All About Chicken Breasts

Buying, Cooking, and Recipes

what is chicken breast
Lindsay Kreighbaum / The Spruce Eats

Just about anytime you get a chicken finger, find grilled chicken on that caesar salad or order a fried chicken sandwich, chances are that's a breast you're eating. Favored by ladies who lunch, small children and anyone who wants the whitest of white meats, chicken breasts show up on menus all over. There's nothing wrong with that either, especially if the item gets cooked to juicy perfection and slathered with eye-opening spices or succulent sauce. The breast is the largest cut of meat off the bird, and it's a food just about any meat eater (and some faux vegetarians) can get behind.

Raw chicken
A raw chicken breast. Getty Images 

What Part of the Animal Do Chicken Breasts Come From?

You'll find the breast in the front of the bird, or more, its round chest. Divided into two parts by a bone, each chicken has two breasts that get scooped out of the chest cavity. Because this piece of meat proves seamless, meaning no bones, weird fat deposits or cartilage, it's the easiest part to shape into whatever meal you have in mind. Also, because the breast doesn't do any of the heavy lifting, it's the palest of white meat.

Cooking chicken
Slicing a chicken breast along the grain. Getty Images 

How to Prep Chicken Breasts

Once the breast gets sliced from the rib cage cooks are presented with a large, oblong piece of meat that's fat on one end and thinner on the other. This strange shape makes cooking the chicken a little tricky since you need to be sure the meat gets heated to 165-degrees all the way through, but you don't want to dry out that smaller portion. This conundrum is why so many breasts get deep fried, marinated, wrapped in bacon, or sliced in to smaller parts like nuggets, "fingers," and kabab chunks.

Or try one of our favorite techniques and beat that bird with meat tenderizer until the whole breast is about the same thickness all around. Not only does this allow for even cooking in a pan or on the grill, but it finishes fast and searing it this way seals in the juices. Try breading your breasts too, this adds a pleasing texture to whatever dish you're preparing. No matter how you decide to cook your breasts in the end, it's good to salt and pepper each side before adding heat.

Best Way to Cook Chicken Breasts

Because the tender white meat of the breast has less fat than other parts of the chicken, you will want to make sure not to over cook the bird lest it gets dry and unpalatable. Plenty of childhood dinners have been ruined by over zealous moms who are so afraid of giving their kids salmonella that they zap the bird into dry, boring submission. Those juices are your friend, so keep them in the meat.

But how to do this magic? The first step is knowing the heat. For baking the bird preheat the oven to 400-degrees. Lightly coat the breasts in olive oil with whatever herbs you like and then cook for about 20 to 25 minutes. At the 20 minute mark monitor the internal temp with a meat thermometer, which needs to register at 165. The second it hits that temperature pull out your breasts and let them sit for around five minutes. Resting the meat helps those tasty juices redistribute throughout the cut.

Deep frying is another popular way, as we have seen at every restaurant and fast food joint that serves a chicken sandwich. It's tasty too, and if you can do so much with the breading, spices and sauce. For example, Nashville hot proves deliciously devilish in heat, and that's just a fried chicken with a ton of spicy peppers added to the finishing sauce. Not that you need capsicum to make this dish, but salting and adding a pinch of pepper, green herbs and/or paprika adds a nice layer to the overall flavor.

Another popular way to cook chicken breasts comes from the grill. Oil the grate and heat it up to medium heat. Once hot, place the raw, oil-tossed breasts on (spices optional but encouraged), cover and cook one side for about 5 to 7 minutes and then flip. Check the internal temp before taking off the grill, and if it's at 165 it's time to plate and add to the picnic table. Serve with sauce and/or condiments.

What Do Chicken Breasts Taste Like?

When you hear the phrase, "tastes like chicken," it's the breast we're thinking of. Some think this white meat has no flavor, and it's mild for sure. But when you get a succulent, slightly charred breast hot off the grill it's not something you'll forget readily. In fact, you might start craving one here and there or garner an affinity for fried chicken breasts, which have a a pleasing texture and pull flavor from the juices. Sure, chicken breasts will soak up whatever flavor you put on it nicely, and that imparts a lot of the nuances, but that's part of the wonder of this neutral protein.

Chicken Breast Recipes

Though chicken breasts prove a common meat, there are plenty of ways to cook it that you may not know about. From marinades to spice blends to adding other meat on top, experiment with this cut and find a new favorite way to eat and prepare it.

Packaged chicken
Most grocery stores sell chicken breasts like this. Getty Images  
chicken
Grilled chicken sliced up.  Getty Images 
Eating chicken salad
Put chicken breasts on any salad. Getty Images  
Fried chicken
Fried chicken breasts. Getty Images  
Chicken breast
Cooked chicken breasts.  Getty Images 

Where to Buy Chicken Breasts

Any grocery story you go into will have chicken breasts, it's probably the most common part of the chicken. Look for pink-tinged breasts with a sheen. Any gray or spotty meat should be avoided. Farmers' markets too should have poultry farmers, and though these breasts tend to be a smaller thanks to hormone-free, pasteurized chickens, the fresh flavor stands out and makes it worth buying.

what are chicken breasts
The Spruce Eats / Hugo Lin 

Storage

Keep all raw chicken in the fridge up to a few days until ready to use. Make sure the raw meat isn't touching anything and juices aren't dripping into the fridge. We suggest putting any packages of raw chicken in a bowl while you wait to cook. If you aren't going to eat the breasts within three or four days, put into a sealed freezer bag or container and send it to the freezer.

Helpful Tips

  • Wrap breasts in foil to help seal in moisture when baking 
  • Olive oil is your friend and adds some fat and moisture while cooking 
  • Any spices you use will soak in nicely 
  • Slice breasts along the meat grain to create more tender cuts that also stay together better when cooking