Easy Meal Prep Tip: How to Batch Cook Chicken: Do you find meal prep challenging? Start small and try batch cooking. It’s easy to do and saves time when it comes to making meals on a tight schedule.
Are you a meal prep wannabe? If so, you’re not alone. Even as a dietitian, I still find meal prep (prepping ingredients ahead of time) a challenge. Which is too bad since meal prepping in advance makes getting a healthy meal on the table so much easier. Unfortunately, my good intentions get pushed aside by one thing or another.
It’s easy to get discouraged when you read that others grocery shop and prep everything on the same day for the current week’s meals. While that’s ideal, this type of meal prep doesn’t work for everyone. For myself, I often have to squeeze grocery shopping in during the week whenever I can. It’s one of the side effects of having busy teens who are involved in all kinds of activities and always seem to need a ride somewhere. Not complaining, it’s just a season of life.
Yet even though I don’t prep most of my ingredients ahead of time, there are a few things I do to make meals a little easier to prepare. You can do this too. First is to not compare yourself to others. It just leads to discouragement and inaction. Do what you can and go from there. For me, meal prep means batch cooking some of the meats I use in preparing my family’s meal. It’s not something I do every week, but it does save time. Sometimes I make meatballs or taco meat and freeze it. Other times I cook chicken ahead of time and then freeze to use as needed. Usually I grill chicken ahead of time, then slice and freeze it.
But there are other ways to batch cook chicken that don’t involve a grill. Recently, this stove top to oven method has become my favorite. It’s easy and the chicken turns out tender and juicy, perfect for dicing, shredding, or slicing. And that’s what I want to share with you today. There are a few tools you’ll need, though, to get started:
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- A large cast iron skillet and lid, or another oven proof skillet. If you don’t have one, use a regular skillet along with a rimmed baking sheet and foil (to act as a cover). If you’re looking for a cast iron skillet, I love my Lodge cast iron skillet and use it often.
- A pastry scraper or sharp chef’s knife for dicing and slicing.
- A hand or stand mixer, or two forks, for shredding.
- An oven preheated to 375° F.
Here’s how to batch cook chicken for easy meal prep:
Step 1: Prep for cooking
I use a mix of boneless, skinless chicken breasts and chicken thighs. You can use whichever you prefer, but you’ll get the best results with pieces of similar size. If your chicken breasts are thicker than the thighs, cut the chicken breasts in half vertically so they’re about the same thickness. You can also try pounding them with a meat tenderizer mallet. I don’t have one, so I go the route of cutting them in half. After cutting them into similar sizes, place on paper towel lined plates and pat dry with another paper towel.
Step 2: Add seasoning
The easiest thing to do is simply sprinkle the chicken with a little fresh ground pepper and kosher salt, if desired. Just remember, a touch of salt is all that’s needed. You can also marinate your chicken in your favorite marinade or use a dry rub to season it.
Step 3: Brown in the skillet
Heat a cast iron skillet (or other oven proof skillet) over medium to medium-high heat. If you don’t have a cast iron skillet, use a regular skillet to brown the chicken. Add a couple teaspoons of vegetable oil or olive oil. Place seasoned chicken in the skillet and cook for 2 to 3 minutes. Then flip chicken to the other side and cook for another 2 minutes. Chicken will brown slightly. Remove from heat and cover with an oven proof lid or move chicken to a rimmed cookie sheet and cover with aluminum foil. I’ve tried it both ways and it works equally well.
Step 4: Finish in the oven
Place covered cast iron skillet (or aluminum foil covered pan) in the oven. Cook at 375°F for 20 to 25 minutes until internal temperature of chicken reaches 165°F. Take out of the oven and carefully remove lid (or foil). Cooked chicken can now be prepped for upcoming meals or for freezing.
Step 5: Dice, shred, or slice
- To dice, place desired amount of chicken on cutting board and cut into small cubes. I like to use my pastry scraper to dice chicken as it’s easy to use and accomplishes the task quickly.
- To shred, place chicken in a large, tall bowl and break apart slightly with fingers or a fork. You can shred the chicken using two forks – one holding the chicken and the other scraping the chicken to shred it. My favorite way though is to use my hand mixer. It’s easier and faster. After breaking apart the chicken, turn on your mixer and use it to do the shredding. You could also use a stand mixer for this.
- To slice, place chicken on cutting board and slice into pieces of desired thickness.
Step 6: Refrigerate or freeze
If using the chicken soon, place in a covered container, label it with the date prepared, and place in refrigerator until ready to use. If you’re not going to use it right away, place small amounts of the diced, shredded, or sliced chicken in a freezer container or plastic freezer bag. Be sure to remove all the air – or as much as you can – to prevent freezer burn. Label with the date and name of contents and freeze until ready to use.
That’s it! Super easy and you now have chicken ready to go for all kinds of meals. I’ve used diced chicken in chicken salad and soup, shredded in enchiladas and chili, and sliced works well on top of salads or in stir-fries. Here are a few more menu ideas using cooked chicken: