How to Slice Chicken Breast for Stir-Fries | Knife Skills

Cutting up a chicken breast properly for stir-fries is easy, as long as you slice against the grain and make sure that the chicken morsels are of a uniform size.

A boneless, skinless chicken breast on a plastic cutting board
Photographs: Vicky Wasik

Even if you have the very best chef's knife and that knife is carefully sharpened and honed after each use, chicken can still be a bit slippery to slice. As with bacon or pancetta—or any other meat, really—throwing it on a plate and placing it in the freezer for about 15 minutes will help it firm up and make it easier to slice precisely.

Muscle Grain Matters

All muscle matter has a grain to it. The muscle fibers align in the direction that they contract. The orientation of your knife to this grain will determine the length of the muscle fibers in an individual slice of meat, which in turn will have a profound effect on how tender or tough that meat is.

Chicken breast is a little different than most cuts of meat you'll encounter, since the grain isn't uniform across the entire chicken breast half. Here's a rough diagram of the orientation of the grain on a boneless, skinless chicken breast:

Diagram depicting the orientation of the muscle grain on a boneless, skinless chicken breast on a cutting board
The dotted lines roughly indicate the alignment of the muscle fibers.

Chicken is also a little different from other meats in that you want to slice not quite 100 percent against the grain, because it can end up almost too tender if you do. But you still want to cut at a sharp bias against it.

How to Slice Chicken Breast for Stir-Fries

Hold the chicken breast with your non-knife hand, curling your fingertips under your knuckles (so you don't slice them off!), and slice the chicken with long, even strokes into slices about 1/4-inch thick.

Overhead view of chicken breast being cut into slices for stir-frying
Make sure to curl your fingertips under your knuckles to keep them safe.

How to Julienne Chicken Breasts for Stir-Fries

If you want slivers of chicken breast to toss into a stir-fry, you cut the chicken breast as you would for slices, but then you take those same slices, stack a few at a time, and slice them lengthwise.

A knife slicing through two slices of chicken breast stacked on top of one another to create julienned strips for stir-frying
Stack only as many slices on top of one another as you feel comfortable slicing.

Only stack as many slices on top of each other as you feel comfortable slicing. The goal is to produce relatively uniform matchstick-lengths of chicken breast.

Julienned slices of chicken breast for stir-frying on a cutting board
Slivered chicken breast, ready for stir-frying.

How to Dice a Chicken Breast for Stir-Fries

If you're making a recipe that calls for diced chicken breast, as in my Sichuan kung pao chicken, you'll want to start by slicing the chicken into wider strips.

A knife slicing against the muscle grain of a chicken breast to create larger slices, which in turn will be diced into cubes, for stir-frying
For cubes of chicken breast, start by slicing the breast slightly against the grain into large slices.

Then cut each of those wider strips crosswise into cubes. If you want to cut up smaller cubes, take each of the wider strips and slice it in half lengthwise, then cut the resulting strips crosswise.

A pile of cubed chicken breast for stir-frying on a cutting board
Cubed chicken, ready for stir-frying.

The chicken is now ready to cook in any number of Chinese recipes, whether they involve velveting (coating with egg white and corn starch, like in this Stir-Fried Velvet Chicken with Snap Peas and Lemon-Ginger Sauce), simple marinating, like in this Easy Stir-Fried Chicken With Ginger and Scallions, or this Kung Pao Chicken, or this Kimchi Chicken and Cabbage Stir-Fry, or just cooked as-is, like in this Chicken Red Curry Stir-Fry with Green Beans.

Read up more about stir-frying in our Wok Skills 101 post, our post on how to stir-fry on an electric cooktop, and our guide to stir-frying outdoors (the very best way!)

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