350F degrees.
Then, follow the grill and flip instructions, until the chicken reaches 165F degrees.
If you’re using a campsite grill without a lid, plan for a little more time, since it doesn’t have a lid to lock in the heat.
This is one of the easiest ways to grill chicken, because you just fill your pellet grill with Cowboy Hickory Barbecue Pellets, set the dial to 350F degrees and let it warm up.
Once it’s ready, follow the grill and flip instructions, until the chicken reaches 165F degrees.
Note: Pellet grills are setup with indirect heat, so your chicken breast won’t achieve the same char that you get on a charcoal or gas grill. It will still taste amazing. It’ll just be a little lighter in color.
How long can you save cooked chicken?
With this recipe, you’ll have so many options. You can grill up several breasts and save them for future meals. If you keep the cooked chicken in the refrigerator, the USDA recommends using it within 3-4 days. If you freeze the cooked chicken, it will be good for up to 4 months. To maintain the most juiciness, I recommend saving the chicken breasts whole and slicing them when you’re ready to serve them.
How many calories are in chicken breasts?
A 4-ounce serving of boneless, skinless chicken breast is about 150 calories. Keep in mind that each breast is usually around 8 ounces, which is two servings. While the brining liquid has about 50 calories of sugar, hardly any of those calories will absorb into the chicken. The sugar is included to help brown the chicken. If you prefer not to use it, you can leave it out. The recipe also calls for a little olive oil, so the chicken won’t stick. You can use non-fat cooking spray, if you prefer.
How do you reheat grilled chicken?
You can reheat the chicken in a microwave, but do so using the reduced-power mode. This will slowly bring the chicken to temp. If you just zap it at regular power, you will dry out your chicken. Instead, place the chicken breast on a plate, add a teaspoon of water to the plate. Cover with a damp paper towel and reheat in 30-second intervals at 50% power, until it’s warmed through. To reheat the chicken on the stove, slice the chicken and add it to a skillet with a splash of chicken broth or pat of butter.
Grilled Chicken Breasts
This recipe delivers the juiciest grilled chicken you'll ever make, and it includes instructions for different types of grills.
Prep the Chicken: Trim excess fat and gristle from the chicken, leaving the tender attached (see tips above). Place in a zip-top bag.
Brine: In a bowl, combine the water, salt, sugar and rub. Pour it into the bag with the chicken. Seal and massage to work in the marinade. Let soak for 1 hour on the counter.
Gas Grill: Heat your grill to 350F degrees. Add a foil pouch with Cowboy hickory chips for added flavor. Place the chicken on the grill over direct heat.
Pellet Grill: Heat your grill to 350F degrees with Cowboy Charcoal hickory pellets. Place the chicken on the grill.
Charcoal Grill: Use a charcoal chimney to light Cowboy Charcoal Hickory or Apple Briquets. Once ashed over, dump the coals into your grill. Let burn for 15 minutes.
Grill: Remove the chicken from the marinade. Rub with a drizzle of olive oil and more rub. Place on the grill top-side down. Grill for 3 minutes. Flip. Grill for 3 minutes. Flip, rotating 90 degrees to get grill marks. Grill for 3 minutes. Flip and grill for another 3-5 minutes, until the internal temperature reaches 165F degrees.
Rest: No matter which method you use, allow the chicken to rest for 5-10 minutes. Slice and serve.