How to Cook Chicken on the Stove

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Learn how to cook chicken breasts on the stovetop with juicy and tender results! This is my go-to method for a quick and healthy dinner paired with your choice of sides.

Pan seared chicken breasts with golden brown crust.

Chicken is a classic dinner-time staple, but it can easily become dried out and bland. To avoid that, I’m sharing my stovetop pan sear technique that adds a ton of surface flavor to the chicken breasts while ensuring moist and tender meat. The key to success is heat management.

You’ll need to give the protein enough time for the exterior to brown, then reduce the intensity to gently finish cooking. Once you master this simple technique, the possibilities are endless. Get creative with entree portions, kick up the protein level for salads, or shred up pieces to use in soups and casseroles.

Ingredients laid out on a table with the names called out.

Chicken selection

I recommend using boneless skinless chicken breasts that are between 6 to 10 ounces. If the tenders are still attached, they add bulk and make it harder to flatten. I like to pull them off and make baked chicken tenders for the kids. They love it! I find that anything over 8 ounces will end up being too wide after flattening, so you may need to cook in two batches.

Flatten the pieces

Chicken breasts are admittedly a challenge to cook evenly because of their shape. They are thicker on one side, and they thin out and taper on the other. It’s best to flatten the thick end so that the entire piece is level. Place the chicken in a plastic bag, then use a meat mallet or rolling pin to pound. Shoot for about ½ to ¾ inch thickness.

Another option is to slice the chicken in half horizontally lengthwise to create two fillets out of one piece. This technique works nicely if the meat is very thick, 1-inch or bigger.

Meat tenderizer flattening a chicken breast inside a plastic bag.

The seasoning blend

Dried seasonings like salt, black pepper, garlic, powder, and herbs are concentrated in their characteristic flavor compounds. A little goes a long way! Feel free to add what you have available in your spice cabinet. Don’t overthink it. If desired, you can go super simple with just salt and pepper. The process of cooking the chicken will add even more flavor.

In my seasoning blend, I like to incorporate paprika for a deep golden hue and earthy taste. I use sweet but smoked or spicy varieties to add an interesting dimension. Use a small amount, and don’t jack up the heat too high, or you’ll burn the spice. If you want a deeper golden brown color, omit the paprika. Cook the first side on medium-high heat, and then reduce to medium when flipping over.

Several seasoned pieces of chicken breast on a sheet pan.

Prepare the chicken

After flattening the meat, dry both sides with paper towels. This process wicks up any extra moisture on the surface that could cause it to steam instead of brown. We want to kickstart the flavor and color development in the pan.

Evenly sprinkle with the seasoning blend, about a ½ teaspoon per side. Don’t let the chicken sit too long. The salt will draw the moisture to the surface. If this happens, blot with a paper towel before adding to the pan.

Pan selection

A cast iron skillet or stainless steel pan helps to create a golden-brown crust. The trick to using them correctly is to preheat the pan and heat the oil before adding the meat. This process creates a better non-stick surface. Since we are using moderate heat, it’s okay also to use a nonstick pan if you feel more comfortable.

Metal tongs holding a chicken breast.

The pan sear method

The best cooking oils to use for the stovetop chicken breast are olive oil for a slightly fruity taste or avocado oil because of its high smoke point and neutral flavor. Make sure the oil is nice and hot but not smoky. Once the pieces go in, press them down for better contact with the surface, then do not move. I repeat, let it sear! 

The preheated fat and moderate heat drive off any excess moisture from the meat. Then it goes through the Maillard browning reaction. Hundreds of new flavors and golden colors develop for much tastier bites. Keep a close eye on the color change while the chicken develops a crust. This will make it easy to flip over.

Add butter for more flavor

Butter is optional, but it’s such a good idea! After flipping, I add a tablespoon. Let the fat melt, then baste with it. The process coats the surface to prevent the meat from drying out. Throw in some sprigs of rosemary or thyme to infuse fresh herb aromatics into the dish. 

When the milk solids brown, they add more color and a nutty flavor that sticks to the meat. It’s delicious! I wait until after the initial sear because I don’t want the water in the butter to interfere with browning or the solids to burn. You can skip this step, but I’m a big fan of the extra flavor it creates.

Basting butter over stovetop chicken.

Checking for doneness

The surface of the chicken breasts should become golden brown and completely opaque throughout. It’s okay if the juices run slightly pink, but the meat should not be raw in the center. Use an instant-read thermometer to check the internal temperature on the thickest part of the breast. I poke it parallel into the meat for the most accurate result. It should be between 160 to 165ºF (71 to 74ºC).

Rest then slice

Give the chicken about 5 minutes to rest before slicing. This duration allows the flavorful juices to redistribute into the muscle fibers. Resting keeps the meat moist instead of running out onto the cutting board.

Serve this with

Chicken breasts cut into several slices.

Frequently asked questions

How long does it take to cook chicken pieces in a frying pan?

In a preheated pan over moderate heat, about 5 to 7 minutes per side. Larger pieces of chicken will take longer to cook. Target an internal temperature of 160 to 165ºF (71 to 74ºC).

Can you brine the chicken?

Yes! If you have extra time and want to increase the seasoning and juiciness, brine the chicken breasts. Dissolve 2/3 cup kosher salt or ½ cup of table salt in 2 quarts of water. Add the chicken and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or up to 24 hours. Dry the surface well before cooking.

Can you add a marinade?

For more flavor dimensions, add a chicken marinade. The citrus juices, salt, aromatics like garlic and soy sauce helps to increase the savory umami taste. Since there is an acid in the marinade, all you need is 30 minutes or up to 1 hour. The meat may turn mushy in texture if left longer. Pat dry before cooking.

Can you make a sauce with the pan drippings?

Absolutely! The flavorful fond left in the skillet from the juices and cooked bits is great for making a pan sauce or gravy. Use the drippings from the pan, or add 1 tablespoon of butter if previously omitted, plus 1 to 2 tablespoons of flour to make a roux. Add 1 cup of chicken stock or broth to thin out the sauce, whisk, and cook over medium-high heat until thickened.

Fork lifting on a piece of chicken.

How to pan sear on the stovetop

Typically, pan-searing involves high-heat browning in a skillet and then transferring it to the oven to gently finish cooking. However, you can use just the stovetop. Flattening the chicken ensures even cooking, then using moderate and consistent heat is critical to preventing the meat from drying out. As long as the cooking oil is preheated, then the chicken will get brown and be juicy.

Juicy Stove Top Chicken Breasts

Learn how to cook chicken breasts on the stovetop with juicy and tender results! This is my go-to method for a quick and healthy dinner.
4.95 from 40 votes
Prep Time15 minutes
Cook Time15 minutes
Total Time30 minutes
Servings 4 servings
Course Entree
Cuisine American

Ingredients 
 

  • 4 boneless skinless chicken breasts, about 6 to 10 ounces each
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper
  • ½ teaspoons paprika, sweet or smoked, optional
  • ½ teaspoon garlic powder
  • ½ teaspoons onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning, optional
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, or avocado oil
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, optional

Instructions 

  • Place one of the chicken pieces between two plastic sheets or in a large plastic bag. Flatten to an even thickness, about ½-inch thick. Repeat with the remaining pieces.
    Alternatively, for pieces 1-inch thick or larger, cut in half horizontally. This should create eight ½-inch thick pieces.
  • In a small bowl, combine kosher salt, black pepper, paprika (if using), garlic powder, onion powder, and Italian seasoning (if using).
  • Use paper towels to pat dry both sides of the chicken to remove excess surface moisture.
  • Evenly sprinkle both sides of the chicken with the seasoning mix, about ¼ to ½ teaspoon per side.
  • Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add olive oil, once hot and shimmering but not smoking. Add the chicken breasts presentation side down. Use tongs to press down into the pan for maximum contact. Cook until golden brown, about 5 to 7 minutes.
  • If the chicken is very large after flattening, work in batches cooking two pieces at a time. Clean the pan in between if needed.
  • Flip the chicken over and add the butter. Swirl the pan to melt and evenly distribute. Occasionally baste the meat with the butter. Cook until the internal temperature reaches 160 to 165ºF (71 to 74ºC), about 5 to 7 minutes. Transfer to a clean plate to rest for 5 minutes.
  • Serve whole pieces of chicken breast, or slice crosswise into strips or dice into cubes.

Recipe Video

YouTube video

Notes

  • Storing: Cool completely and store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. Freeze in a resealable plastic bag for up to 3 months.
  • Paprika: For a deeper golden brown color, omit the paprika and herbs. Cook the first side over medium-high heat for about 5 minutes, then reduce to medium when flipping over to complete cooking.
  • Seasonings: Dried Italian seasoning gives various herbs like basil, rosemary, oregano, and thyme. Herbs de Provence, which has lavender, is a tasty swap or any dried herb of your choice.
  • Make it Whole30: Omit the butter, or use ghee or clarified butter. 

Nutrition Facts

Serves: 4 servings
Calories 176kcal (9%)Carbohydrates 1gProtein 24g (48%)Fat 8g (12%)Saturated Fat 2g (10%)Polyunsaturated Fat 1gMonounsaturated Fat 4gTrans Fat 1gCholesterol 76mg (25%)Sodium 713mg (30%)Potassium 437mg (12%)Fiber 1g (4%)Sugar 1g (1%)Vitamin A 211IU (4%)Vitamin C 1mg (1%)Calcium 17mg (2%)Iron 1mg (6%)

Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000-calorie diet. All nutritional information is based on estimated third-party calculations. Each recipe and nutritional value will vary depending on the brands you use, measuring methods, and portion sizes per household.

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Jessica Gavin

I'm a culinary school graduate, cookbook author, and a mom who loves croissants! My passion is creating recipes and sharing the science behind cooking to help you gain confidence in the kitchen.

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13 Comments Leave a comment or review

  1. Marlee Carnevale says

    THE BEST CHICKEN I HAVE EVER MADE! The flavor is delicious and the chicken is incredibly juicy!!! LOVE IT!

  2. Elena Correnti says

    Thank you – perfect instructions for the beginner cook. Turned out so delicious. And so easy. Really appreciate you sharing

    • Jessica Gavin says

      Hi Jack- The dried seasoning is the mixture of kosher salt, black pepper, paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, and Italian seasoning in the recipe.

  3. Chef Ernesto` says

    Great recipe as a chef for over 40 years and now retired I love your blog and this a great way to serve chicken, my question is in your opinion,
    What do you look for in a quality chicken in your instructions you mention to use a quality name brand ? shelf life? For the sake of others please reply what you look for in a quality chicken?
    Chef Ernesto`

    • Jessica Gavin says

      Thank you, Chef Ernesto! That is a great question. I often look for “air-chilled” chicken, instead of ones that soak in water or brine solution. This yields a more flavor piece. I also try to avoid chicken that seems overly large in size. The taste and texture is not a good. I look for chicken breast about 6 to 10 ounces max. Organic and free range is always a plus, but I understand that it can be pricey. I don’t have a specific brand, but I do check the labels to see how the chickens have be feed and processed.