The simple trick that makes chicken breasts so much better

For something so common, it's surprising how intimidating it can be to cook a chicken breast. No matter how hard you try, it tends to turn out either overcooked or not cooked enough — and there's nothing scarier when making dinner than the possibility of serving raw chicken. 

So why is it so tricky? According to J. Kenji López-Alt, author of The Food Lab from Serious Eats, it's mainly because chicken breasts don't usually have the same thickness throughout. "What this means is that no matter how you cook'em, there's a good chance that the thinner, tapered end is going to end up cooking through before the fatter, bulkier end does," he wrote

López-Alt says the best way to get around this problem, thereby creating the best chicken breasts you've ever made, is to pound the chicken breasts, and he says that works for more than one reason. "By pounding the chicken breast flat, you're able to cook the whole thing to the correct final temperature at the same time, leaving you with a juicier breast."

He added that pounding the chicken not only leads to more even cooking, but also faster cooking, and juicer, more tender meat. 

If your kitchen is not equipped with a meat mallet, that's no reason to skip this step. You can use pretty much anything that's heavy and sturdy, like a rolling pin, a skillet, or the bottom of an empty wine bottle or mason jar. Skip the mess by wrapping the chicken in plastic wrap or wax paper before pounding it, or take a tip from Kitchn and slip it into a plastic baggie for super easy cleanup. 

So when should you use this method? Tasting Table says it comes in handy no matter what cooking method you use for your chicken, so make it your first step no matter if you're grilling, baking, broiling or pan-frying your poultry They added that the ideal thickness of your chicken breast is between a quarter-inch and half-inch, but what really matters is that the breasts are the same thickness throughout — so don't sweat it too much if you can't get them that thin. 

The next time you cook a chicken breast for dinner, grab something heavy and work out your frustrations before you add the heat. You'll taste the difference, we promise.