How to Cook Perfect Chicken Breasts for Salads and Sandwiches

Cooking chicken for chicken salad recipe

Quick and easy instructions for cooking perfectly juicy and tender chicken breasts for salads and sandwiches.

Boneless, skinless chicken breasts are a great cut of meat. They are lean, healthy, versatile, but can be surprisingly difficult to cook.

If you’ve ever had trouble cooking chicken breasts on the stove, maybe your chicken always comes out dry or the outside burns before the inside cooks, buddy, this is the recipe for you.

Cooking the perfect chicken breasts on the stove is really very, very simple.

You just need the right tools and the right method, and your chicken will come out juicy, moist, and perfectly cooked every time.

Tools and ingredients

  • Meat mallet: The secret to cooking chicken breasts perfectly is to crush them to a uniform thickness before cooking. You can use a rolling pin, or even an empty wine bottle to do this, but a meat mallet will work best.
  • Instant Read Thermometer

  • : Using an instant-read thermometer takes all the guesswork out of cooking meat so you can get your chicken off the stove at exactly the right time. You can cook chicken without one, but if you cook meat regularly, go buy a thermometer. It will change your life!
  • Adhesive wrap or one-gallon plastic bag: Hitting the chicken to

  • an even thickness can be a tricky job, so you should cover the chicken with plastic wrap or enclose it in a plastic bag (with a little open on top to let air escape) before you start.
  • Boneless, skinless chicken breasts: Chicken breast sizes vary wildly, so don’t be alarmed if your chicken seems to be taking longer to cook than expected. You’re probably just working with a larger piece of meat.
  • Spices: You’ll be surprised how good this chicken is flavored with salt and pepper alone, but you can get creative with spices to add extra flavor. Italian seasoning and taco seasoning work well.

Chicken breast cooked in slices for a salad on a cutting board.How to

cook wet chicken breasts for salads and sandwiches

1. Start with completely thawed chicken breasts. (Do you have frozen meat that needs to thaw quickly? Read this.) Never try to cook half-frozen breasts on the stove.

They won’t cook evenly until the end, and that’s how you end up with raw interiors and overcooked exteriors. Also, if your meat is still frozen, it will make the next step almost impossible…

Chicken breast in a plastic bag with a meat mallet.

2. Beat your chicken breasts

to an even thickness. This is the secret of tender and wet chicken breasts! Meat that has the same thickness will cook at the same rate, so you won’t get parts that are overcooked and dry.

Place your chicken breast with the smooth side facing up between two layers of plastic wrap or in a large disposable plastic bag (my preferred method) and go into town. Start with the thickest part of the meat and beat, working outward until the breast is the same thickness throughout.

Chicken breast that

3. Marinate or season the chicken breast before it is put on the fire. If you’re marinating, now is the time for it. If the chicken isn’t being marinated, at least, salt and pepper that thing before putting it on the fire.

Even better, get creative and sprinkle some of your favorite spices. Does it go in a Mexican salad? Use some taco seasoning. An Italian sandwich? A little basil and oregano would be perfection.

4. Start with a hot skillet over medium-high heat. Spray with cooking spray and add your chicken to the pan. You should hear a sizzle when the heat hits. Cook your chicken until it is well and golden on the first side, 5-8 minutes, and then turn over. Continue cooking until ready, flipping again if necessary.

If at any point your chicken starts to brown too much, lower the heat a little and let it cook at a lower temperature.

Temperature of the chicken breast being taken.

5. Use a meat thermometer. As soon as an instant-read thermometer inserted in the middle of your chicken says 165 degrees, pull it. It’s done! Place on a plate, tent with aluminum foil and let stand for at least five minutes before cutting.

6. (Optional) Deglaze the pan with a couple of tablespoons of white wine or chicken broth (or water, if neither is helpful). Reheat the pan, add liquid, and scrape off the black pieces and juices from the pan. Pour back over the chicken breast while resting.

Chicken breast cooked on a white plate.

7. Slice and enjoy that perfectly cooked chicken breast in a salad or sandwich! The chicken will keep in the refrigerator for 3 to 4 days or can be frozen in individual portions (see below for freezing instructions).

Frequently Asked

QuestionsDoes this work with boneless, skinless chicken thighs?

Yes! This method works well with boneless, skinless chicken thighs, but with thighs you don’t need to hit them first as they’re already pretty thin to begin with.

Simply season the thighs with salt and pepper and cook them according to the recipe instructions. They will require a significantly shorter cooking time, usually 3 to 6 minutes per side, so keep a close eye on them to make sure they aren’t overcooking.

Will this work with chicken fillets/chicken chops?

Yes. This will work with any boneless chicken breast. If your steaks/chops are already evenly thick all the way, you can skip the punch part of the recipe and start cooking them.

Can I freeze cooked chicken for later?

Yes. The chicken will keep in the freezer, in an airtight container, or in a freezer bag for up to about 3 months.

To eat, thaw in the refrigerator. You can also thaw the chicken by putting it in the microwave for 1-2 minutes, sprinkled with about a teaspoon of water.

Chicken cooked for salad in freezer bags ready to freeze.

Can I do this in advance?

Absolutely. Cook the chicken for your salad today and you can store it in an airtight container (with the pan dripping if you deglared the pan) in the fridge for 3 to 4 days.

What to do with



Here are some of my favorite recipes made with chicken cooked using this method:


  • sandwich with pesto in sourdough
  • Asian chicken salad with garlic

  • Chicken with garlic Cobb Fettuccine Alfredo salad
  • for one

more chicken Tutorials Roast Chicken Guide

How to cook

  • shredded
  • chicken How to

  • cook chicken breasts How
  • to

  • make broth

This post contains affiliate links, which means I receive a small commission if you make a purchase with them. There is absolutely no additional cost to you. Culinary specialist with more than 10 years of experience in the restaurant industry.

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