7 Mistakes Everyone Makes When Cooking Chicken

Hate it when chicken breasts are dry and tough? Tweak your technique to make sure your chicken stays juicy and delicious.

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Taste of Home

Cooking the perfect chicken breast is a skill many home cooks aspire to have in their culinary toolbox. Chicken is versatile and affordable–and healthy, too. (Check out all 100 of our chicken breast recipes.) But chicken that’s dried out and tough? No, thank you!

To help make sure you get a moist and always-delicious chicken breast, avoid these seven kitchen mistakes.

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Raw chicken breast fillets on wooden background
Shutterstock / Bon Appetit

Mistake #1: Starting with skinless breasts

A lot of us go straight for the boneless, skinless fillets at the meat counter. It makes sense–they’re easy to work with, and we’ve all heard that the skin is unhealthy. But keeping the skin on while it’s cooking helps keep the chicken moist. (You can always take it off before you dig in.)

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Chicken breast
Shutterstock / Fredograf

Mistake #2: Not marinating or brining the meat

Chicken breasts can be dry. After all, they’re not as fatty as other parts of the bird. But a marinade, brine or rub goes a long way in adding flavor to the meat and keeping it moist. If you’re going for simple, that’s OK–a basic salt and pepper rub is just fine.

Want to get a little creative? Try a Grilled Basil Chicken or this not-so-basic Paprika Dry Rub recipe.

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Tenderizing the chicken meat with a mallet - Preparing homemade chicken kiev in a kitchen
Shutterstock / napocska

Mistake #3: Not pounding out the meat

Pounding chicken breasts helps tenderize the meat. With your strength (and the force of a trusty meat tenderizer), you start to break down the proteins in the meat. Plus, with thinner breasts, you reduce the amount of time it takes to cook the breasts all the way through. This is helpful because we often end up overcooking it!

Here’s our best advice for flattening chicken breasts.

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Food preparing, cooking concept. Male hands chef beating steak chicken breast with meat tenderizer on wooden board close up
Shutterstock / Anetlanda

Mistake #4: Not pounding the breasts out to an even thickness

If you’re cooking more than one chicken breast, you’ll benefit from making sure the breasts are all the same thickness. If they’re not, you’ll likely have a hard time getting them all to the proper internal temperature (165° F) without drying out a few.

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Checking the temperature with thermometer of fry chicken at home
Kit Leong/Shutterstock

Mistake #5: Cooking chicken for too long

Nobody likes a medium-rare chicken breast–or salmonella. But an overcooked chicken breast is tough and unpleasant to eat. Recipes offer good guidelines for cooking, but until you’ve practiced enough, it can be hard to know when you’ve cooked the chicken through.

Let a meat thermometer help. Lots of cooks advise cooking chicken until it reaches an internal temperature of 160° F, assured that it will rise to 165° while it rests.

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grilled chicken fillets on wooden cutting board
Shutterstock / MaraZe

Mistake #6: Not letting the meat rest

If you’ve ever pulled a piece of meat out of the oven or off the grill and cut into it right away, you’ve probably noticed the juices running onto your plate. That is juicy goodness that you’d probably rather savor in the meat! So, tent some foil over your chicken after it cooks and let it rest on the countertop for 10 minutes before serving.

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Taste of Home

Mistake #7: Not adding a sauce

Nothing beats a perfectly cooked piece of chicken. But if it’s not quite perfect, you can help disguise some of that dryness with a delicious sauce. A yummy sauce is a great way to add flavor, too, of course. Steal an idea from one of our favorite chicken dinners.

(Pressed for time? You’ll want our 30-minute chicken recipes.)

Stephanie R. Conner
Stephanie Conner is a word nerd who writes about health and wellness, food and other topics. She also writes the blog KiddosCook.com about her journey of cooking with her son and managing food allergies. When she’s not writing, Stephanie spends her time with her family, in the kitchen and on the yoga mat.