Blackened Chicken

Blackened Chicken is spice-rubbed chicken exploding with zippy, smoky, spicy (customizable) heat on your table in 20 minutes!

Blackened chicken spiked with kicking Cajun heat and a glorious charred crust is huge on flavor, low on effort, stand-alone scrumptious or fabulous in sandwiches, salads, wraps or pasta!  It’s the answer to “what should I make for dinner?” when all you have is a couple chicken breasts, pantry seasonings and 20 minutes.  To make this easy recipe, chicken fillets are pounded thin so they’re incredibly tender, coated in blackening seasoning then pan seared to create a charred, boldly seasoned exterior giving way to a buttery, juicy interior.  Serve this blackened chicken recipe with a side of creamed corn, mashed potatoes and a green bean salad and your simple, last-minute weeknight dinner just became the favorite meal of the week.

If you love Cajun inspired recipes, look no further!  Along with this Blackened Chicken recipe, you’ll love Blackened Chicken Alfredo, Cajun Shrimp PastaCajun Chicken Pasta, Cajun Honey Mustard Chicken, Cajun Salmon with Mango Salsa, Blackened Salmon in Creamy Cajun Sauce, Cajun Chicken in Creamy Bell Pepper Sauce, Cajun Steak with Apricot Glaze and Cajun Pork with Pineapple Sauce.

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HOW TO MAKE BLACKENED CHICKEN VIDEO

up close of blackened chicken on a cutting board showing how juicy it is

WHAT YOU’LL LOVE ABOUT THIS blackened chicken RECIPE

This blackened chicken recipe is a juicy flavor bomb that couldn’t be any easier! It’s layered with unapologetically bold and dynamic flavor and satisfying, crispy, smoky blackened bits giving way to moist, tender, chicken.  It’s one of the most flavorful chicken recipes you can make without a marinade and the ideal last-minute, pantry friendly dinner!  Here’s why you’ll love this recipe:

  • Easy, juicy chicken.  The chicken is made of chicken breasts that are sliced through the equator to create fillets.  Pounding these fillets to a uniform thickness makes them uber tender without the need for a marinade.
  • Flavorful!  The ingredient list includes a homemade blackening seasoning which is made with smoked paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, pepper, cayenne etc. and take just seconds to whisk together.  It not only flavors the chicken but creates the signature caramelized crispy crust.
  • You are in charge of the heat!  By making this blackened chicken recipe at home, you can add more or less cayenne pepper to control the spice level- so don’t be fooled into thinking this chicken might be too spicy – just flavorful!
  • Meal prep or make ahead.  I love having a big batch of this blackened chicken on hand.  Make it in the beginning of the week and add it to salads, sandwiches, wraps, grain bowls, pasta, etc. all throughout the week.
  • Easy to double.  You can easily double or triple the recipe for entertaining, for purposeful leftovers or to freeze.
  • Freezer friendly.  The blackened chicken is freezer friendly for an easy thaw-and eat dinner.  

WHAT IS BLACKENED CHICKEN?

“Blackened” is a method of Cajun cooking in which chicken, beef, pork, fish, shrimp, etc. are coated in a spice rub then seared at high heat.  The seasonings char, deepen in flavor and mingle with the butter to create an irresistible dark crust that is smoky, spicy and complex giving way to juicy, tender protein – in this case chicken.

Blackening became popular in the 1980’s as a way to replicate the taste of charcoal grilling in the kitchen.  What makes this technique unique is the spice blend used.  While the proportions of the seasonings vary, blackening seasoning typically includes paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, thyme, oregano, cayenne, salt and pepper.

WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN GRILLED AND BLACKENED?

The unique blackening spice blend plus the cooking technique is what distinguishes blackened foods.  While both grilled and blackened foods can develop a flavorful char on the exterior of the food, blackening always involves coating the protein in blackened seasoning first.  Blackened foods are intentionally cooked at higher temperatures to develop the charred crispy crust.  Grilled foods can be blackened, but not all grilled foods are blackened.

blackened chicken on a cutting board showing the blackened crust

WHERE DID BLACKENING COME FROM?

