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 for a boost of protein. 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 the family-favorite protein to meals.
Chicken can be cooked many ways and used as the base of chicken enchiladas, poached chicken salad, chicken paninis, chicken noodle soup, and so many other great dishes. But you want to make sure your chicken is tender and juicy. There's nothing worse than dry chicken! That's where knowing how and how long to boil chicken comes in. The terms boiled chicken and poached chicken are interchangeable, they mean the same thing. Cooking in boiling liquid is an ideal method for preparing chicken breasts, which can quickly dry out when roasted or grilled if we turn our heads for just one minute. Bone-in breasts with the skin on are good for boiling if you want the cooking liquid to become a tasty broth. For shorter cooking time, opt for skinless, boneless chicken breast halves. For the quickest cooking time, use cut-up chicken breast. After you boil chicken breast, you can use it in a variety of 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 bigger flavor. Other ways to flavor the cooking liquid for your boiled chicken breast include adding onion wedges, carrot pieces, celery pieces, garlic cloves, bouillon granules, herbs, salt, and lemon juice or peel.
Step 2: Boil the Chicken
OK, you've determined your liquid and other flavorings. Now it's time to get cooking. Here's how to boil chicken breasts.
- Add chicken breasts to a large skillet with sides ($36, Target).
- Add your desired cooking liquid (about 1½ to 2 cups or enough to cover the breasts)
- Add your desired seasonings.
- Bring liquid to boiling; reduce heat. Cover the pan and simmer until the chicken is no longer pink (165°F). Always test for doneness using a meat thermometer ($13, 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 searching for how long to boil frozen chicken, we'd advise you to thaw the chicken first. Leave chicken breasts in the fridge at least 9 hours or speed up the process using the defrost setting on your microwave or cold water method. Never cook frozen chicken in a slow cooker or the microwave, but the U.S. Food Safety and Inspection Service says you can boil frozen chicken by increasing our time guidelines for how long to boil chicken by 50%
How long to boil bone-in chicken breasts:
Bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts: cook about 30 minutes (That would mean boiling frozen chicken about 45 minutes.), or until 165°F
How long to boil chicken breasts (skinless, boneless):
Skinless, boneless chicken breast halves: cook 12 to 15 minutes. (That means boiling frozen chicken 18 to 22 minutes.) If you want poached chicken even faster you can cut the chicken into 2-inch pieces and cook 8 to 10 minutes.
Remember the only sure-fire way to know when your chicken is done is to check the internal temperature (165°F), so use these timings as guidelines.
Step 3: Drain Liquid and Shred or Chop
If you're not saving the boiled chicken liquid, you can simply remove the chicken with a slotted spoon, fork, or tongs, letting excess liquid drain off. Then discard the liquid.
If you're keeping the poached chicken liquid, drain 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) to 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. If the chicken has skin, pull it off with your fingers and discard. Using your fingers or two forks, tear off or shred pieces of chicken. 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 made quick work of shredding a large quantity of boiled chicken breasts by dropping them in a stand mixer and hitting them briefly with the mixer paddle. This technique makes quick work of shredding the cooked chicken and you never need to get your hands messy. Just don't leave the paddle on for too long; you don't want to liquefy your chicken!
Related: How to Shred Any Meat
How to Store Poached Chicken
You can save boiled chicken for days or months by making it ahead and storing in the fridge or freezer.
- Cool the chicken completely and transfer to a storage container ($8, Bed Bath & Beyond). Cover and refrigerate up to three days or freeze for up to two months.
- To store the broth, place in a sturdy storage container. Cover and chill 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.
Related: How to Make Homemade Chicken Broth