When it comes to boneless, skinless chicken breasts, my family of four are frequent fliers. At least once a week we eat this workhorse protein in one form or another, from shredded to schnitzel-ed, and that’s given me plenty of opportunities to perfect my technique for cooking them.
On their own, boneless, skinless chicken breasts can veer a bit dry or, heaven forbid, bland. I’ve learned that to get them juicy and delicious enough for even chicken breast-skeptics to enjoy—love, even—I need to be smart about how I add moisture and flavor.
Enter mayo marinade—or as I will call it from now on, mayonade. It’s my go-to marinade for chicken breasts. It calls for just mayo, salt, and any seasonings I want to add, and it gives chicken breasts the moisture they need, even when cooked at a high temperature. And with my favorite aromatics and spices, it delivers mouth-watering flavors.
2 Reasons Mayo Is the Perfect Marinade for Never-Dry Chicken Breasts
I was born and raised in the South, and that means I swear by my trusty jar of Duke’s Mayonnaise, which is made where I live in Richmond, Virginia. Around here, it’s Duke’s or bust, and I have to say, its characteristic twang does make it a great choice for amping up chicken breasts; though technically, any mayonnaise will do the trick.
There are two benefits of using a mayonade on chicken breasts:
1. Add any flavor you like: Mayo has one big thing going for it in the marinade department—it’s a creamy blank canvas that can take on almost any flavor. I like the combination of garlic, paprika, and lemon zest, but the possibilities here are nearly endless. If you have a savory spice blend you love, swirl it into the mayonade, and I promise it will taste amazing.
2. Mayo gives the chicken a crispy crust: Because mayonnaise is almost entirely fat, it helps seal in moisture while creating picture-perfect grill marks or a nice crust on a cast iron skillet. (It’s also why spreading mayo on your grilled cheese before throwing it on the griddle gives you the best crush.) Those fats react with the heat of the pan to create a singularly lovely, golden brown, and crispy crust.
My Go-To Mayonade Recipe
As a recipe developer, my fridge is always packed to the gills, so I like to marinate meats overnight in a plastic bag, which takes up less space than most storage containers.
The night before I plan to cook the chicken breasts, I add them in a zip-top bag with mayo and seasoning. You don’t have to marinate them overnight—15 to 30 minutes is fine too. For example, for one pound of chicken breasts, I use:
- 1 cup mayo
- 2 cloves garlic
- Zest of 1 lemon
- 2 teaspoons paprika
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon pepper
I might wiggle the bag around a bit to make sure all of the chicken gets plenty of marinade, but it’s always fine if I don’t, which I appreciate.
The next day, I take the chicken out of the bag and scrape off most of the marinade, which helps me get a better sear on the meat. I heat up the grill or skillet, season the chicken breasts with salt and pepper, and then cook them until the internal thermometer reaches 165°F.
Since these chicken breasts stay tender and juicy even after reheating, I often cook more than what I need for dinner and save the rest for adding to grain bowls and wraps throughout the week.