How to Make Perfectly Poached Chicken Breasts

Slices of poached chicken breasts arranged on a serving platter

The Spruce Eats / Diana Chistruga

Prep: 5 mins
Cook: 30 mins
Total: 35 mins
Servings: 3 to 4 servings
Yield: 2 chicken breasts
Nutrition Facts (per serving)
197 Calories
4g Fat
1g Carbs
37g Protein
Show Full Nutrition Label Hide Full Nutrition Label
Nutrition Facts
Servings: 3 to 4
Amount per serving
Calories 197
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 4g 5%
Saturated Fat 1g 6%
Cholesterol 96mg 32%
Sodium 361mg 16%
Total Carbohydrate 1g 0%
Dietary Fiber 0g 1%
Total Sugars 0g
Protein 37g
Vitamin C 1mg 4%
Calcium 38mg 3%
Iron 2mg 11%
Potassium 399mg 8%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)

Poached chicken breasts are succulent and tender, making them a great alternative to store-bought rotisserie chicken, which can sometimes be dry and high in sodium. This essential recipe illustrates the proper technique for poaching chicken. Slowly bringing the chicken breasts to a gentle temperature just below a simmer and letting them sit in the liquid before removing ensures that you won't overcook the meat. Poached chicken is a versatile protein to have on hand for all kinds of dishes.

What Is Poaching?

Poaching is a gentle, low-temperature cooking technique that works especially well for chicken breasts. Instead of boiling, poached chicken is very gently cooked in liquid (like water or broth) brought to a temperature of 175 to 180 F. When done correctly, you'll end up with moist and tender chicken breasts and flavorful cooking liquid.

Poaching vs. Boiling

It's important to note that poached chicken is not boiled chicken. Boiling chicken is a good way to overcook it. The whole point of poaching is to cook it gently so that it stays juicy and tender. 

What's the difference? Poaching is defined by the temperature of the cooking liquid, and it corresponds with a water temperature of between 160 and 180 F. In this range, you won't see any bubbles. Rather, the water will appear to shimmer. To see what this looks like, heat a pot of water and use a digital instant-read thermometer to measure the temperature.

Boiling, on the other hand, occurs at 212 F, and is characterized by large, continuous bubbles and lots of steam. Simmering happens somewhere in the middle, from 180 to 200 F. You'll see a bubble now and then, especially at the surface.

But with poaching, you'll see none of that. 

Poaching Liquids

The simplest way to poach chicken breasts is in plain water, but at the minimum, you should add salt to the water. Stock, broth, or court bouillon are even better choices. Because poaching is done at a low temperature, you can use all kinds of liquids, like wine, milk, even oil or melted butter. But for chicken breasts, water, stock, or broth are the best choices. 

Don't Overcook

Yes, you can overcook chicken even when poaching it. It takes a while, but it can happen. Overcooked chicken is dry, shrinks in size, and becomes rubbery or chewy. This happens when chicken is cooked beyond an internal temperature of 165 F. For the best results, you should cook chicken breasts to an internal temperature of 155 F.

With proper poaching technique, the water temperature never rises beyond 175 to 180, so it's more difficult (but not impossible) for your chicken breasts to overcook. As long as you keep an eye on the temperature of the liquid and the internal temperature of the chicken, you'll be fine.  

If you're wondering about food safety, FDA guidelines say that when it comes to killing harmful bacteria, holding chicken at 155 F for 50 seconds is the same as holding it at 165 F for 10 seconds. The difference is that a chicken breast cooked to 155 F will be succulent and one cooked to 165 F or beyond will be increasingly dry and rubbery. To confirm the temperature of your cooked chicken, use a digital instant-read thermometer. It eliminates the need for guesswork and will give you peace of mind. 


