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How to make chicken meat soft and tender?

Making chicken meat soft and tender can seem tricky, but with the right techniques, ingredients, and cooking methods, it’s easy to achieve mouthwateringly juicy and tender chicken every time. Whether you’re preparing chicken breasts, thighs, drumsticks, or wings, following some simple guidelines will help your chicken come out perfectly cooked.

Why can chicken meat be tough and chewy?

Chicken meat can end up tough and chewy for a few different reasons:

  • Overcooking – Cooking chicken meat past the point of doneness causes it to become dry and tough.
  • Not tenderizing – Chicken needs some form of tenderizing, through marinading, brining, or mechanical tenderizing, to break down the protein structure.
  • Cooking too fast – High, intense heat can cause the proteins on the outside to overcook and tighten before the inside is cooked through.
  • Using the wrong cut – Breast meat is leaner and can dry out more easily than thighs and legs.

Tips for tender chicken

Here are some tips to keep in mind for tender chicken:

  • Don’t overcook it – Cook just until the minimum safe internal temperature is reached, which is 165°F. The meat will continue cooking slightly after removing it from the heat.
  • Brine it – Soaking chicken in a brine solution of saltwater for 30-60 minutes seasons the meat and helps it retain moisture.
  • Marinate it – Marinades with acidic ingredients like vinegar, citrus juice, or yogurt help break down tough muscle fibers.
  • Use thighs and legs – These cuts have more fat and connective tissue and are harder to overcook.
  • Cook at lower temperatures – Slow cooking methods allow time for collagen to fully break down into gelatin.
  • Tenderize mechanically – Pounding, piercing, or slicing cuts muscle fibers so they absorb marinade better.

Marinade and brine recipes

Marinades and brines are both excellent ways to make chicken juicier and more tender. Here are some easy recipes:

Basic brine

  • 1⁄4 cup salt
  • 1⁄4 cup sugar
  • 1 gallon cold water

Whisk salt and sugar together in a large container until dissolved. Add water and submerge chicken, making sure it is fully covered. Refrigerate 30-60 minutes. Discard brine after using.

Buttermilk marinade

  • 2 cups buttermilk
  • 1 tbsp ground mustard
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 1⁄2 tsp salt
  • 1⁄4 tsp pepper

Whisk all ingredients together in a bowl or resealable plastic bag. Add chicken and turn to coat. Refrigerate 30-60 minutes, turning bag occasionally.

Yogurt marinade

  • 1 cup plain Greek yogurt
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1⁄2 tsp ground coriander
  • 1⁄4 tsp cayenne pepper

Mix ingredients together. Coat chicken fully and marinate 30-60 minutes. The yogurt tenderizes while the lemon juice and spices add flavor.

How to cook tender chicken

Now let’s look at some of the best cooking methods for tender, juicy chicken.

Pan searing

Pan searing is quick and easy but you’ll need to avoid overcooking. Pat chicken dry before seasoning with salt and pepper. Use a little oil in a hot skillet. Cook 4-5 minutes per side until browned. Remove when chicken reaches 165°F internally. Let rest 5 minutes before serving.

Oven baking

For bone-in pieces or a whole chicken, baking is easy. Heat oven to 375°F. Brush or rub chicken with oil and season. Roast 30-45 minutes until 165°F in thickest part. Tent with foil if browning too quickly.


On a hot grill, keep chicken skin-side down first. Move to indirect heat if flare-ups occur. Cook until nearly done, then flip and finish on skin side to crisp it. Chicken is done at 165°F. Avoid charring which can make meat tough.


Gently simmering chicken in liquid keeps it very moist. Use water, broth or wine. Add aromatics like garlic, herbs, lemon. Simmer chicken breasts 8-12 minutes, bone-in parts 20-25 minutes. Let rest in liquid before serving.

Slow cooker

A slow cooker is ideal for less tender cuts like thighs and legs. Add seasoning and 1 cup broth or water. Cook on low 6-8 hours. Chicken will be fall-off-the-bone tender. Shred for serving if desired.

Sous vide

Immersion cooking sous vide gives extremely tender and juicy chicken. Vacuum seal seasoned chicken with any marinade or oil. Cook 1-2 hours at 140-150°F. Quickly sear to finish.

Tenderizing marinade times

To maximize the tenderizing effects of acid marinades, certain minimum marinating times are recommended:

Marinade Time Effect
15 minutes Adds flavor
30 minutes Penetrates meat surface
1-2 hours Tenderizes somewhat
4-24 hours Tenderizes fully

For thin cuts like chicken breasts, 30-60 minutes is usually sufficient. Let larger cuts, bone-in pieces, and whole chickens marinate overnight for the best tenderizing effects throughout the meat.


With the right techniques like marinading, careful cooking, and avoiding overcooking, you can enjoy fork-tender, juicy chicken anytime. Brining, poaching, and slow moist heat methods also help chicken stay tender and flavorful. Follow these tips for chicken that is always perfectly cooked with a mouthwatering texture.