The blackening technique was populated by Chef Paul Prudhomme.  Chef didn’t have a grill at his New Orleans restaurant, so he used a hot cast iron skillet to develop the charred crust on his proteins.

IS BLACKENED CHICKEN SPICY?

This blackened chicken is zesty, spicy and smoky thanks to the unique blend of seasonings and deeply charred crust.  The beauty of this recipe, however, is that YOU can control just how spicy the chicken is by adding more or less cayenne pepper to the spicy blend:  ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper for mild-medium spicy, ½ teaspoon cayenne for medium-hot, and anything more and your mouth will be on fire. So, choose the amount of cayenne pepper that’s right for you and your family!  You can even start with less cayenne pepper in the spice blend and sprinkle additional cayenne pepper on individual servings.  

WHAT IS BLACKENING SEASONING?

Blackening seasoning is associated with Cajun or Creole cooking. It is a robust blend of herbs and spices resulting in a smoky, spicy, earthy, flavor. The red appearance is from the smoked paprika and cayenne pepper.  Please do NOT substitute smoked paprika with regular paprika – the smokiness is everything. 

You can find smoked paprika with the rest of the spices at your grocery store.  I use it in ALL my Mexican recipes, so I promise your purchase will not go to waste. The rest of the blackening seasoning is a mix of common pantry seasonings you probably have on hand already.  You can also customize the heat by using more or less cayenne pepper.

DIY BLACKENING SEASONINGS:

This blackened chicken is made with easy-to-find, pantry friendly seasonings.  If you don’t already own all of the blackening seasonings, I highly suggest you add them to your pantry – they are staples you will use all the time!  Here’s what you’ll need for this recipe:

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons smoked paprika.  Smoked paprika is rich, mild, sweet, and smoky made from smoked pimento peppers dried over oak fires then crushed.  It is not spicy, just flavorful. You can find smoked paprika with the rest of the spices at your grocery store.  I use it in ALL my Mexican recipes, so I promise your purchase will not go to waste.
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons garlic powder.  Garlic powder is made from dehydrated garlic and lends the signature, garlicky flavor that compliments the heat.  
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons onion powder.  Onion powder is dehydrated, ground onion to bring the pungent onion flavor.
  • 1 teaspoon salt.  Salt is needed to enhance all of the other flavors.  You can generously season your chicken but if it doesn’t have enough salt, it will still taste bland.
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano.  Oregano walks the line between sweet, bold, earthy, and slightly bitter with a trace of mint.
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme.  Thyme boasts a strong herbal flavor with sharp grass, wood, and floral notes.  
  • ½ teaspoon pepper.  Adds a peppery kick.
  • 1/4-1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper.  Is what really brings the heat.  You can control the spice level of the blackening seasoning blend by using more or less cayenne pepper.  

POSSIBLE RECIPE VARIATIONS

  • Play with the seasoning ratios to mix up the flavor profile.
  • Make it spicier by adding additional cayenne pepper. If you’re looking for more of a kick, increase the cayenne pepper to ½ teaspoon cayenne.
  • Alternate protein: the blackening seasoning can be used on shrimp, salmon, steak, pork, burgers, AKA everything!
showing how to make blackened chicken recipe by whisking smoked paprika, onion powder, garlic powder, thyme, cayenne pepper, pepper and salt together in a bowl to make blackening seasoning blend

WHAT CUT OF CHICKEN IS BEST FOR blackened chicken?

Blackening seasoning is traditional used without marinating the chicken first so you will want to either use chicken cutlets or boneless, skinless chicken thighs.  Both are great options because chicken thighs are already juicy and chicken cutlets become incredibly tender by pounding them to an even thickness before cooking.

  • Chicken cutlets:  are large chicken breasts that have been sliced in half through the equator to create two thin pieces then pounded thin.  They cook more evenly, are more tender and soak up more flavor than whole chicken breasts. You can make your own chicken cutlets or you can purchase packaged pre-sliced cutlets.  
  • Chicken thighs:  are dark cuts of meat which means they are richer tasting and inherently juicier than chicken breasts. 

WHAT PAN SHOULD I USE FOR THIS RECIPE?

