Chicken has been gaining in popularity. In fact, chicken now outranks all other animal proteins — beef, pork, turkey and others — in per capita consumption in America, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
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And with good reason! Boneless, skinless chicken breasts are a dieter's best friend and an excellent source of lean protein. In fact, it’s considered a high-quality protein, since it provides all eight of the essential amino acids that your body can't produce on its own. One four-ounce serving of boneless, skinless chicken breast contains 23 grams of protein along with just 133 calories and 2.5 grams of fat.
But it's important to know how to bake chicken. Because chicken breasts are low in fat, they can dry out quickly if cooked using a dry-heat method such as baking. Follow the steps outlined below to keep your baked chicken breasts tender when cooking them in the oven.
7 Steps to the Perfect Baked Chicken Breast
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 25 to 30 minutes
Serves: 4 to 6
Step 1: Prep Ingredients and Preheat Oven
First things first, when you're out shopping for chicken, look for pasture-raised, certified organic chicken. And make sure that you have all the supplies and ingredients needed to cook perfectly tender chicken breasts in the oven. Here's a list of what you'll need:
- Baking dish
- Meat mallet
- Meat thermometer
- Basting brush
- Aluminum foil
- Olive oil
- Boneless, skinless chicken breasts
- Salt, pepper and other seasonings of choice
- Sauce (optional)
Next, preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit (191 degrees Celsius). You can let the oven warm up while you continue prepping the chicken.
Step 2: Make Sure Chicken Breasts Have the Same Thickness
If your chicken breasts are different thicknesses, pound them using a meat mallet until they are roughly the same thickness. The thickness affects the cooking time of your meat, and baking chicken breasts until the thicker ones are cooked can leave the thinner breasts dried out and leathery.
Read more: 12 Tips to Keep Chicken Tender and Tasty
Step 3: Add Chicken Breasts and Seasonings to the Baking Dish
Brush the pan with olive oil. Place the boneless, skinless chicken breasts on the baking dish; brush them with olive oil. The olive oil creates a brown, slightly crispy outside that keeps the chicken moist. Alternatively, you can line the bottom of the baking dish with aluminum foil to make clean-up easier.
Next, rub your seasonings on the chicken. Lemon pepper, a barbecue dry rub or a garlic herb seasoning are all good choices. But don't add too many spices if you plan on adding a sauce later in the cooking process (see next step).
Step 4: Bake the Chicken Breasts in the Oven
Cover your baking pan with foil and bake the chicken for about 20 minutes. Flip them over to ensure even cooking. You can also add sauce at this point if you so desire — barbecue, marinara, pesto or garlic wine are some good ones to start with. Brush it generously over the chicken, and bake for 5 to 10 additional minutes with the pan uncovered.
Read more: 15 of the Best Lean Animal Proteins
Step 5: Check the Temperature of the Baked Chicken
Take the chicken out of the oven and insert a thermometer into its thickest part. The chicken is ready when it registers an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit on the thermometer. If you don’t have a meat thermometer, poke the chicken breasts with a fork. The juices should be clear, not pink.
Once they're fully cooked, remove from the oven, serve and enjoy! You can also explore some of the baked chicken recipes below.
Other Tips for How to Bake Chicken
- Always choose the freshest chicken from your grocery or health food store. Check the "best by" date and select the one furthest in the future.
- If you can't cook your chicken the same day you buy it, store it in the coldest part of your refrigerator for up to 2 days or in your freezer for up to 9 months.
- Thaw frozen chicken breasts completely before cooking. If parts are still frozen, they won't cook evenly.
- Chicken breasts should be left at room temperature for no longer than an hour or bacteria may begin to collect.
- Get adventurous with your spices. Try fresh rosemary, tarragon, mint, cilantro, thyme, parsley, basil or sage.
- When you add the sauce matters. Use a sauce before or during cooking to add flavor and caramelization; use it after cooking for flavor and juiciness.
Healthy, Easy Chicken Recipes
Now that you have the perfectly cooked, juicy and tender baked chicken breasts, you can experiment with adding them to different recipes to keep from getting bored with the same old, same old chicken recipes. Here are a few ideas to get you started.
- Spicy Turmeric Chicken
- Paleo Chimichurri Chicken
- Chicken Apple and Cashew Salad
- Ginger Chicken Poke
- Chicken Pad Thai Zoodles
- Chicken and Spinach Alfredo
- Middle Eastern Chicken Breakfast Superfood Bowl
- Sesame Chicken Nori Burrito (see recipe video above!)
- Curry Coconut Chicken, Red Lentils and Bok Choy
- Sonoma Grilled Chicken Breast Salad Tartines
- Chicken Curry Salad with Greens
- Pesto Chicken Farro Risotto
- Feel Better Chicken Soup