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I've been getting into preparing chicken sandwiches for lunch for my family. I've tried poaching them first then grilling the following day, only to find that the flavor has escaped and chicken dried out.

A cool, supple chicken breast is really the best way to have a flavorful chicken sandwich, since it would cook in its juices and thus keep moist.

Since a lot of burger joints serve chicken sandwiches, I was wondering if anyone knew how they kept their chicken breasts ready to cook day after day. However I would presume that they slice and prep the breasts in advance (maybe the night prior).

  • When you grill them the next day is that so you can serve the chicken warm or are they a packed lunch? They don't take long to poach if sliced in half so I was wondering why you don't do both steps at once - it sounds to me like you might just be overcooking them by heating / cooling twice. – PeterJ Aug 15 '17 at 11:32
  • What poaching liquid are you using? – Cindy Aug 15 '17 at 11:49
  • @PeterJ the only reason I tried poaching is so I can already keep them parcooked and ready to go on a grill anytime within 2-4 days. – wearashirt Aug 15 '17 at 16:09
  • @Cindy just seasoned water though. – wearashirt Aug 15 '17 at 16:10
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Ok, so I'm not really sure what you're saying here... are you looking for a cool chicken breast or a hot one? I'll try to cover both.

First things first, completely twice-cooking chicken breast, (unless the second cooking method is braising or stewing) is a road which only leads to dryness. You can try to mitigate this dryness by just barely heating the chicken through on the second cook, but the best you're probably going to do is get 'less dry' rather than 'juicy.'

If you're looking for a cool poached chicken breast but just want that nice grilled flavor, you should give it a hard sear on the grill without cooking it through immediately before you poach it, and then use the smallest amount of liquid that you can to avoid diluting the grilled flavor too much. This method ensures that you only completely cook it through once.

If you're looking for a hot chicken breast, the approach is different. Burger places that make grilled chicken sandwiches either a) grill them to order, b) grill them and then hold them at about 140 degrees until they're ordered, or c) par cook them and finish them to order. Some lower quality places might grab the cooked chicken they have as a salad condiment to put on a pizza or into a saute or on the griddle for a hot chicken sandwich— those are the kind of places that don't care if they serve you dry chicken.

Larger pieces— like spatchcocked grilled smaller chickens or half-roasted chickens— are often par cooked, which means they're partially cooked and finished to order. Any place I've seen that par cooks chicken well does so within an hour or two of when they expect to sell them and doesn't refrigerate them before cooking. The birds that are par cooked and not ordered generally get finished before they're supposed to be thrown away (2hrs according to the FDA food code) and repurposed (perhaps as chicken salad for the next day's lunch, chicken soup, or chicken pot pies.) Par cooking, cooling, and finishing is probably only marginally better than twice-cooking for the meat towards the outside.

Edit: Saw your comment above. I really do think your best bet for cooking chicken sandwiches on the grill is just doing it to order. If you need to do it fast, pound them out or butterfly them first, then grill them. If that's just not doable for you, I recommend trying sous-vide cooking the chicken, which can be MUCH gentler than poaching. You can pasteurize the breasts at a low enough temperature that you don't tighten up the muscle fiber much, cool them extremely rapidly for safety, and then keep them refrigerated for a few days until you're ready to use them.

  • I need hot chicken breasts. My question is not about quickness of preparation, but more of food safety. Sous vide cooking sounds like the best technique to parcook and still save the juices. Thanks! – wearashirt Aug 18 '17 at 9:22
  • @wearashirt Being a bit of a food safety nerd, I'm curious: are you just exercising an overabundance of caution— not my jam, but I'd never fault someone for it— or is there some specific reason you're particularly concerned about food safety with this chicken? Last I checked, the FDA food code said that chicken which even momentarily hits an internal temperature of 165 should have the number of pathogens reduced enough for it to be safe even for immunocompromised diners. – ChefAndy Aug 18 '17 at 14:07
  • Hi @ChefAndy. It's really not about being extreme on pasteurizing the chicken prior to serving. I'm really just trying to find a way to store it for at most 5 days without it getting rotten. The idea is, I can grill (and thus reheat) it quickly, on the go, especially since grilling from raw requries finishing in the oven -- not an option for a breakfast sandwich. This is why I also asked if anyone else (like may Shake Shack) did the same, but with a diff method. – wearashirt Aug 26 '17 at 15:26
  • @wearashirt Shake Shack almost certainly cooks their chicken from raw, though a fryolator is a bit more forgiving than a grill. When I was a chef at a bar, we did grilled chicken from raw for both sandwiches, and for grilled pizzas while they were cooking in the oven. Since they were flatbread pizzas that took ~3min, we butterflied the chicken so it was 1/4" thick. Might be tough if you're looking for a thick piece, or your grill doesn't have a ton of temp control though. Moving to a cool spot on the grill (or turning it down) and covering with a metal bowl is an effective sub for oven time. – ChefAndy Aug 28 '17 at 20:50
  • There seem to be some unique concerns with sous vide cooked meat and storing them in the packaging. To tell you the truth, I'm not really sure why— the advice doesn't seem to jibe with my other food safety knowledge— but a number of reliable sources recommend freezing sous vide cooked meat if you're not going to use it within 48 hours. It's probably worth digging into a bit if you're going to be going for multiple-day storage times. – ChefAndy Aug 28 '17 at 20:52

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