How to Cook Chicken Breast in a Pan

Looking for some dinner inspiration for the upcoming week? Kitchen Expert Paul Z. gives a simple 8-step recipe for the perfect pan-cooked chicken!

A man cooking something in a pan.

Photo by Malte Helmhold

There are many methods to cooking chicken breast: grilled, baked, boiled, and, of course, fried. My favorite way is pan-searing; you can easily pan-sear chicken breast with a few staples in the pantry and a non-stick skillet.

Chicken breast has a mellow flavor and is complimented well by various seasonings, marinades, and preparations. In this recipe, I will be using boneless, skinless chicken breasts. It is a simple and fast way to pan-sear juicy and flavorful chicken breast that pairs well with a variety of side dishes.

Ingredients and Materials

Some ingredients laying together including two raw chicken breasts, olive oil, salt, and a lemon.

Chicken Breasts

I recommend choosing chicken that is free-range or organic; better ingredients taste better. I also prefer removing chicken tenders from the breast. Clearing the chicken tenders will separate the tendon, improving the bite and cooking consistency. You can accomplish this with one slice through the tendon.

Pay attention to the thickness of the chicken breast as well. It is an uneven cut of protein, so it will cook unevenly. Look for pieces that are uniform.

Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO)

Quality olive oil, like any quality ingredient, enhances and improves the flavor of a dish. I prefer using EVOO as a healthier option to butter. You may also use canola oil or any oil with a high smoke point.

Chicken breast is very lean. The added fat from the EVOO and the high heat of pan-searing will produce a juicy chicken breast. You will need about one tablespoon for marinating and one tablespoon for cooking.

Salt and Pepper

You will need kosher salt and fresh-cracked pepper. Like seasoning a steak, a liberal sprinkle of salt and pepper will season the chicken—about one tablespoon of each.

Lemon and Herbs

Citrus juice is the perfect chicken marinade. The acid from the lemon will intensify the flavor of the chicken. Juice two to three lemons, or your preferred citrus. Slice one lemon into wedges to garnish the cooked chicken.

Oven-Safe Non-Stick Skillet

Oven-safe non-stick pans are heavy-duty and get hot fast. They also retain heat very well and can go from stovetop to oven for pan-roasting. You can accomplish this with a cast iron skillet—especially if you cook skin-on breasts.

Tongs

Choose tongs that will not scratch your non-stick skillet. Any Teflon-coated tongs will work, but metal tongs will scratch—effectively ruining it. So treat your pan carefully.

Paper Towels

Gently pat and remove moisture from the chicken breasts before seasoning and marinating.

The Recipe

Step 1

Two raw chicken breasts in olive oil on a plate.

Remove your chicken breast from the refrigerator and gently pat them with paper towels to remove excess moisture. Add a healthy pinch of kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper to the chicken from top to bottom. Drizzle with olive oil and the juice of two lemons. Set aside and preheat your non-stick skillet.

Place a 10-inch non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Add olive oil, distributing evenly to the pan. The pan is ready to cook when a light smoke appears, and the oil must be hot to pan-sear chicken breast.

Step 2

Two chicken breasts face down in a pan.

Carefully place the chicken breast in the pan and sear in the olive oil for 4–5 minutes.

Step 3

A pair of tongs lifting up a chicken breast from a pan.

Using tongs, flip the chicken breast and cook for an additional 4–5 minutes.

Step 4

Two chicken breasts face down on a pan.

The chicken breast is ready when the top side has a light crust, and the thickest part of the breast should be juicy. If you are unsure about doneness, you can use an instant-read thermometer. The desired internal temperature is 165°F for chicken breast.

Once cooked, remove the chicken and place it on a cooling rack. Let rest for several minutes.

Step 5

View of some ingredients including herbs, onion, white wine vinegar, and butter.

Now you can make a pan sauce from pan drippings to compliment your chicken. Leave the non-stick skillet on medium-high heat.

Step 6

A hand pouring a liquid into a pan.

Add minced onions and two cups of white wine, then add a pinch of salt and pepper.

Step 7

A spoon mixing up herbs and butter in a pan.

Reduce the liquid by half, add a pat of butter and fresh herbs, and continue to stir. The sauce shall thicken slightly.

Step 8

The final cooked chicken and sauce on a plate with lemon.

Remove from heat and spoon onto a serving dish, and place the sliced chicken breast on top. Garnish with fresh lemon wedges and drizzle with juice to taste. Serve the chicken breast alongside crusty bread to dip into the pan sauce.

This chicken recipe also pairs well with many side dishes; some of my favorites are roasted potatoes, fresh green salad, and roasted veggies.

If you do not have a non-stick iron skillet, you can use a cast-iron pan or stainless steel pan. Try and use a pan with a heavy bottom; this will retain heat evenly and radiate heat during the cooking process.

Pro Tips

If you prefer thinner chicken breast, use a meat mallet or rolling pin. Wrap a cutting board in plastic wrap. Place the chicken breast on top and wrap the chicken with plastic wrap. Pound the chicken breast to your desired thickness.

When you are slicing chicken breast, always cut against the grain. Grain is the muscle fiber in the chicken breast. Look for lines running across the top of your cooked chicken breast; that is the grain. Slice against it or in the opposite direction.

If you want to build layers of flavor, add a pinch of garlic powder and onion powder. You may substitute cooking spray for EVOO, if preferred.

As always, don't forget to ask a Curated Kitchen Expert to help outfit your kitchen with essential cookware and cutlery. Enjoy!

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Written By
Paul Z.
Paul Z.
Kitchen Expert
I love to cook. I love to eat and I love to eat the delicious meals I cook for my family. I caught the cooking bug early as a child. My whole family cooked growing up. I spent the weekdays in the 'burbs watching my mom cook anything from scallop potatoes and pork chops to chile verde and enchiladas....
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