How to Sauté Chicken to Tender, Juicy Perfection

Learn to sauté chicken like a pro chef for any meal with these easy tips.

Sautéed chicken is the perfect 30-minute meal solution. Better yet, you can turn out a variety of delicious variations with a few added ingredients. Before you roll up your sleeves to learn how to sauté various parts of the bird, bone up on these basics. The word sauté is based on the French word sauter, which means "to jump." Sautéed chicken is cooked in an open, shallow pan, using a small amount of oil or butter over fairly high heat. Read on to master the art, no matter which parts of the chicken you use.

Lemon-Thyme Roasted Chicken with Fingerlings
Karla Conrad

Before we dive into how to sauté chicken, let's talk about pans. You can use nonstick or regular, but be sure to choose a heavy skillet ($60, Bed Bath & Beyond) that's an appropriate size to cook the chicken you have. If the skillet is too large, pan juices can burn. If it's too small, the poultry will steam instead of brown.

Regardless of which pieces of chicken you're preparing, the principles of how to sauté chicken are the same.

  • Follow the tips for safe handling of chicken below to ensure proper food safety.
  • The chicken pieces should be uniform in size for even cooking.
  • Chicken should be dry before cooking, so pat it with paper towels just before sautéing.
  • Don't crowd the pieces in the skillet or they will steam instead of browning nicely.
  • Cook the chicken in batches if necessary. Add additional oil or butter as necessary.
  • Don't toss the drippings! Deglaze the pan to whip up a flavor-boosting simple pan sauce.
Lemon Butter Chicken Breasts
Blaine Moats

How to Sauté Skinless, Boneless Chicken Breast Halves

Here's how to sauté chicken breasts that are halved, boneless, and skinless, all of which are readily available at supermarkets and butchers.

  • Pat boneless, skinless chicken breast halves dry, then use kitchen shears ($12, Target) to trim any fat.
  • Optional: Some cooks like to flatten chicken breasts for quick, even cooking. Simply place each chicken breast between two sheets of plastic wrap. Pound with the flat side of a meat mallet or heavy, flat pan to your desired thickness.
  • Sprinkle breasts with salt and ground black pepper, or your favorite spice blend.
  • For four skinless, boneless chicken breast halves (1 to 1¼ pounds total), preheat 1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil, canola oil, or butter, in a heavy skillet over medium-high heat until hot. Reduce heat to medium.
  • How long to sauté chicken breast halves: For boneless, skinless chicken breast halves, cook 12 to 15 minutes (6 to 8 minutes for flattened chicken) or until it registers 165°F on an instant-read meat thermometer, turning twice. Reduce the heat if the chicken starts to brown too quickly.

Make-Ahead Tip: Many recipes call for cooked chicken. Whether you're making chicken salad, enchiladas, or casseroles, a great option is to sauté chicken breasts, thighs, or tenders. You can use them right away in recipes or save them for later use. Store cooked chicken in the refrigerator up to 3 days or in the freezer up to 4 months.

How to Sauté Chicken Strips or Tenders

Many recipes call for quick-cooking chicken breast strips, or tenders. You can cut whole chicken breasts into strips or pieces, crosswise or lengthwise, depending on your preference and the dish. Sautéed tenders are prepared in the same way as breasts (above), except the cooking time will be shorter—6 to 8 minutes total. Keep a close eye on the tenders and turn them occasionally to prevent burning.

Sautéd Chicken Thighs with Artichokes
Andy Lyons

How to Sauté Boneless Chicken Thighs

You know you can sauté chicken breasts, but did you know that you can also use the quick sautéing method for thighs?

Start with skinless, boneless thighs. These can be sautéed similarly to breasts (above), although thighs may take a bit longer to cook: 14 to 18 minutes total for 3- to 4-ounce thighs.

Safe Handling of Sautéed Chicken

While we've given you the basics on how to sauté chicken breasts, tenders, and thighs, there are a few more things you should know for ensuring your chicken is safe to eat:

  • Store chicken in its original package in the coldest part of the refrigerator. If you don't plan to use it within two days, flash freeze the chicken.
  • Thaw chicken in the refrigerator or in cold water, not on the countertop at room temperature. Allow at least 9 hours to thaw chicken parts in the refrigerator.
  • To thaw chicken in cold water, place it in leakproof packaging. Submerge in cold water. Allow about 30 minutes of thawing time for every pound of chicken, changing the water every 30 minutes. When using this method, cook immediately after thawing.
  • For quick thawing, use the microwave set on defrost, checking often so the chicken does not actually start to cook. If using this method, be sure to cook the chicken right away.
  • Check chicken for doneness with an instant-read meat thermometer. The minimum internal temperature for chicken is 165°F.
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