Cooking 101: How to Brown a Chicken Breast and Not Burn it

Cooking 101: How to Brown Chicken Breasts in a Skillet

Here at the Cafe we don’t wish dried out chicken breast on anyone – even the people who leave a single star vote on our recipes.

For this reason, we assembled a set of steps we use to brown the chicken breast perfectly in the pan – and lock in the tenderness. With these steps, and a little practice, your pan-fried chicken will be the best!

We cover these steps in more detail in our Cooking Pro Jumpstart Pan-Frying Tune-Up Workshop. Take a peek HERE for the details.

Step 1: Cut Chicken Breast in Half

Step 1: How to Brown Chicken Breast in a Skillet

Smaller portions allow the heat to penetrate the middle of the chicken breast faster so it’ll cook in less time.

Step 2: Pound Chicken Breast Halves to Even Thickness

Cover both halves with plastic wrap (or wax paper) and hit them with the flat side of a meat tenderizer (if you have one) or the bottom of a heavy skillet.

Step 2: How to Brown Chicken in a Skillet without Burning

The goal isn’t to flatten the chicken breast. Simply pound each piece to an even thickness. This will allow each piece to cook evenly throughout on the inside.

Tip: The other option here is to butterfly the halves if you have a good comfort level with your chefs knife.

Step 3: Season

The easiest way to add instant flavor to chicken breast is to season it with salt and pepper before it hits the pan. Lightly season both sides of each piece.

Step 3: How to Brown a Chicken Breast in a Skillet and not Burn It.

Step 4: Heat Oil in Skillet

For best results, heat 1 teaspoon of cooking oil (I use canola) in a stainless steel skillet and heat it over medium heat. If using a non-stick skillet simply brush the cooking area with cooking oil.

Step 5: How to Brown Chicken Breast in a Skillet without Burning

Give the oil time to get hot before the chicken breast goes in the skillet. This way the outside of the chicken breast will sizzle and brown the instant it hits the hot oil in the pan.

Tip: Place the top of wooden spoon in the oil. It’s hot when small bubbles form around it.

Step 5: Place Chicken Breast in Skillet

Set the chicken breast in the skillet, then take one step back from the cook-top for a full 3 minutes to let the skillet do it’s job.

Keep an eye on the cook-top to see if the oil begins to smoke. If it does, slightly reduce the heat.

Step 5: How to Cook Chicken Breast in a Skillet without Burning

After 3 minutes step back up to the skillet and gently lift the chicken.

Hopefully you are rewarded with a golden brown crust. If not, set it back down in the pan and give it another minute to brown before checking again. Turn the chicken breast over and follow the same steps to brown the other side.

Step 6: Remove Chicken Breast from Skillet

Step 6: How to Brown Chicken Breast in a Skillet without Burning

Let the chicken breast sit for about three minutes on a rack to allow the juices inside to calm down so they won’t gush out when the chicken breast is sliced.

Now that you have the steps…give them a try in your skillet! You got this!

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How to Brown Chicken Breast in a Skillet without Burning


Brent Garell testing the food at College Recipe Cafe

Hi I’m Brent. Thanks for visiting the Cafe! If you are ever short on easy recipe ideas (and cash flow) feel free to check out the Cafe’s e-cookbook 15-Minute Money Saving Meals for Students: – costs less than an avocado toast and coffee combo!

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5 thoughts on “Cooking 101: How to Brown a Chicken Breast and Not Burn it

  1. Lesley Caldwell says:

    I tried the pan bottom to beat the chicken flat, unfortunately it was after work and after a swim so a bit tired & not at my most intelligent… I was too close to my glass stove top and cracked the whole stove top!!! … and I have 3 degrees, one of them, in physics! At least my chicken was excellent!

  2. Chicken says:

    I mean, this works for a chicken breast that thick. But what about chicken cutlets? When it’s thinner, the chicken cooks too quickly before the color is achieved. If I use lower heat, it cooks slower, but never gets the color before it’s done. My mom suggested adding sugar, which does give it color, but I can never get it right and the pan starts to burn.

    • Brent | College Recipe Cafe says:

      Great question! My Aunt Helen was a pro at doing this with thin chicken cutlets. Her secret was to ensure the bottom of the pan was completely covered with a layer of cooking oil and that the oil was nice and hot before the cutlets hit the pan. As you noticed, the cutlets cook quickly so you basically need to deep-fry them to brown the outside. About 1 1/2 to 2 minutes per side – without touching the cutlet while it cooks – should do the trick. One final hint: socially distance each cutlet in the pan. Cooking too many cutlets at once will crowd the pan and steam them – rather than brown them.

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