How to Cook Tender Chicken Breasts 4 Ways

Four ways to cook tender chicken breasts to suit your time, preference and end use. Perfect for when you need some nice tender cooked chicken to complete a meal or to use in a recipe.

raw chicken breasts on cutting board
Four ways to prepare tender chicken breasts.

We love boneless, skinless chicken breasts at our house. They’re convenient, affordable, easy to cook and a healthy source of protein that can be used in so many different recipes. A quick search of the Manitoba Chicken Producers new website for cooked chicken brings up tasty recipes like curry, pizza, poke bowls, salads, sandwiches, soups, pasta and more! Many of these recipes list cooked chicken in the ingredient list. For those times when you don’t have leftover pre-cooked chicken, here are my four favourite ways of preparing tender chicken breasts thanks to a paid partnership with Manitoba Chicken Producers.

If you need tender, juicy cooked boneless chicken breasts here are four cooking methods to consider.

Instant Pot – great for frozen chicken

Slow Cooker – great for hands-off cooking

Oven Roasted – great for easy seasoned whole chicken breasts

Pan Fried – great for quick beautifully browned chicken

We use these methods depending on timing and what’s for supper. Keep reading for more details on each method.

Chicken Breasts in the Instant Pot

For frozen chicken breasts – the instant pot is your best option. Unlike a slow cooker, which is not recommended for cooking frozen meat, you can safely cook frozen meat in an Instant Pot without thawing. The added pressure in the Instant Pot increases cooking temperatures and gives you tender, perfectly cooked chicken in about 30 minutes.

seasoned frozen chicken breasts in front of instant pot
The Instant Pot is the best choice for cooking frozen chicken breasts.

The time you set for cooking chicken in the Instant Pot is the same for fresh or frozen chicken. But in the end, the overall time for frozen chicken breasts will be longer because it will take longer for the pot to come to pressure. It takes about 10-15 minutes to come up to temperature for frozen chicken breasts, 8-10 minutes to cook and 5 minutes for natural release for a total of 23-30 minutes in the pressure cooker. For more details read How to Cook Chicken Breasts in an Instant Pot.

You’ll get tender cooked chicken perfect for recipes like this Chicken Balsamic Onion Proscuitto Pizza from the Manitoba Chicken Producers.

chicken pizza
Chicken Balsamic Onion and Proscuitto Pizza from Manitoba Chicken Producers.

Or this Pesto Pasta with chicken.

pesto pasta with chicken
Sliced chicken on pesto pasta.

 

tender sliced instant pot chicken
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5 from 4 votes

Tender Chicken Breasts in the Instant Pot

Here's how to cook tender, juicy chicken breasts in the Instant Pot. The process and cooking time is the same for frozen or fresh chicken breasts. The pressure cooker will take longer to come up to the proper temperature when using frozen meat, so expect an extra 5-10 minutes to the overall time when using frozen chicken.
Prep : 5 mins
Cook : 25 mins

Ingredients

  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 1 to 1 1/2 cup chicken stock, water, salsa or sauce
  • 2 tsp Italian Seasoning

Instructions

  • Separate frozen chicken pieces. Either leave on counter for 15 minutes or place in cold water until pieces separate. Hint: When freezing chicken, freeze flat with a little space between pieces so they separate easily.
  • Place chicken breasts (fresh or frozen) in bottom of Instant Pot. Trivet not required.
  • Sprinkle seasoning or simply a little salt and pepper over chicken.
  • Add 1 cup (6 quart cooker) or 1 1/2 cups (8 quart cooker) soup stock, water or tomato sauce to Instant Pot.
  • Seal lid and turn valve to “Sealing”. Press “Manual” or “Pressure Cook” and set to cook at high pressure for 8-10 minutes depending on size of chicken breasts.
    - 8 minutes for small to medium (5-6 oz/150-170g) chicken breasts
    -10 minutes for large (7-9 oz/200-255g) chicken breasts
  • When the cook time is finished, the Instant Pot will beep a few times. Allow the pressure to release naturally for 5 minutes. When the display reads L0:05 carefully turn the steam release valve to the venting position to release remaining steam and pressure. Wait for the float valve (pin) to drop then carefully open the lid so any steam rises away from you.
  • Use an instant read thermometer to check the internal temperature of the thickest chicken breast. The final temperature of your chicken should read 165°F/74°C on an internal thermometer.*
  • Cover chicken and let rest for 5 minutes before slicing or shredding. This allows any juices to be absorbed by the chicken.
  • If your chicken does not reach the final temperature before cutting, return it to the Instant Pot and cook an additional 2 minutes at pressure and use the quick release feature when time is up. Remember to let chicken rest again for five minutes before slicing.
Tried this recipe?Mention @GetGettyS or tag #GetGettyS
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: American
Keyword: chicken breast,, frozen chicken, instant pot

Chicken Breasts in the Slow Cooker

This technique is perfect for fresh or thawed chicken breasts when you have more time to let them cook on their own. This is truly a hands-off approach that you can set and forget. It’s also very versatile because you can add different sauces to the pot. This is my favourite method for making shredded chicken for dishes like tacos, enchiladas, Southwestern black bean and corn salad, soups, casseroles, etc.

chicken breast with salsa in slow cooker
Use the slow cooker for fresh or thawed chicken breasts. Add your favourite sauce like salsa then set and forget til dinner time.