Blackened chicken should be cooked in a heavy bottom pan such as a stainless steel or cast-iron skillet to develop the deep crust. 

HOW TO MAKE blackened CHICKEN

This blackened chicken recipe is easy to make with just a few steps. Here’s how: 

STEP 1: MAKE CHICKEN CUTLETS

  • Lay a chicken breasts flat on a cutting board and hold it in place with the palm of your hand.  Carefully slice through the center horizontally (parallel to the cutting board) to create two fillets. Repeat with the second chicken breasts so you have four fillets.
  • Place the fillets next to each other on a flat surface and top with plastic wrap.
  • Gently pound the chicken to an even thickness using the smooth side of a mallet, rolling pin, or side of a can. We are looking for about ½-inch thick.
showing how to make blackened chicken recipe by pounding chicken to an even thickness

STEP 2: SEASON CHICKEN

  • Mix all of the blackening seasonings together in a small bowl.
  • Pat each piece of chicken dry then lightly coat with olive oil.
  • Season both sides of the chicken blackening seasonings. 
showing how to make blackened chicken recipe by seasoning chicken with blackening seasoning

STEP 3: COOK CHICKEN

  • Cook the chicken over medium-high heat for about 4-5 minutes per side in a heavy bottom skillet until golden and cooked through.
  • Transfer chicken to a cutting board and loosely tent with foil.
showing how to make blackened chicken recipe by adding seasoned chicken to a skillet with butter
showing how to make blackened chicken recipe by cooking chicken in a skillet until a dark crust forms

TIPS FOR MAKING blackened chicken 

  • Bring the chicken to room temperature. Chicken should not be cooked cold straight from the refrigerator otherwise it will cook unevenly. Let the chicken rest for 20 minutes before you cook it.
  • Do NOT rinse the chicken. You should NOT rinse your chicken before cooking! The USDA cautions: “do not rinse raw fish, seafood, meat, and poultry. Bacteria in these raw juices can splash and spread to other foods and surfaces. Cooking foods thoroughly will kill harmful bacteria.”
  • Use chicken cutlets.  Full chicken breasts are two large and the blackening season will burn before the breast is cooked through.  Full chicken breasts also won’t be as tender. Instead, use chicken fillets pounded to an even thickness to create cutlets. Pounding the chicken 1) tenderizes the chicken as it breaks up the tissues and 2) the uniform thickness allows the chicken to cook evenly all over – without the thinner bottom becoming overcooked while we wait for the thicker top to cook through. 
  • Dab the chicken of excess moisture. Before adding the olive oil, take a paper towel and pat the chicken dry so the oil and subsequent seasonings stick well and so your chicken will sear instead of just steam – this is especially true if you are using frozen, thawed chicken which will release excess moisture.
  • Use a hot pan.  Add your chicken only once the pan is hot – you should hear the chicken sizzle the second it touches the pan. If you add chicken to a lukewarm pan, it may brown but not develop the deeply blackened crust. Searing the chicken results in the Maillard reaction, also known as the flavor reaction, in which amino acids and reducing sugars produce browning and complex flavor. Note, that hot doesn’t mean high heat, but it means it’s reached full temperature (medium-high in this case).
  • Only flip chicken once. Resist the urge to move the chicken as it cooks or to flip it more than once. The chicken needs to stay in the same place for a continuous amount of time to blacken, only then will it naturally release from the pan.
  • Don’t overcook chicken. Chicken, especially chicken breasts, are juiciest when not overcooked. The best and most efficient way to check for doneness is to insert a meat thermometer into the chicken; chicken breasts are done when they register 165 degrees F. You can pick up an inexpensive instant read thermometer at any grocery store or Amazon, or I’m obsessed with my digital meat probe thermometer.  You stick the probe in the chicken (or any protein) and it will beep when ready,  you’ll never overcook chicken again!
  • Let the chicken rest after cooking.  After chicken is finished cooking, transfer it to a cutting board and let rest 5-10 minutes before biting into it, so the meat has time to reabsorb the juices that have pushed towards the outside of the chicken. If you cut into the blackened chicken immediately after cooking, valuable, moisture-giving juices will run out.
showing how to make blackened chicken recipe by slicing cooked chicken into strips

