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The Skinny on Skinless Chicken Breasts

Lose the Skin, Lose the Fat

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Spiced chicken breasts on roasting tray
Cultura/Brett Stevens/Riser/Getty Images
One of my friends refuses to eat skinless chicken breasts. According to her they're bland, boring, and worst of all, dry. Skinless chicken breasts can be all of these things, but they needn't be. You can make succulent and flavorful chicken breasts, if you know how. But first, why remove the skin at all? A glib answer would be because you can. Beef has fat streaked throughout, so even if you trim the fat, there's more that you can't get at. Chicken, on the other hand, has most of its fat in the skin. Peel it off, and you're pretty much free and clear, save the odd blob of fat here and there, which can easily be removed. So why else would you remove the skin? Let’s compare the calorie and fat count of a four-ounce chicken breast with skin, and a four-ounce chicken breast without.
  • The four-ounce chicken breast with skin is worth 188 calories, 49 percent of which are from fat. It contains 10.5 grams total fat, and 3 grams of saturated fat.
  • The skinless chicken breast is worth 118 calories, with 11 percent of calories coming from fat. It contains a mere 1.4 grams of total fat and 0.4 grams of saturated fat.

If you're eating low fat, it makes sense, then, to opt for skinless chicken breasts. But you can go about it two ways. You can keep the skin on while cooking, and remove it before eating. The good news is that the meat doesn't absorb the fat from the skin, and you will undoubtedly enjoy juicy chicken—unless you overcook it! The downside is that you will likely lose almost all the flavor you added to the skin. All the herbs, spices, and basted juices will be for naught, so you'll end up eating plain chicken anyway. That's ok, but you probably want your skinless chicken to have some flavor as well as moisture.

If you intend to cook chicken breasts without the skin using a dry-heat method (such as broiling, grilling, baking, or roasting), here are some tips to ensure you don’t end up with dry, stringy chicken:

  • Pound the chicken breast to an even thickness before cooking so it cooks evenly
  • Brine the chicken breasts—assuming they haven’t been pre-brined. Brining involves soaking the chicken in a salt-water solution for about half an hour before cooking
  • Use marinades and rubs. Broths, juices, vinegars, yogurt, herbs and spices can all add flavor and moisture to your skinless chicken breasts
  • Don't overcook the chicken. You must cook chicken breasts to an internal temperature of 165 degrees. There's no such thing as rare, medium and well done when it comes to chicken

If you're cooking skinless chicken breasts through moist-heat methods such as microwaving, steaming, slow cooker, or baking or sautéing the chicken in broth, sauce or other juices, then you're a little less likely to end up with dry chicken breasts. Moist heat generally requires longer cooking at a lower temperature than dry-heat methods. That said, chicken doesn't need to be “broken down” like tough cuts of meat, so cooking skinless chicken breasts for hours, unless it's specifically a slow-cooker recipe, is not necessary and will result in tough meat.

So that's the skinny on skinless chicken breasts. Here are some great chicken recipes, most of which feature skinless chicken breasts.

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