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"I used a Tuscan herb blend along with the bay leaf and chicken broth, and the chicken breasts came out perfectly cooked and still moist. Gentle cooking keeps the chicken from becoming dry and tough, and any herb blend may be used." —Diana Rattray

How to Make Perfectly Poached Chicken Breast Tester Image
A Note From Our Recipe Tester


  • 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 1 pound)

  • 1 1/2 to 2 cups fat-free low-sodium chicken broth (or water)

  • 2 teaspoons dried mixed herbs

  • 1 bay leaf

Steps to Make It

  1. Gather the ingredients.

    Ingredients for poached chicken breasts recipe gathered

    The Spruce Eats / Diana Chistruga

  2. Place the chicken breasts in the bottom of a small, heavy-bottomed pot. Make sure they fit in a single layer. Cover the chicken with broth or water. Add the herbs and bay leaf.

    Chicken breasts with herbs in a single layer in a pot, covered with broth

    The Spruce Eats / Diana Chistruga

  3. Begin heating the pot over medium heat, giving the liquid an occasional stir. Once the water temperature reaches 175 to 180, reduce the heat to low so that the water maintains this temperature.

    Chicken breasts in faintly simmering broth in a pot

    The Spruce Eats / Diana Chistruga 

  4. Partly cover with the pot lid and cook for 10 minutes.

    Pot with poaching chicken breasts, barely covered with a lid

    The Spruce Eats / Diana Chistruga 

  5. Turn off the heat completely and allow the chicken to remain in the hot liquid for about 15 minutes or until the internal temperature of the breasts reaches 155 F.

    Poached chicken breasts in broth resting in the pot

    The Spruce Eats / Diana Chistruga

  6. Remove and slice or shred the chicken. The meat should be cooked through and opaque throughout.

    Slices of poached chicken breasts arranged on a serving platter

    The Spruce Eats / Diana Chistruga

  7. Serve and enjoy.

    Perfectly poached chicken breasts on a platter

    The Spruce Eats / Diana Chistruga 

Recipe Tips

  • For best results, use small breasts. Chicken breasts that weigh 6 to 8 ounces will give you the best results with poaching. And for truly uniform cooking, gently pound them so that they're about 3/4 of an inch in thickness. Very large breasts cook unevenly, with the outside becoming overcooked by the time the center is done.
  • Holding the cooking liquid at a temperature of 175 F to 180 F ensures slow, even cooking, so keep an eye on the temperature and avoid simmering or boiling the meat.

Recipe Variations

  • If you don't have chicken broth, you can use water plus a quarter of an onion and a smashed garlic clove to make the resulting broth more flavorful. A little white wine or light beer also adds a nice flavor.
  • For the herbs, use your favorite combination. Herbes de Provence or an Italian herb blend are nice options. Or, simply add dashes of different herbs like oregano, thyme, dried red pepper flakes, or rosemary.
  • This method can also be used to poach chicken thighs. Cook them for 10 minutes, and then let the chicken sit in the hot liquid for 25 to 30 minutes, testing for doneness. Thighs, unlike breasts, are best cooked to an internal temperature of 175 F to 180 F.
  • For even more flavorful meat, brine your chicken breasts for 30 minutes, and then cook them directly in the brine. To make a simple brine, fill a large Dutch oven with four quarts of water, and add 3/4 cup Diamond Kosher salt (or 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons fine salt), 1/2 cup soy sauce, 2 tablespoons sugar, one bay leaf, and a half dozen peeled and smashed garlic cloves. Stir to dissolve the salt and sugar, immerse your chicken breasts for 30 minutes, then proceed to the cooking steps.

How to Store

  • Refrigerate cooked chicken within two hours in shallow, airtight containers or zip-close bags for up to four days. If the temperature is above 90 F, refrigerate the cooked chicken within one hour.
  • To freeze, put the cooked chicken in airtight containers or freezer bags or vacuum seal it. For best quality, freeze for up to four months.

How to Use

Poached chicken breasts are a versatile main ingredient that can be sliced and served as-is or used to make a variety of dishes: