No more rubber chicken dinners.
January 29, 2008 2:47 PM   Subscribe

Help me make tender chicken breasts. Mine are always rubbery, no matter how slowly I cook them. I've even tried marinating. What am I doing wrong?

I usually buy the really low-fat Purdue or store-brand chicken breasts. They are too thick to cook properly on my George Foreman. Any suggestions?
posted by notjustfoxybrown to Food & Drink (39 answers total) 43 users marked this as a favorite
Try brining, a technique that works wonder when cooking lean meats over dry heat (i.e., grilling).
posted by kanuck at 2:51 PM on January 29, 2008

So I assume you mean boneless, skinless chicken breasts? Poaching works best for me since they have so little fat. Try poaching in chicken broth.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 2:53 PM on January 29, 2008

I buy frozen chicken breasts, and I've found that cooking them on medium (right from the freezer) with a little olive oil and covering the pan with a lid or foil (to keep in steam which speeds thawing and cooking) results in tender moist chicken. Without the lid they are not nearly as tender.
posted by Science! at 2:53 PM on January 29, 2008

Oh man, here's a little secret. Best/cheapest/fastest chicken ever. In a large bowl, drop in as many chicken breasts as you want. Pour Sprite and soy sauce over the chicken, until they're covered. 1/2 Sprite, 1/2 soy sauce. That's right. Sprite and soy sauce. Let the chicken marinate for an hour at the least - preferably longer if you can swing it. Then, cook the chicken any way you want. On the grill, on the range, in the oven. Remove from heat. Eat. Savor its deliciousness. Its magical goodness. Wonder at its juiciness. Share with others.
posted by billysumday at 2:57 PM on January 29, 2008 [38 favorites]

Also, Science! has a great suggestion. You say that you cook with a George Foreman. That's letting a lot of steam escape. Use some olive oil, maybe even a little water or broth in the pan, and cover the chicken. It'll retain much more moisture.
posted by billysumday at 2:58 PM on January 29, 2008

Chicken breasts cook amazingly quickly. How long are you cooking them for? You may just be cooking them too long.
posted by peacheater at 2:59 PM on January 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

How are you cooking them now? Method, temperature, time?

I'm not sure if you're saying that because they are too thick, you're not using the George Foreman grill? Or you are using the grill but it's not working?
posted by peep at 2:59 PM on January 29, 2008

If you take the meat off the bone and then butterfly the breast, you get a more uniform thickness. That makes it a lot easier to end up with tender chicken.

To take the meat off the bone, first split the breast (if it's whole) and then lay a sharp knife nearly flat against the ribs, keeping the blade edge close to the bone as you cut. You cut a little, pull the meat back a little, etc., gradually making your way to the fleshiest part.

Then, to do the butterflying... take a look at the photos on this page. You lay the chicken breast flat on a cutting board, and press your whole hand down on it. With the other hand, cut horizontally (parallel to the board) into the thickest past of the breast. Don't cut all the way through; instead, stop about 1/2 inch short of the edge and "fold" the meat open.

You might prefer to watch a video demonstration.
posted by wryly at 3:01 PM on January 29, 2008

Marinade in lemon juice and garlic then butterfly them in half before cooking.
posted by fire&wings at 3:02 PM on January 29, 2008

Mrs. SMELLS, a vegetarian, made me the juiciest chicken breasts the other night. She wrapped them in parchment paper with some sliced carrots and zucchini and baked them at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Here's a basic recipe
posted by SMELLSLIKEFUN at 3:10 PM on January 29, 2008 [2 favorites]

Wryly has it -- If you're planning to use the GF Grill, you need to fillet the breasts to make them thinner. They will cook in a much shorter time (seriously shorter, like 5 minutes), so be prepared. When cutting chicken that way, please use a serrated knife. A straight blade will only work if it is SUPER sharp.
posted by parilous at 3:11 PM on January 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

Right...I'm buying boneless, skinless. Cooking at 375 degrees for maybe 20-30 minutes or so? (Disclaimer: I started cooking in earnest like, yesterday. I have three, maybe four recipes tops.).
Peep: I'm using the grill properly but because of the thickness of the breasts, they cook too fast outside and not on the inside. I'd have to butterfly them, I guess.
posted by notjustfoxybrown at 3:11 PM on January 29, 2008

Sounds to me like you're cooking them way too long. If you're unsure of the cooking time, (for white meat) cut into a piece -- as soon as the flesh in the middle looks white, with no pink or translucentness, it's done.

If they're not frozen, make fried chicken cutlets!

Heat an inch of corn oil in a pan over mediumish heat.

Pound split, boneless chicken breasts between plastic wrap until they're maybe 3/4" thick and uniformly even. If you want to make things easier, slice each piece into strips an inch or two wide.

Dunk a flattened breast in milk (drain), then flour (shake off excess), then beaten egg (drip), then (fresh) bread crumbs (to which you can whatever you want -- salt, pepper, parmesan, herbs, etc.) (shake off).

Add the chicken to the pan when the oil is hot. Don't crowd the pan, and don't use such a large pan that there's a lot of empty oil just bubbling away.

Don't dredge more chicken than you're about to add to the pan, because the breading will end up soggy if it has to wait to be fried.

Cook for maybe 4 minutes, flip, then a few more minutes. It's done as soon as it's browned enough to look appetizing.
posted by J-Train at 3:17 PM on January 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

I have found that using a meat thermometer is a good way to check for doneness without having to cut into the meat. And it's perfect every time. The chicken should be about 160 degrees inside its thickest part. I bought a thermometer that has a digital readout.
posted by MrFongGoesToLunch at 3:20 PM on January 29, 2008

That does sound like quite a long cooking time for a chicken breast. Personally, I've never managed to cook a boneless, skinless breast using dry heat that I was happy with. I'd recommend either cooking with some liquid or buying breasts with the skin and bone still attached and removing the skin after cooking if you don't want to eat it.
posted by ssg at 3:29 PM on January 29, 2008

Baking: 325 for 30 minutes is more like it. Make sure to coat them generously with oil and spices. Sauteeing, about eight minutes per side. Don't bother with the GFG.
posted by herbaliser at 3:34 PM on January 29, 2008

If that's a Foreman grill temp and time, you need to cut your cook time down by, 15-25 minutes. Dual contact means a ton of very efficient heat transfer. Loads of surface area. 5 minutes is closer. ">Googleluck agrees with me.

Chart here.

If it's oven time, you're really going to want to put some kind of coating on that bird or have it in a bit of liquid. If you really must cook chicken without a broth/sauce/breading/whatever, you really do need to turn the temp down a bit and cook for longer.

In all honesty, to avoid rubbery chicken in the future, A little reading goes a really long way. The only real way to learn to cook is to do it. If you're REALLY, SUPREMELY new to the kitchen, well, this is a very excellent place to start, unless you only read the recipes, in which case, stick to the wonderwebs.

Just stay away from Rachel Ray. The world doesn't need more of that.
posted by onedarkride at 3:38 PM on January 29, 2008


Preview lied.

Recpie here.
posted by onedarkride at 3:39 PM on January 29, 2008

There are lots of great ways to cook chicken. However, sometimes you don't want great. Sometimes you want fast and easy and unspectacular. Cooking chicken on a Foreman is fast and easy, but also sometimes sucks.

A good way to cook chicken on a Foreman and have it suck less is to make the chicken thinner. You can do this by cutting the chicken in half, pounding the chicken thinner, or both. To pound the chicken, I use my fist, but apparently they make tools for people who are averse to having chicken juice all over their knuckles. You can also marinate the breasts or rub dry spices on them (e.g. BBQ seasoning, jerk seasoning, etc.).
posted by christonabike at 3:40 PM on January 29, 2008

It sounds like thickness is the issue.

Sure, you could butterfly them, but don't feel bad about taking the easier route! Pound 'em!
That's right, plop the breasts down on a cutting board and thump them a few times with you fist. Thump 'em good enough, and you'll find that the meat will have thinned out, and the end product will be much more tender - and it will cook quickly and evenly.

If you want, you can marinate them after thumping, and the chicken will be even thirstier for some flavor from the marinade.

Don't be too afraid of undercooking either. Once I started pulling my food off the heat earlier and earlier, I found that I wound up with better food. If you take it off the heat, and then cut it open to find out that it's not quit done, just put it back on the heat.
posted by terpia at 3:43 PM on January 29, 2008 [2 favorites]

You don't have to butterfly boneless breasts. Just pound them thinner (this also lets you make sure that they are even in thickness. And gives you an outlet for aggression.)

Least messy way is to put them in a freezer ziplock, squeeze out the air, lay flat, bang with heel of hand or shoe or mallet or rolling pin or large rock or whatever.

If you bang them super-thin you can make lemon chicken piccata in less than a half-hour fridge to plate. (Recipe not entirely traditional.)
Pound breasts. Cut into roughly 3 x 3 ish pieces.
Put some flour in a bowl, dredge chicken breast pieces in flour, set aside, discard extra flour.
Heat up some olive oil in your pan, then chicken.
Cook chicken about 3 minutes each side. Remove chicken to plate.
Put minced shallot in pan, cook until a little soft. (A couple of minutes.)
Pour white wine (or substitute vermouth) and juice of two lemons into pan.
Sprinkle in salt and pepper.
Cook until it bubbles and reduces a bit.
Pour over chicken.
Serve with salad or over rice or couscous or whatever.
posted by desuetude at 3:49 PM on January 29, 2008

Skinless boneless breasts are difficult to poach, but done well that produces a beautiful result, some of the best chicken you could ever eat. Keep the lid off, use salt and fat, and keep the heat low to ensure a tender result. It is still difficult. The most fool-proof preparation is to either slice or pound them thin and saute them for a couple of minutes tops on each side. You could probably put the thin slices into your Foreman grill if that is your preferred method. If you are not going to make them thin then they need to go into liquid of some sort, which might be a gentle steam, and if they are going on the grill or pan they need to be thin enough to cook evenly.
posted by caddis at 3:53 PM on January 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

Yes, chicken breasts in a George Foreman grill are not easy ... thinning them helps, certainly, but the dynamics of the cooking in that situation rarely add up to anything very delicious.

I've just given up on chicken breasts and started using dark meat. Yes! Dark meat! It's tastier! It's easier to cook with! And the caloric difference, while it exists, isn't that much and can easily be factored into a meal (if you're that particular). Boneless skinless thighs are fantastic for dry heat.

If you must, my favorite way to have chicken breasts is to use in stir fry. Because the chicken is in smaller pieces, it will cook faster and won't acquire that stringy, rubbery texture.

And for goodness sake -- don't soak your healthy meat in high fructose corn syrup.
posted by sfluke20 at 4:14 PM on January 29, 2008

my surefire method for boneless skinless breasts is to marinate them in either buttermilk or plain yogurt overnight. then you just rinse them, pat dry, and cook. the dairy leaves no flavor, so you can then season them any way you want.

obviously, if you keep kosher this won't work.

but you are cooking them far too long. the best method i've found so far is mark bittman's: once the breasts are marinated, put them in a plastic bag and pound them out with the side of a soup can (gently!) until they are about a quarter to half inch thick (or you can just buy cutlets). season liberally with salt and pepper, dredge in flour for a very light dusting, and saute in a medium-hot pan for 4 minutes on each side.
posted by thinkingwoman at 4:17 PM on January 29, 2008

This is why George Foreman grills are a crime against joy.

The best advice I have is to throw it away and never think of it again.
posted by InnocentBystander at 4:39 PM on January 29, 2008

Make sure the chicken breasts are of a fairly even thickness -- pound 'em between two sheets of wax paper with a mallet or rolling pin as necessary.