PREP AHEAD Blackened CHICKEN

You can prep portions of this blackened chicken recipe in advance so the final dish comes together quickly:

  • Prep blackening seasoning:  mix the seasonings together and store in an airtight container/plastic bag at room temperature for up to 6 months.  
  • Prep chicken: create chicken cutlets by slicing chicken breasts in half and pounding to an even thickness. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
  • Season chicken: go one step further and dredge the chicken in the blackening seasoning. Transfer the chicken to a parchment lined plate in a single layer and let the chicken sit uncovered in the refrigerator for up to 1 ½ hours.  Don’t dry brine it longer or it can become mushy.  Dry brining allows the salt and seasonings to penetrate into the meat for more flavorful, tender meat and better caramelization.

WHAT SHOULD I SERVE WITH Blackened CHICKEN?

This blackened chicken is tasty with rice or creamy potatoes to balance the heat, sweet fruit such as pineapple or mangos, green salad and cornbread.  Here are some additional tasty options:

blackened chicken on a cutting board sliced into strips showing the charred crust

WHAT ELSE CAN I MAKE WITH blackened chicken?

Blackened chicken is scrumptious served with simple sides or is wonderfully versatile and can be served in sandwiches, wraps, salads, etc.  Here are just a few ideas:  

  • Blackened Chicken Sandwiches. Sandwich blackened chicken on brioche buns slathered with mayonnaise, tzatziki, or hummus and pile with your favorite toppings such as Gouda cheese, tomatoes, lettuce, avocado, pickled red onions, etc. Crispy onion rings like in my BBQ Burgers would also be fantastic.
  • Blackened Chicken Salad.  Add chicken to a bed of greens along with pineapple, mango, bell peppers, cucumbers, etc.  and serve with simple honey lime vinaigrette.
  • Blackened Chicken Tacos or Lettuce Wraps.  Pile blackened chicken in flour tortillas or bib lettuce and top with mango salsa, pineapple salsa, corn salsa, or black bean and corn salsa and other favorite toppings such as roasted sweet potatoes, pickled red onions and lettuce or cabbage. Finish with a drizzle of avocado crema or a dollop of guacamole.  
  • Blackened Chicken Pasta.  Add blackened chicken to any of your favorite creamy pastas such as Fettuccine AlfredoSun-Dried Tomato Fettuccine,  Cacio e Pepe or  Creamy Mushroom Pasta. You can also go low carb and serve the chicken with zoodles or spaghetti squash.
  • Blackened Chicken Mac and Cheese.  Stir the chopped chicken into your favorite Homemade Mac and Cheese or Pepper Jack Mac and Cheese at the end of cooking.
  • Blackened Chicken Baked Potatoes: poke holes in washed, dried potatoes. Place on a foil lined baking sheet and lightly brush with oil and sprinkle with kosher salt. Bake for 1 hour or until potatoes are tender and the skin is crispy.  Slice open the potatoes, top with chopped chicken and cheese then place back in the oven for 5 minutes or until the cheese melts. Top with sour cream, green onions, etc.
  • Blackened Chicken Quesadillas.  Sandwich chicken, Monterrey Jack Cheese, black beans and cilantro in between two flour tortillas and toast in a skillet to golden, cheesy perfection. Serve with pineapple salsa or mango salsa, pico de gallo, salsa, chopped avocados, guacamole and/or crema.
  • Blackened Chicken Burrito Bowls. Layer coconut rice, cilantro lime rice or pineapple rice with black beans, corn, chicken, chopped lettuce or slaw, pineapple or mango salsa and your favorite creamy topping such as sour cream/Greek yogurt or I highly recommend either Tomatillo Avocado Ranch or Cilantro Lime Dressing.
  • Blackened Chicken Grain Bowls. Layer your favorite rice or grains in a bowl with your favorite veggies and toppings. Choose from a combination of roasted veggies, like roasted broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts or butternut squash, raw veggies such as sweet corn, cucumbers, fresh tomatoes, thinly sliced radishes, sprouts, avocados etc. and pickled like pickled jalapenos, red onions, carrots, etc.   Finish it all off with pineapple or mango salsa and your favorite creamy topping such as Tomatillo Avocado Ranch or Cilantro Lime Dressing.

