I wish I had a sexier name for this dish, which quite simply results in the most tender, delicious grilled boneless chicken breasts you will ever make (certainly without any advance prep). I first did this recipe for Fine Cooking magazine 15 years ago, and it’s now not only a staple at my house but at all my friends’ and family’s houses, too. And of course, I didn’t invent this trick (though I don’t remember exactly where I picked it up from – probably the catering company I worked at for awhile). You’ve probably already heard that slathering mayonnaise on swordfish before grilling is a good way to keep it moist; it does the same for chicken.

My theory on why the mayonnaise (in this case mixed with Dijon mustard, which I think improves the flavor a lot and also thickens the coating) keeps the boneless chicken breast moist is that the proteins from the egg in mayonnaise actually “cook” on the grill, forming a layer of protection all the way around the meat. Of course there is a lot of fat going on here, too (in the form of oil in the mayo), but I don’t think it’s possible for the fat to penetrate the chicken that quickly; I think the coating is keeping the juices in. Regardless, the mayo-mustard does leave a very tasty residual coating, and the grilled chicken is delicious both hot and cold. Great in salads, for picnics, for anything really.  The treatment works on boneless chicken thighs, too.

I very rarely add anything else to the coating these days, but you certainly could add herbs, spices, zest or other aromatics to the mayo-mustard mix.

Just remember one important thing: Season your chicken generously with salt BEFORE you coat it with the mayo-mustard mix.

One last thing: I like to butterfly chicken breasts before grilling, though it isn’t crucial. I never do a perfect job, because I’m always rushing. I put the breast on a cutting board, cover it with one hand and use the other hand and a sharp chef’s knife to slice horizontally (parallel to the cutting board) almost but not all the way through the breast. Then I open it like a book. One side is always thicker than the other, but what the heck. Just that effort means your chicken breasts will cook that much more quickly on the grill, leaving less chance for drying out. It’s an especially good idea with larger breasts, which can be tougher.

Okay, I’ve made this all sound way more complicated than it is – just mix up some mayo and mustard, slather it on that chicken, and throw it on the grill.

By the way, this is a most excellent technique for outdoor summer parties (when we are able to invite people over again). Serve it over Lemony Caesar Salad with Grilled Croutons.

Serves 3, double or triple as needed

  • 1 pound boneless chicken breasts, butterflied
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • 1/3 cup mayonnaise
  • 3 tablespoons Dijon mustard


1. Prepare a medium-hot gas or charcoal fire.

2. Put the chicken breasts in a large bowl and season generously with kosher salt on both sides. Spoon the mayonnaise and mustard into the bowl and mix together gently. Then coat the chicken thoroughly with the mixture. 

3. Spread the chicken out on the grill, watching the heat carefully; there may be a few flare-ups. Cover the grill. Grill the chicken on one side until golden-brown grill marks form, 2 to 3 minutes. Rotate the chicken 90 degrees and grill for another 1 to 2 minutes (to get a crosshatch of golden grill marks); flip and repeat on the other side, grilling for another 3 to 4 minutes until cooked through. (The best way to tell if the chicken is cooked is to touch it. It should feel firm but not hard.)  

4. Transfer to a wooden carving board or serving platter and serve family style. If you like, slice the chicken thinly on the bias before serving. (Let rest for 4 to 5 minutes before slicing.)