I marinate if I'm going to be cooking them in the oven, but otherwise I just season with salt/pepper and saute them in a little olive oil (heat it in the pan for a minute before you put the chicken in) over medium heat just till there's no pink in the middle -- roughly 5 minutes per side. This makes them golden on the outside (with just a bit of crispy goodness) and juicy inside.
posted by scody at 4:45 PM on January 29, 2008

I'm not a chef or anything (as will become clear) but one way to keep them moist (without having to travel back in time for marinading) WHILE STILL cooking them thoroughly (about which I am paranoid) is to cook them on mediumish in a pan with chicken broth (or water + chicken bouillon) until they are fully cooked but pale and gross looking. THEN dump out the broth and cook them with olive oil or cooking spray FAST and ON HIGH to brown them deliciously.
posted by moxiedoll at 4:55 PM on January 29, 2008

InnocentBystander: NO! They make decent sandwich presses. And french toast with lines. Who doesn't want french toast with lines?

Anyone? Didn't think so.
posted by onedarkride at 5:07 PM on January 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

I was just coming in here to recommend the yogurt marinade, but I see thinkingwoman's already done it. Do give it a try — it tenderizes and moistens, and chicken breasts can use all the moisture they can get.
posted by nebulawindphone at 5:25 PM on January 29, 2008

Use some olive oil, maybe even a little water or broth in the pan, and cover the chicken. It'll retain much more moisture.

What billysunday said. I do this all the time and it comes out tender and moist. Remember, olive oil is good for you.

Usually I start some rice on another burner, which takes 20 to 22 minutes to cook. After that gets going, I rub some spices on the chicken, splash a little olive oil in the skillet, sear the chicken breasts for a coupla-three minutes on each side, put the lid on, then turn the heat waaaaay down until the rice is done. Juicy, juicy, tasty, tasty.
posted by Robert Angelo at 5:28 PM on January 29, 2008

I have a very fine stainless steel pan, and I like to cook chicken the following way.

I get the pan very hot, then slap the chicken breast straight onto the bare steel. I put the lid on the top, and let it cook.

What happens is that the breasts cook through, and the chicken where it was touching the pan becomes an orange brown colour. The juices from the chicken can't escape from the pan , and almost burn a bit (tastes good!) and the breast itself doesn't stick to the pan once it has cooked.

The general result is essentially a self saucing chicken breast (I add a little water once it's done), and the flesh is almost crunchy. I don't mean burnt, I mean as in the fibres crunch as you chew. A pinch of seasoning, maybe a bit of lemon juice.

Hmm, made myself hungry.
posted by tomble at 5:39 PM on January 29, 2008

My recipe for efficient (best taste quality per minute spent in preparation) George Foreman chicken breasts:

1) Buy gigantic bag of brined frozen boneless chicken breasts from Costco. Brined is key.
2) Wait for hunger to build up.
3) Preheat GF to 425 for 10 minutes.
4) Spray GF with a little olive oil.
5) Throw two frozen breasts on grill. Defrosting is for chumps and leftovers are good.
6) Let them cook 12-15 minutes, then season appropriately and eat.
posted by backupjesus at 5:51 PM on January 29, 2008

I used to date a boy who absolutely refused to eat white meat chicken because it was, as he was fond of shouting whenever I tried to cook it, "dry and fibrous."

I managed to get him to eat chicken breasts only once. Soak them in milk for a little while. It'll be the juiciest chicken you've ever had.
posted by Help, I can't stop talking! at 7:52 PM on January 29, 2008

"It takes a tough man to make a tender chicken."
posted by gjc at 8:30 PM on January 29, 2008

Over cooking sounds like the culprit.
posted by Silvertree at 6:08 AM on January 30, 2008

The real answer is don't use chicken breasts - they're for people who don't really like chicken. Use thighs.