For safety sake, please do not put frozen chicken in a slow cooker. The USDA does not recommend using frozen meat in slow cookers. The meat will stay below 140°F for too long leading to potentially high pathogen counts that could cause foodborne illnesses, especially in those with weakened immune systems.

Try slow cooker shredded chicken in this Atzec Chicken Soup from the Manitoba Chicken Producers.

Aztec chicken soup in bowl
Try this Aztec Chicken Soup from the Manitoba Chicken Producers with shredded chicken from the slow cooker.

Chicken tacos or chicken taquitos are other recipes perfect for using slow cooker shredded chicken cooked with salsa. When cooked in soup stock, slow cooker chicken is perfect for warm, comforting mulligatawny.

close up of muligatawny
Slow cooker chicken in soup stock is perfect to use in this Mulligatawny.

 

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5 from 3 votes

Slow Cooker Shredded Chicken

Easy, moist, delicious chicken flavored just the way you want it. For the liquid try using salsa for Mexican dishes, tomato sauce for Italian dishes or stock for whatever dish you'd like.
Prep : 5 mins
Cook : 4 hrs
Total Time: 4 hrs

Ingredients

  • 2 lbs boneless skinless chicken breasts or thighs (4 breasts or 5-6 thighs)
  • 2 cups liquid soup stock, water or salsa (eg Freezer Salsa)

Instructions

  • Place chicken in crockpot.
  • Add liquid and any additional seasoning if you choose.
  • Cover and let cook 4-5 hours on low or 2-3 hours on high. Check internal temperature of the chicken to ensure it reaches 165°F or 74°C.
  • Remove chicken, cover and let rest five minutes. Shred with fork while still warm.
  • Toss chicken with any liquid remaining in slow cooker.
  • Use in your favorite recipe.
  • Store in a sealed container in fridge for up to 4 days or freeze in a freezer container for 4 months.

Notes

Favorite liquid & spice combos:
Salsa with 2 Tbsp taco seasoning and hot pepper flakes
Tomato sauce with 2 Tbsp Italian seasoning
Soup stock with 1/2 sliced onion, 2 Tbsp fresh parsley, 2 cloves garlic
The USDA does not recommend using frozen meat in slow cookers. The meat will stay below 140°F for too long leading to potentially high pathogen counts that could cause foodborne illnesses, especially in those with weakened immune systems.
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Chicken Breasts In the Oven

This technique is perfect for fresh or thawed chicken breasts when you want your final chicken breasts to be well seasoned with slightly browned, crispy edges. Use these to slice and put on a salad or pasta or serve as is next to potatoes or rice and vegetables.

oven roasted chicken with thermometer
Oven roasted chicken with two different seasonings. Use a meat thermometer to ensure chicken reaches 165°F/74°C.

If you like to prep meals, this technique is ideal. I will often prep a whole package of chicken at once using different spice combos as shown above. If we don’t plan to use them within the week, I freeze extras for another busy weeknight.

Use sliced, oven roasted chicken breasts for these tasty Open Face Chicken & Brie Toasts from the Manitoba Chicken Producers.

chicken and brie sandwich melt
Open Face Chicken & Brie Toasts from the Manitoba Chicken Producers.

Or use it to top this Strawberry Basil Salad with whole grains – a full meal salad.

strawberry basil salad
This Strawberry Basil Salad with chicken is full meal with a healthy protein option to keep you satisfied all day.
oven baked chicken
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5 from 3 votes

Tender Chicken Breast in the Oven

If you need to top a salad or pasta dish with nicely seasoned chicken that's tender and just a little browned on the edges, this is a great way to prepare fresh or thawed chicken breasts.

Ingredients

  • 4 boneless skinless chicken breasts
  • 1 Tbsp canola oil

Dry Spice Rub

  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp oregano
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper (optional)

Instructions

  • Using a meat mallet or rolling pin, gently pound the chicken breast to even it out. Do not flatten too much, just pound down the thickest part to match the middle part of the chicken - the pointy end will be a little thinner. Your chicken breast should be about 2cm or 3/4" thick.
  • Coat chicken breasts with light layer of oil all around.
  • Coat chicken breasts with your favourite seasoning all around. A little sugar or honey in your rub will help with browning and builds a bit of a crust.
  • Bake at high heat, 425°F/218°C. The final temperature of your chicken should read 165°F/74°FC on an internal thermometer. The exact time will vary with size of chicken breasts.
    Bake large breasts (7-9 oz/200-255g) for 20-22 minutes.
    Bake small-medium breasts (5-6 oz/150-170g) for 18-20 minutes.
  • For more browning and crispy edges, put under broiler for last 2-3 minutes.
  • Cover and rest chicken breasts for five minutes to keep juices in your chicken.
  • For an extra special touch, add a little butter to pan juices and pour over chicken before serving. A little melted herb butter without the pan juices would work too.

