Perfect (Indoor) Grilled Chicken

Grilled = leather.

First off, I’m not talking about artful, experienced charcoal grilling, or even lighting up the gas grill.  I’m not talking about butterflied, bone-in, skin-on cuts of chicken. I’m definitely not talking about brined cuts of meat.  I’m talking about what happens in home kitchens on busy weeknights when the sun is gone by the time you get home — the Foreman Grilling of boneless, skinless, chicken breasts.  That last-minute, indoor staple of modern life.

The fact is that it’s hard to cook lean meat without drying it out. You want those nice dark grill marks and smoky flavor but if you grill that un-marinated, boneless, skinless chicken breast for too long you’re going to feel like you’re eating footwear.

There is a way to have both grilled flavor and juicy meat. It’s not voodoo. You just have to learn rethink what it means “to grill.”

Step 1:
Get rid of your Foreman Grill.  Why?  It will never get hot enough to make good grill marks quickly or give good grilled flavor.  It’s too hard to clean anyway, despite what the ads say.  If you put a piece of salmon on it, it’s going to smell like salmon fat for a week.

Step 2:
Buy a cast-iron grill pan.  Pre-seasoned so it’s non-stick (naturally).  They’re cheap.  I’ve seen them as low as $20 at Target.  Easy to clean, easy to maintain, can be put in the oven, and it may outlive you.

Step 3:
Buy an instant-read thermometer. Use it to cook your chicken to 165F internal.  Ignore the 185F advised by your meat thermometer’s markings–that’s a total lie.  According to my local health department, chicken is safe at 165F.  That’s one reason that restaurant chicken is juicy and yours isn’t.

An instant-read cannot stay in the oven while the meat cooks, but most chicken breasts are too small to accommodate the thick stem of a standard meat thermometer anyway.  Just pull the chicken out, stick the stem of the instant-read into the thickest part, and wait for the temp to stabilize.  As the name suggests, it won’t take long.

Step 4:
Buy decent chicken.  Organic is great, “all-natural” is good.  Even if you can’t afford the free-range bird, go for the brand with the least water (and other crap) injected into it.

Step 5:
Don’t grill the chicken all the way. Use the pan for lovely grill marks and flavor but finish it in the oven. The oven provides the steady, even, all-enveloping heat that will cook the meat to temp without drying it out.

Perfect (Indoor) Grilled Chicken

boneless, skinless chicken breasts
olive oil, for rubbing
instant read thermometer

Preheat oven to 375F.  Preheat grill pan over high heat.  It’s Ok if your pan starts to smoke. Turn on your exhaust fan.

Rub chicken with just enough oil to lightly coat.

Season your chicken with salt, pepper, and any other spices or herbs.

Grill chicken for 1.5 minutes per side.  No more.  Do not move the chicken while it’s grilling – you’ll only get good grill marks if you let the meat stay in constant contact with the pan.

Move the pan to the oven.  (Or, if you need to grill more than one batch, remove already grilled chicken to a baking dish or pan.)  Bake 8-10 minutes or until the internal temp is 165F as measured by your thermometer.  Remove chicken from the hot pan immediately to avoid overcooking.

20 responses to “Perfect (Indoor) Grilled Chicken

  1. John

    I have that same pan. Sprinkle coarse salt in the grooves before you cook. It absorbs the fat drippings and is easier to scrape out than if you let it cook to the pan.

  2. darla

    John: Never heard of that one. I’ll try it, especially with cuts of meat that make more drippings. How much salt are you talking?

    My current strategy is to always pour hot water in the pan before it cools. I then boil the water a bit if needed, then finish the job with a quick pass of a very sturdy brush.

  3. This is the best indoor chicken I’ve ever made, and I used boxed, frozen chicken breasts. Can’t wait to try this out with fresh ones… maybe post up some ideas for side dishes? 😉

  4. darla

    Sean: Awesome, thanks for letting me know that you tried it!

    Side dishes coming up soon!

  5. Clifton

    I just found an unseasoned Cast-iron grill pan at a discount store for $4.99! It takes some extra work (seasoning occasionally), but that’s definately worth the long life of cooking ahead.

  6. mom2pcs

    This is exactly what I’ve been looking for for so long! Always knew that cooking til done on the stovetop was never going to yield the results I was after, but had no idea how long to sear and how long to finish in the oven. Your times are perfect! Made this last week and could not believe that a previously frozen breast with just salt and pepper could taste so delicious. We are having this again tonight and I cannot wait! Thumbs up from a picky 6 and two 3 year olds as well! Thanks so much for sharing!

  7. Sarah

    I SWEAR I followed the instructions exactly and somehow managed to burn the chicken breasts until they were completely black and set my house on fire. Exactly how high should the burner under the grill pan be?

  8. darla

    Sarah, you must have one heck of a stove. On typical residential stoves, the highest setting is appropriate for searing before moving the pan to the 375F oven. Obviously your stove is much hotter than is typical and I have no way to advise you on its use.

  9. Thank you for this post. I’ve always believed that chicken had to be cooked to 180 using an instant read thermometer to be safe. Always dry. I do more grilling outdoors, but I’ll definitely have to look for one of those pans. Should be good for any type of meat.

  10. bika26

    i bought this expensive non-stick tefal grill pan BUT i can't seem to get the perfect grill marks as i used to with my cheaper cast iron pan! the non-stick is so much easier to clean although i might as well be grilling the chicken in a skillet! 🙁 is there anything i can do to make this one work as good?

  11. darla

    @Bika26, I doubt the nonstick will ever perform as well as cast iron. (In the same way that a nonstick skillet won't develop a fond or browning on the bottom the way a stainless pan will.)

  12. I will have to look for one of those grill pans, as I eat a lot of chicken. During the warm months I do use a gas grill outside, but have been using a Forman grill in winter. I have found that it will make nice grill marks, but to cook all the way through, wind up with burned grill marks. I never considered just a quick grilling to get the marks and finishing up in the oven. Thank you for the post. now I won't have to use ketchup to give my chicken a little moisture when I eat it. 🙂

  13. johnnyjohn

    LOL @ Sarah…obvious troll is obvious.

  14. cindy

    Have used this method a couple of times, and it really is fool proof.
    This is my go to recipe for grilling chicken for one.

  15. Leslie

    Wow! Great recipe for grilled chicken. It was juicy and tender. I used the chicken this time to make chicken pesto sandwiches and will used the leftovers on my salad for lunch tomorrow. Thanks for the great recipe!

  16. dee

    Here is a variation which keeps the chicken really moist. grill on pan for the time suggested, then move to a roasting pan. pour a little chicken stock over to coat and cover bottom of pan, then bake 8-10 minutes. The chicken will be very moist while still cooking thoroughly.

  17. Janjo

    Thank you so much for information about this technique! My first time using my indoor grill and the chicken turned out fantastic!! Your instructions were easy to follow and yielded results even better than what I had hoped for. I look forward to delving deeper into your blog and learning even more. Thanks again:)

  18. collegestudent

    Will a marinaded chicken breast work okay?

  19. Cathy

    THANK YOU for sharing! I'm not the best cook, and I usually rely on the grill during the summer. I've followed this recipe several times and every time it tastes great.

    My only complaint is that I accidentally grabbed the pan's handle to move it to the sink after I took it out of the oven…. oops! 🙂

  20. Kgirl

    Thank you thank you!!! I can’t cook for the life of me and have hated (and was scared of) cooking chicken at home. On the Foreman grill I hated the smell. This recipe worked perfectly and tastes just like chicken at a typical cafe. Yum.