CAN I FREEZE blackened chicken?

Yes!  Blackened chicken freezes very well. 

  • To freeze:  let chicken cool completely then transfer it to an airtight container or plastic freezer bag and squeeze out any excess air. Freeze for 2 to 3 months.
  • To thaw:  thaw cooked chicken in the refrigerator overnight.  You can also thaw in the microwave but take care to thaw slowly using the defrost setting so your chicken doesn’t become rubbery.  Use any of the below methods to reheat.

HOW TO STORE AND REHEAT

  • Storage: store cooked chicken in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
  • Skillet:  reheat in a skillet over medium low heat until warmed through, with a drizzle of oil or butter.
  • Microwave:  reheat in the microwave at 30 second intervals, taking care not to overcook.
  • Oven:  reheat in the oven for 10 minutes at 350 degrees F or just until warmed through.
showing how to serve blackened chicken by adding chicken to blackened chicken alfredo
blackened chicken on a cutting board sliced into strips showing the charred crust

Blackened Chicken

Blackened Chicken spiked with kicking Cajun heat and a glorious charred crust is huge on flavor, low on effort, stand-alone scrumptious or fabulous in sandwiches, salads, wraps or pasta!  It’s the answer to “what should I make for dinner?” when all you have is a couple chicken breasts, pantry seasonings and 20 minutes.  To make this easy recipe, chicken fillets are pounded thin so they’re incredibly tender, coated in blackening seasoning then pan seared to create a charred, boldly seasoned exterior giving way to a buttery, juicy interior.  Serve this blackened chicken recipe with a side of creamed corn, mashed potatoes and a green bean salad and your simple, last-minute weeknight dinner just became the favorite meal of the week.
Servings: 4 servings
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes

Ingredients

Chicken

  • 2 large chicken breasts
  • 2 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoon olive oil

Blackening Seasoning

  • 1 ½ tsp EACH smoked paprika, garlic powder, onion powder
  • 1 tsp EACH salt, dried oregano, dried thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/4-1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Instructions

  • Slice the chicken through the equator to create 4 fillets. Cover the fillets with plastic wrap and pound with a meat mallet, side of a can or rolling pin to an even thickness, about ½-inch.
  • Mix all of the Blackening Seasonings together in a small bowl. Pat the chicken dry and lightly coat with olive oil. Season both sides of the chicken with the remaining Blackening Seasonings and rub it in a bit.
  • Melt 2 tablespoons butter in 2 tablespoons oil in a large, heavy bottom skillet over medium-high heat. Once hot, add chicken and cook for 4-5 minutes per side until blackened and cooked to 165 degrees on an instant read thermometer. Transfer chicken to a cutting board and wait at least 5 minutes before slicing or chopping the chicken.

Video

Notes

**See post for tons of ways to serve Blackened Chicken like Blackened Chicken Sandwiches, Salads, Quesadillas and Grain Bowls as well as side serving options.
HOW TO STORE AND REHEAT
  • To store: store cooked chicken in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
  • To freeze:  let chicken cool completely then transfer it to an airtight container or plastic freezer bag and squeeze out any excess air. Freeze for 2 to 3 months.   Thaw in the refrigerator overnight.  
  • To reheat in a skillet:  reheat in a skillet over medium low heat until warmed through, with a drizzle of oil or butter.
  • To reheat in the microwave:  reheat in the microwave at 30 second intervals, taking care not to overcook.
  • To reheat in the oven:  reheat in the oven for 10 minutes at 350 degrees F or just until warmed through.

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2 Comments

  1. Jennifer says

    I just had to say that I made this for dinner tonight and it was AMAZING! I have been a huge fan of your blog for years and your recipes are always perfect! This blackened chicken will become a staple in our home!! Thank you!!

    • Jen says

      Thanks for being the first to review this new recipe Jennifer! I love hearing it is a new fav and that you’re loving my recipes! Thanks for making my day!