Notes

We also like using Taco Seasoning, Cajun Seasoning or Steak Seasoning as a rub.
Tried this recipe?Mention @GetGettyS or tag #GetGettyS
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: American
Keyword: chicken breast,

Chicken Breasts on the Stove Top – Pan Fried

For the quickest, most caramelized chicken breasts pan frying is the way to go. It’s fast and tasty, but it can cause splattering and will require your full attention. This is our go to in winter when our BBQ is covered under a blanket of snow.

pan fried chicken breast
Golden caramelized crispy edges from pan searing.

The great caramelization and colour of these chicken breasts means it should take center stage on the plate as an entree or on top of a salad or pasta dish.

Pan fried chicken is a great way to prepare chicken for salad bowls like this Asian Grilled Chicken Salad – especially in the winter when your grill isn’t as handy.

Asian grilled chicken salad bowl
Pan fried chicken is a great addition to salad noodle bowls like this Asian Grilled Chicken Noodle Salad from the Manitoba Chicken Producers. When you can’t grill chicken – pan frying is a great option.

Try it on a classic Homemade Chicken Caesar Salad.

chicken caesar salad platter
Pan fried chicken is great on this Chicken Caesar Salad.
pan fried chicken breast
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5 from 3 votes

Tender Pan Fried Chicken Breasts

For beautifully caramelized chicken with slightly crispy edges, pan frying is the way to go. Chicken breasts must be fresh or fully thawed.
Prep : 5 mins

Ingredients

  • 4 boneless skinless chicken breasts
  • 2 Tbsp canola oil
  • 1 Tbsp butter (optional)

Dry Spice Rub

  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp oregano
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper (optional)

Instructions

  • Using a meat mallet or rolling pin, gently pound the chicken breasts to even them. Do not flatten too much, just pound down the thickest part to even out the chicken breasts to about 2 cm or 3/4" thick.
  • If necessary, pat dry with paper towel. Coat chicken breasts with light layer of oil all around, use just under 1 Tbsp oil.
  • Coat chicken breasts with the dry rub or your favourite seasoning.
  • Heat a heavy skillet. Add 1 Tbsp of oil and let heat. Once oil shimmers add chicken breasts, leaving some space between each one. If you have a small pan, do this in two batches.
    Do not move or turn chicken for 5-7 minutes until you can see the chicken is cooked halfway up the thickness (it will look white). If splattering too much, cover loosely with a lid, leaving gaps for steam to escape.
  • Flip chicken breasts and cook other side 5 minutes, then check temperature with an instant read thermometer. It should read 165°F/74°C. Cook longer if needed. If pan is dry and outside of chicken is on the verge of burning, add 1/4 cup water to pan, cover with lid slightly askew.
  • Remove chicken from pan, cover and rest chicken breasts for five minutes to keep juices in your chicken.
  • Optional: For an extra special touch, add a little butter to pan, melt and scrape up any stuck on bits pour over chicken before serving.

Notes

We like using Taco Seasoning, Cajun Seasoning or Steak Seasoning as alternate rubs.
Tried this recipe?Mention @GetGettyS or tag #GetGettyS
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: American
Keyword: chicken breast,

What’s the Best Way to Prepare Chicken Breasts

So after all that, what is THE best way to prepare chicken breasts? Truth is, there isn’t one best way. It all depends on what you’re making, how much time you have, whether your chicken is frozen or not and what your personal cooking style is. I hope I’ve given you enough information and ideas to cover all possible circumstances.

Chicken breasts are versatile and delicious and by following some of the tips above, you’ll be rewarded with tasty, tender chicken every time!

chicken breasts sliced and whole baked
Tender chicken breast sliced or whole.

Now, what are you going to try first? We’d love to hear how your chicken turned out and how you’re going to use it. Please leave a comment below or tag us on Instagram @getgettys and @ManitobaChicken.

This recipe was written in paid partnership with the Manitoba Chicken Producers. As always, opinions are my own and a sincere reflection of life in my home.

Getty Stewart is a Professional Home Economist,  speaker, frequent media guest and writer dedicated to putting good food on tables and agendas.  She is the author of several recipe books on enjoying and preserving fruit, Founder of Fruit Share, a mom and veggie gardener. Sign up to get articles by Getty delivered to your inbox. You’ll get recipes, practical tips and great food information like this.

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