Ok, so you have some chicken breast and are not quite sure what to do with it. In my opinion chicken can be very, very bland when not cooked correctly--and worse yet it can end up tough and dry. YUCK! So here are some of my tactics for dealing with chicken.
1. Cooking time and temperature are key. The key to tender, juicy chicken is to be careful not to overcook it. Easier said than done, but it is very important to work with your grill to get the right balance of direct heat and ambient temperature. If the direct heat is too high you will burn the outside before the inside reaches an appropriate temperature. Cooking time will vary depending on the size and thickness of the chicken breast, but with my grill 8-12 minutes on medium direct heat works great. I constantly worry about getting raw chicken, but I have found that I need to trust the grill and not overcooking the meat has great results that are tender and juicy. In general: keep the grill heat under control to encourage even cooking and don't overcook. This is the difference between a tasty chicken breast and getting the, "Can we call for pizza?" look!
2. Oil. Chicken breast is a lean meat. You don't want to compromise the low fat content of the meat, but I have found that the best tasting chicken requires some oil. The great thing about grilling is that a) a lot of the excess oil drips off, b) it does wonders for keeping the seasonings in place and, c) it promotes sealing of the meat and keeps your meat juicer.
3. Tenderizers. You won't always need these, but they are nice to keep in the back of your head if the flavor of the tenderizer works well with the dish. For chicken some people like to use various white wines, vinegars, citrus juices, etc Typically I am not a fan of any of these--the key is being selective and finding the right seasonings to make them work. If you can do that you will not only have a much more tender cut of meat you will also add a great flavor to your dish. Alternatively you can try some shake on meat tenderizers (which use enzymes to break down the proteins) but I don't have a lot of experience with these--I try to keep it simple :) One suggestion on tenderizers used in marinades: Try not to add sugar unless the recipe calls for it (like a honey or orange chicken). Sugars burn and char on the grill and don't typically taste great burnt.
4. Seasonings! Chicken breast can be pretty bland when not cooked right. When you grill you will get a subtle smoky flavor and "grilled" flavor where the meat sears to the grill. Chickens weakness is also one of its greatest strengths: since it is bland it is not very difficult to find seasonings you like and that will accent the grilled flavor. Tangy, spicy, sweet, sour--you name it, it can be done.
Now to put these ideas into practice. Tammy had asked me to grill some chicken on Monday and she had noted that she really liked my garlic salt and lemon pepper chicken. This is a fairly simple recipe (garlic salt, lemon pepper, and some paprika) but I was in a more adventurous mood. We like the combo of garlic and lemon on a peppery chicken breast, so using the above grilling concepts I created a more robust grilled lemon garlic pepper chicken breast.
I had principle #1 down through the Weber cooking time guide and having cooked chicken breast dozens of times on my grill. The next step was deciding how I wanted to prepare the chicken: did I want a dry rub or a marinade?
I decided to go with a marinade for a number of reasons. The first was principle #2--oil. I could have oiled up the chicken and added the rub, but it is far easier to use a little oil in a tub and just mix it all up. This is not only easier but is quicker and less messy. The next reason is principle #3--tenderizers. Tammy was craving chicken that used lemon pepper; conveniently the acids in lemon juice work as a tenderizer. Typically I would give a warning about using citrus juices because they WILL flavor your meat, but we have found that lemon, garlic, and pepper make a great combination. Which brings us to principle #4--seasonings. There is a reasoning they sell "lemon pepper" in the seasoning isle of the store! It is a great combo, and there is no need to espouse the merits of garlic in cooking. Together they make a great combo that compliment each other very well.
Now we move on to the finishing touches. I have found the better your ingredients the better the result. For example I used large, coarse ground pepper for the chicken. Coarse pepper does not work with all grilled dishes, but I have found it goes well with chicken and it departs a nice flavor in marinades. While fresh squeezed lemon is nice (but not absolutely necessary), do use freshly minced garlic! And lastly, don't forget the salt. A little salt goes a long way to bringing out the flavor in meat by accenting the other seasonings. And unless you are diagnosed with hypertension and have been told by a doctor to reduce your sodium intake there is no significant reason to avoid salt--much of the salt-phobia of the 80's was caused by bad science. Salt flushes from the system quickly and is typically only a danger to those already diagnosed with dangerous blood pressure levels. Moderation is important, but the belief that all salt is bad is really misconstrued in my opinion. If you eat a lot of home cooked meals you already are controlling your sodium intake because the biggest culprits for excessive sodium are fast foods which are exploding with salt, processed sugars, refined flours, and loaded with cheap fats.
Salt evangelism aside, we are prepared to see the results!
The end result was a beautiful grilled chicken that was exploding with flavor--and VERY tender. We enjoyed the recipe a lot and will be making it again. If you like lemon pepper and garlic this is a must try recipe. The zesty lemon flavor makes this recipe a prime candidate grilled chicken salads. You can read the recipe and give it a try in the recipe section of TammysRecipes.com. If you give it a try leave some feedback to let me know how you liked it.