However, I'm a weirdo and don't like thighs either, so I'd suggest marinating in olive oil and lemon juice with either a little bit of crushed dried chilli or some crushed fennel seeds, then cooking quickly on a griddle pan at a high heat.
posted by Mocata at 7:29 AM on January 30, 2008

I know that you get to choose who you think has the best answer, but I'm here to tell you peacheater has the best answer. You want to cook them fast, not slowly.

I'd also recommend against the grill, as others have. Butterfly the breast, pound a bit flatter, cut into small strips, and panfry in just a few drops of olive oil for a few minutes on each side, until the inner flesh is no longer pink and the juices come out clear. You can get a meat thermometer if you want. I don't know what the safe temperature is, but as soon as it is reached you can stop cooking.
posted by Deathalicious at 10:04 AM on January 30, 2008

You might also be getting crappy chicken. A bunch of chicken outfits pump water into the chicken to make more money, making the chicken crappy. Perdue is one of them. Read this article that I found on the Consumerist about this. For Perdue, you're paying an extra 46 cents per package in water weight.
posted by Jupiter Jones at 9:18 AM on February 1, 2008

notjustfoxybrown: too fast outside and not on the inside

This always means too hot for the thickness. You can correct the thickness by flattening or butterflying, or you can correct the heat. The thickness route has been covered here, so I'll mention some things about the heat.

Breading treatments help to correct this problem because they insulate the meat from the heat of the oil. So instead of undesirably dessicating the surface of the meat, slowly heating the interior, and taking it out unfinished, you desirably dessicate some bread crumbs, slowly heat all the meat, and leave it in till it's done. That's a fine approach if you can hack it. But for safety's sake you still must get the outside of the meat hotter than its insides ought to be—details follow—which makes the exact regime of heat and time a tricky question, which is one reason a certain string-tie-wearing Kentucky colonel who figured it out is now on billboards around the world. If your name doesn't happen to be Sanders, however, there are other ways to treat your chicken, most of which aren't trade secrets.

Here are your temperature targets, courtesy of Harold McGee: Juiciness increases for internal temperatures from 120°F/50°C to 140°F/60°C, because at those temperatures myosin coagulates and causes juices to flow out of the cells in the meat. You don't want to get the interior above those temperatures for too long, because that's when collagen in the meat shrinks and squeezes those juices clean out of the cut, whence cometh dryness and rubberiness.

However. You do want to get the surface at least to 160°F/70°C, because that is where the misery-causing germs sit and that is the temperature at which they die. And if you're me, you want the surface to briefly get as hot as 250°F/120°C, because that is what the browning reactions require (plus availability of both proteins and carbohydrates), and I cook and eat for browning's sake.

Notice that this temperature is above the boiling point of water: To get things brown, you somehow have to get them dry first (one reason we use oil in pans). If the cooking heat from outside can't overpower the cold from the center (like if the meat is still frozen), you will never see browning.

So the program is defrost, sear/brown hot, heat through rather more gently. I would do the browning on stovetop or a wicked, wicked grill, and the latter in the oven or a gentle, gentle grill.

For the sake of browning you might want to apply a sauce with some sugar beforehand, and for the sake of retaining moisture in case your heat is too slow you might want to apply a sauce with some water during. Afterwards, for the sake of flavor, you might also want a sauce. For all of these, I love ponzu shoyu on chicken or salmon. You can get it in bottles from Kikkoman or make it from scratch (zest and juice grapefruit, orange, and lime; measure out 1/4 cup each soy sauce and rice vinegar; swirl 1/4 cup sugar in a dry pan over medium heat until it melts and caramelizes; add fruit juice (caution, it will spit) and let boiling resume and sugar dissolve; add soy, vinegar, and half of zest; boil a couple minutes; when serving, garnish with remaining zest).

P.S.: Sprite-and-soy chicken is mighty tasty. Ginger (grated from a frozen root, or in ginger soda) makes it taste even better. IMO so does some cayenne pepper.
posted by eritain at 1:33 AM on February 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

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