9 Common Mistakes Most People Make When Cooking Chicken Breasts

by | Dec 17, 2017

Sautéing (pan frying) is one of the quickest ways to cook a thin piece of meat, but it can be a minefield full of little details to miss that can ruin your chicken. Almost everyone has made at least one (if not all) of these mistakes when it comes to cooking chicken on their stovetop. The difference between a golden brown, succulent chicken breast and a dried out one is just a matter of a few little details. Pay attention to these details that most people screw up and you’ll become a sauté ninja soon young padawan.

1. Not Cutting Or Pounding Your Chicken Breasts

This is the BIGGEST mistake and main cause for the demise of your dinner. Thick cuts of any meat just aren’t meant to be fully cooked by the sauté method. You either end up with an undercooked center or a fully cooked center with the outside burnt to a crisp. Avoid both of these scenarios by cutting your chicken breasts in half so they are thin cutlets. You can also pound those thick chicken breasts until they are about ½ inch thick.

2. Not Salting Properly

salt chicken breasts

It can be all to easy to forget to salt your chicken when you’re in a rush. Properly seasoning with salt makes a HUGE difference when it comes to how good that chicken will taste. The easiest two ways to season chicken are to brine it or to add salt right before cooking. Brining is the best but it takes 30 extra minutes because you need to let the chicken soak in salt water. The extra time is no big deal if you can multitask while it soaks, but if you’re in a rush then just add salt before it hits the pan. The important thing is that you salt it at all! If you’ve marinated with a high quality marinade, then it should have enough salt that you can skip this step.

3. Not Preheating The Pan

Wait, what? Preheat the pan? You’re probably think we’ve lost our minds since you preheat ovens, not pans. Just give us a second to explain ourselves. It’s really common (especially when you’re getting hangry) to just throw the chicken on the pan right after you turn it on and it hasn’t fully heated up yet.

This is a mistake because the pan isn’t hot enough to sear and brown the chicken. Browning = flavor. This is the most important thing to remember. Your chicken is going to taste super bland and awful if it’s not browned properly. Placing chicken on a pan as it heats up can also increase the chance that the chicken sticks like glue to the pan and then you’re really in a pickle.

4. Trying To Sauté Over Low Or Medium Heat

heat skillet to cook chicken

Chicken needs to be cooked at a high heat so the Maillard reaction can occur. The Maillard Reaction is your new cooking jargon lesson of the day. It is the complicated chemical process that happens when the surface of the meat is heated enough to brown. This browning is what creates highly flavorful meat. Sauteing chicken over medium heat on most stoves will not let the meat get hot enough for the Maillard reaction to happen and you’ll end up with boring, sad chicken.

5. Not Patting The Chicken Dry

If you just take the chicken out of the package and plop it on the pan, it’s going to be covered in liquid. The chicken just will steam instead of browning because it’s so wet. Just remember to grab some paper towels and pat those babies dry before you add them to the pan so they can really sizzle.

6. Flipping The Chicken At The Wrong Times

Screwing up the flipping process during sautéing can get you into some trouble. When you flip at the wrong times you end up with half the chicken stuck to the pan or a dried out piece of rubber with no flavor. If you flip the chicken over multiple times, you’re doing it wrong.

Repeat after us: you flip the chicken just once. Many people either get impatient or start getting anxious that the chicken is going to burn so they flip it prematurely. Then flip again and go back and forth like they’re working a pancake line. All you need to do is pay attention a few key cues that will tell you when it’s the one time to make the flip.

Following timers in recipes is helpful but time is tricky because the stove and pan vary so much that you can’t just strictly count on following a timer to produce perfectly cooked chicken. A big cue to watch for is whether the chicken gives you any resistance when you try to lift it just a little. The chicken will have a nice brown crust and will “release” making it super easy to flip when it’s time.

7. Crowding The Pan

We get it, you want to cram as much in that pan as possible to speed things up and not have to cook multiple batches. Bad news for you… get a bigger pan or just cook multiple batches. When you crowd the pan with chicken Just let the chicken have the breathing room it deserves.

8. Trying To Make A Pan Sauce With a Non-stick Pan

Ok so it is possible to make a pan sauce in a non-stick pan, but it’s extremely inferior. Many recipes like Chicken Marsala for example are made with a pan sauce that requires fond for flavor. Wondering what the heck fond is? It’s all those browned (looking almost but not quite burned) pieces stuck to the bottom of the pan after you sauté meat.

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