How to Boil Chicken Breasts: Our No-Fail Technique for Juicy Chicken

Chicken is one of the most versatile proteins out there. You can season it in endless ways and add it to just about anything. Making boiled chicken (aka poached chicken) is a simple way to get cooked chicken to add to recipes. This is the method our Better Homes & Gardens Test Kitchen pros swear by when someone asks how to boil chicken to add family-favorite protein to meals. Our step-by-step guide explains how long to boil chicken—even how long to boil frozen chicken if you forgot to thaw in advance.

Chicken can be cooked in many ways and used as the base of chicken enchiladas, poached chicken salad, chicken paninis, chicken noodle soup, and other great dishes. But you want to make sure your chicken is tender and juicy; there's nothing worse than dry chicken! Knowing the best method and how long to boil chicken will ensure your chicken isn't dry.

The terms boiled chicken and poached chicken are interchangeable. Cooking in boiling liquid is ideal for preparing chicken breasts, which can quickly dry out when roasted or grilled if we turn our heads for just one minute. Skin-on, bone-in breasts are ideal for boiling if you want the cooking liquid to become a tasty broth. Opt for skinless, boneless chicken breast halves for a shorter cooking time. For the quickest cooking time, use cut-up chicken breast. After you boil chicken breast, you can use it in various recipes.

There's nothing difficult about boiling water (or broth) and adding chicken to it, but there are a few tips to help you get the best results. Here are our secrets to tender, juicy boiled chicken.

Step 1: Pick a Liquid

The liquid you use for poached chicken can be as simple as water, which works well if you want the other flavors in your chicken recipe to shine. Alternatively, you can use more flavorful liquids such as chicken broth, apple cider, dry white wine, or a combination to infuse your chicken with a more robust flavor. Other ways to flavor the cooking liquid include adding onion wedges, carrot pieces, celery pieces, garlic cloves, bouillon granules, herbs, salt, and lemon juice or peel.

Poached Chicken in broth in a skillet with sides
Brie Passano

Step 2: Boil the Chicken

Once you've determined your liquid and other flavorings, it's time to get cooking. Here's how to boil chicken breasts.

  • Add chicken breasts to a large skillet with sides.
  • Add your desired cooking liquid (about 1½ to two cups or enough to cover the breasts).
  • Add desired seasonings.
  • Bring liquid to a boil; reduce heat. Cover the pan and simmer until the chicken is no longer pink (165 degrees Fahrenheit). Always test for doneness using a meat thermometer ($15, Bed Bath & Beyond).

How Long to Boil Chicken Breasts

So, how long do you boil chicken for optimal tenderness? That depends on the size of the breasts and whether they have bones.

Test Kitchen Tip: If you're considering boiling frozen chicken, we'd advise you to thaw the chicken first. To thaw, leave chicken breasts in the fridge for at least nine hours. You can speed up the process by using the defrost setting on your microwave or using the cold water method. You should never cook frozen chicken in a slow cooker or microwave.

The U.S. Food Safety and Inspection Service recommend boiling frozen chicken by increasing the time for how long to boil chicken by 50 percent.

How long to boil bone-in chicken breasts:

Bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts: cook for about 30 minutes (That would mean boiling frozen chicken for about 45 minutes), or until 165 degrees Fahrenheit.

How long to boil chicken breasts (skinless, boneless):

Skinless, boneless chicken breast halves: cook 12 to 15 minutes. (That means boiling frozen chicken would take 18 to 22 minutes.) If you want poached chicken even faster, you can cut the chicken into 2-inch pieces and cook eight to 10 minutes.

The only surefire way to know when your chicken is done is to check the internal temperature (165 degrees Fahrenheit), so use these timings as guidelines.

shredding chicken with forks
Leigh Beisch

Step 3: Drain Liquid and Shred or Chop

If you're not saving the boiled chicken liquid, you can remove the chicken with a slotted spoon, fork, or tongs, letting the excess liquid drain off. Then discard the liquid.

If you're keeping the poached chicken liquid, drain the chicken through a sieve into a bowl. If you're keeping the cooking liquid for broth or stock, consider lining the sieve with two layers of 100%-cotton cheesecloth ($3, Target). Doing this will make the broth more translucent by removing any larger bits. Remove the chicken from the sieve and discard any vegetables and seasonings. Serve as desired in your favorite chicken breast recipes.

Test Kitchen Tip: For torn or pulled chicken pieces, let the chicken breast cool until easy to handle. Pull off any chicken skin with your fingers and discard. Then, tear off or shred the chicken with your fingers or two forks. Use torn or pulled chicken pieces as you would chopped chicken. Try it in one of our favorite shredded chicken recipes.

Our editors have also quickly shredded many boiled chicken breasts at once by dropping them in a stand mixer and hitting them briefly with the paddle mixer. Just don't leave the paddle on for too long; you don't want to liquefy your chicken!

How to Store Poached Chicken

You can save boiled chicken for days or months by making it ahead and storing it in the fridge or freezer.

  • Cool the chicken completely and transfer it to a storage container ($10, Bed Bath & Beyond). Cover and refrigerate for up to three days or freeze for up to two months.
  • To store the broth, place it in a sturdy storage container. Cover and chill for up to two days or freeze for up to two months. You can also freeze the broth in ice cube trays to use as flavor boosters.

Knowing the steps to make boiled chicken breast will make weeknight dinners a breeze. If you're looking for bolder-flavored chicken recipes, you can always cook chicken in a skillet or grill. Try baked chicken for a mildly-flavored option.

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