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Learn tips and tricks for moist chicken on the grill or in the air fryer
Are you frustrated with dry chicken breasts no matter how long you marinate them or or which method you use to cook them? This is a quick easy way to make sure that never happens again no matter what cooking method you use.
Chicken breasts tend to be dry because they have almost no fat. Cooking them in fat doesn't solve the issue because the fat won't penetrate the tissue. What you want is moisture without greasiness. Especially if you eat chicken breasts to keep calories low, cooking in extra fat defeats the purpose!
Tender and moist chicken breast method
To get the coveted restaurant-style juicy chicken breast, there is a simple method that can help the meat maintain its moisture level - salt. Yes just salt and you have it in your kitchen right now I bet! Use kosher or another pure salt for this (not iodized salt) to do this process.
To dry brine the chicken, you will need to salt it 1+ hours before cooking (up to 8 hours). The general rule of thumb is to use 1 tablespoon of kosher salt per pound of chicken. However, it's better to use less salt if you're unsure, as more salt doesn't necessarily mean better results. If you are cutting the chicken into smaller pieces for say, shish kebab, do this after you have brined the chicken breast whole or you will have cubes of meat that are too salty.
Dry brining with salt is not limited to chicken; it can also be used for beef (hello juicy steak!). Just like with chicken, salting steaks before cooking can help enhance their tenderness and flavor. I don't like this method for pork to be honest, it can result in a spongy unpleasant texture.
By applying salt to the chicken or beef, it initially draws out moisture. It doesn't stop there, the salt then combines with this moisture, creating a natural brine that is reabsorbed back into the meat. This locks in moisture and flavor. I call it moisture insurance! This process breaks down the muscle fibers, resulting in a more tender and flavorful cooked protein.
When I worked as a private chef I always used this process to ensure my clients and their dinner guests would have a juicy protein.
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How salt works to tenderize chicken and other meat
The dry brining method with salt is effective in tenderizing chicken, beef, and other land animal proteins. But how does it work?
I know it seems counterintuitive, but dry brining your meat with salt is an essential step before cooking to ensure you get a moist and tender finished result. As a bonus, as the brine is reabsorbed, it carries the salt and other flavors deep into the protein.
This process of drawing out moisture and reabsorbing it with the salt helps to break down the muscle fibers in the meat. As a result, the cooked protein becomes more tender and flavorful. The salt acts as a catalyst, enhancing the natural flavors of the meat and making it juicier.
Dry brining with salt is a simple yet powerful technique that can transform your chicken breasts into moist and delicious dinners-or as part of a meal prep if you want to precook chicken breasts for salads to take to work. This is such an easy method because all kitchens have salt on hand! Whether you're preparing dinner salads or other recipes, dry brining can elevate the taste and texture of your meat.
You may like this post on my two favorite nonstick pans that stay nonstick year after year.
How to make moist chicken in the air fryer, grill (or anywhere else)
To make chicken in the air fryer (or anywhere else), start by dry brining the chicken breasts. After the dry brine time has passed, you have a few options for cooking the chicken. One option is to do a pan sear in a cast iron skillet. Another option is to use pop-up foil sheets as a liner and put the chicken breasts in the air fryer for 15-20 minutes at 350 degrees Fahrenheit, depending on the size of the breast.
If you want flatter breads, you can split them with a sharp knife or pound them out, or do both. Just wait until after you have done the brining before cutting them into thinner pieces.
Using pop-up foil sheets or parchment air fryer liners in the air fryer has its advantages. Not only do they keep the air fryer clean, but they also make it easier to transfer the chicken in and out of the basket. I have burned my fingertips and knuckles trying to get things out the air fryer! This method ensures that the chicken cooks evenly and retains its moisture, resulting in tender and juicy chicken breasts.
If you prefer other cooking methods, you can also grill, bake in the oven, or make kebabs with the brined chicken breasts. When making kebabs, it's important to follow the same process of brining the whole breast before cutting it into smaller kebab-sized pieces. This ensures that the chicken remains flavorful and tender throughout the cooking process without tasting salty.
No matter which cooking method you choose, the dry brining technique with kosher salt will enhance the flavor and texture of the chicken, making it a delicious and moist dish. Experiment with different cooking methods to find your favorite way to make chicken breasts that are juicy and full of flavor.
Adding other seasonings to brined chicken
When brining chicken or steak, it's important to know when to add other seasonings to enhance the flavor even further. While the brine itself adds moisture and tenderness, additional seasonings can take the dish to the next level.
One option you have is to add the seasonings directly to the brine mixture. This allows the flavors to penetrate the meat during the brining process, resulting in a more flavorful end result. Common seasonings to consider include garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, herbs like thyme or rosemary, and even a touch of cayenne pepper for some heat.
Another option is to season the chicken or steak after it has been brined and before cooking. This can be done by sprinkling your favorite seasonings directly onto the meat or by creating a dry rub (without salt). A dry rub typically consists of a combination of spices, herbs, and sometimes sugar or salt. It's important to pat the meat dry before applying the rub to ensure it adheres properly.
Just remember the meat is now salted from brining. Do not add additional salt or the result will be too salty and unpleasant to eat.
Experiment with different methods to find the one that suits your taste buds best. Remember to always taste and adjust the seasonings as needed before cooking.
Finally, before serving your moist chicken (or steak) allow it to rest tented with foil for 3-5 minutes before serving so none of the precious moisture escapes.