Why It Works
- Pounding the chicken breast to an even thickness results in more even cooking throughout.
- Brining the chicken breast helps the meat retain moisture during cooking.
- Drying the breast well before grilling leads to quicker browning.
Grilled skinless chicken breasts are all too often more like pieces of cardboard than food you'd actually want to eat. With a little know-how, however, you no longer have to stand for this injustice. The key to juicy grilled chicken breasts is to brine them first, then cook them over a two-zone fire and pull them off when they're perfectly done.
Place 1 chicken breast in a resealable plastic bag or between two pieces of plastic wrap. Using a meat pounder, rolling pin, or small skillet, pound chicken breast into an even thickness, about 3/4 inch in height. Repeat with remaining 3 breasts.
If making a wet brine, dissolve 1/3 cup (80g) kosher salt and 1/4 cup (55g) sugar in 2 quarts (1.9L) water. Place chicken breasts in brine and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes and up to overnight. If making a dry brine, set a wire rack over a rimmed baking sheet and arrange chicken breasts on it. Sprinkle generously all over with salt on both sides, then refrigerate, uncovered, for at least 30 minutes and up to overnight.
Light 1 chimney full of charcoal. When all charcoal is lit and covered with gray ash, pour out and arrange coals on one side of charcoal grate. Set cooking grate in place, cover grill, and allow to preheat for 5 minutes. Clean and oil grilling grate.
If using a wet brine, remove chicken breasts from brine, pat dry with paper towels, season to taste with salt and pepper, and brush lightly with olive oil. If using a dry brine, simply season with pepper and brush lightly with olive oil. Place chicken over hot side of grill and cook until well browned, 3 to 5 minutes. Flip and continue to cook until second side is browned and chicken is just cooked through, or until the center registers 150°F/66°C (or 165°F/74°C, if you really want to stick to FDA guidelines) on an instant-read thermometer. (It can be difficult to take an accurate temperature on such a thin cut of meat, so make sure to confirm doneness by eye; it's okay to make a small slit into one of the breasts with a knife to confirm.) If second side browns before chicken is done, move to cool side of grill, cover, and let cook until chicken is ready. Remove chicken from grill, let rest 5 minutes, then serve immediately.
A wet brine will create the plumpest, juiciest breast, but it will not brown as deeply and quickly as a dry-brined breast. A dry-brined breast, on the other hand, will still be juicy (just not quite as juicy), with a deeper chicken flavor. Either way works; it just depends on what you want.