Learn how to cook chicken breasts on the stovetop with juicy and tender results! This is my go-to method for a quick and healthy dinner paired with your choice of sides.

Chicken is a classic dinner-time staple, but it can easily become dried out and bland. To avoid that, I’m sharing my stovetop pan sear technique that adds a ton of surface flavor to the chicken breasts while ensuring moist and tender meat. The key to success is heat management.You’ll need to give the protein enough time for the exterior to brown, then reduce the intensity to gently finish cooking. Once you master this simple technique, the possibilities are endless. Get creative with entree portions, kick up the protein level for salads, or shred up pieces to use in soups and casseroles.

Chicken selection

I recommend using boneless skinless chicken breasts that are between 6 to 10 ounces. If the tenders are still attached, they add bulk and make it harder to flatten. I like to pull them off and makeor the kids. They love it! I find that anything over 8 ounces will end up being too wide after flattening, so you may need to cook in two batches.

Flatten the pieces

Chicken breasts are admittedly a challenge to cook evenly because of their shape. They are thicker on one side, and they thin out and taper on the other. It’s best to flatten the thick end so that the entire piece is level. Place the chicken in a plastic bag, then use a meat mallet or rolling pin to pound. Shoot for about 1/2 to 3/4 inch thickness.Another option is to slice the chicken in half horizontally lengthwise to create two fillets out of one piece. This technique works nicely if the meat is very thick, 1-inch or bigger.

The seasoning blend

Dried seasonings like salt, black pepper, garlic, powder, and herbs are concentrated in their characteristic flavor compounds. A little goes a long way! Feel free to add what you have available in your spice cabinet. Don’t overthink it. If desired, you can go super simple with just salt and pepper. The process of cooking the chicken will add even more flavor.

Prepare the chicken

After flattening the meat, dry both sides with paper towels. This process wicks up any extra moisture on the surface that could cause it to steam instead of brown. We want to kickstart the flavor and color development in the pan.

Evenly sprinkle with the seasoning blend, about a 1/2 teaspoon per side. Don’t let the chicken sit too long. The salt will draw the moisture to the surface. If this happens, blot with a paper towel before adding to the pan.

The pan sear method

The best cooking oils to use for the stovetop chicken breast are olive oil for a slightly fruity taste or avocado oil because of its high smoke point and neutral flavor. Make sure the oil is nice and hot but not smoky. Once the pieces go in, press them down for better contact with the surface, then do not move. I repeat, let it sear! 

Add butter for more flavor

Butter is optional, but it’s such a good idea! After flipping, I add a tablespoon. Let the fat melt, then baste with it. The process coats the surface to prevent the meat from drying out. Throw in some sprigs of rosemary or thyme to infuse fresh herb aromatics into the dish. 

When the milk solids brown, they add more color and a nutty flavor that sticks to the meat. It’s delicious! I wait until after the initial sear because I don’t want the water in the butter to interfere with browning or the solids to burn. You can skip this step, but I’m a big fan of the extra flavor it creates.

Checking for doneness

The surface of the chicken breasts should become golden brown and completely opaque throughout. It’s okay if the juices run slightly pink, but the meat should not be raw in the center. Use an instant-read thermometer to check the internal temperature on the thickest part of the breast. I poke it parallel into the meat for the most accurate result. It should be between 160 to 165ºF (71 to 74ºC).

Rest then slice

Give the chicken about 5 minutes to rest before slicing. This duration allows the flavorful juices to redistribute into the muscle fibers. Resting keeps the meat moist instead of running out onto the cutting board.


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