Baked vs Grilled Chicken Breast – Which Is Healthier?

Grilling and baking are logically healthier options than deep frying chicken since they don’t involve the same amounts of oil. However, what – if any – is the difference between the two cooking methods themselves?

Grilled and baked skinless chicken breasts have the same nutritional value and are equally healthy in this regard. You’ll get a little over 30 grams of lean protein and zero grams of carbs. Grilled chicken has slightly fewer calories because chicken juice (a combination of water and fats) drains off.

That being said, baking is considered a safer cooking method as improper grilling can lead to the development of harmful carcinogens such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and Heterocyclic amines (HCAs) [1].

There are a couple of ways to determine what the healthiest way to cook chicken really is. This article will explore nutritional value and impact on chemical composition. In the end, I’ll suggest some other, more healthy cooking methods for moist, tender, and succulent chicken breast. So keep reading.

Baked vs Grilled Chicken Breast – Nutritional Value

baked and grilled chicken breast nutrition comparison

This section assumes that nutritional value equates to healthiness.

To understand why baked and grilled chicken are equally healthy in this regard, we’re going to explore each cooking method and how it impacts your food.

First, let’s look at baking.

oven baked chicken breast

Baking is the slower process of cooking food by dry heat, usually in an oven. It is generally considered an indirect cooking method since your dish is never in direct contact with the flame. Instead, the steam combines with the oven’s dry heat to cook your food.

Baking and roasting are often used interchangeably when it comes to cooking chicken; however, there is a subtle difference.

Roasted chicken, a generally whole chicken, is usually done in the uncovered pan or directory on the oven rack at a higher temperature (400°F) to brown the skin, whereas baking is used for individual breasts or thighs at slightly lower temperatures (350°F) in a covered pan or covered in sauce.

If the oven is too hot, baking can destroy heat-sensitive vitamins. This includes Vitamin C, Vitamin B1, Pantothenic Acid, and more.

Baking chicken usually results in more tender, succulent meat.

A 3.5-ounce (100 g) small baked skinless, boneless chicken breast has 165 calories, 31 grams of protein, and 3.8 grams of fat per serving.

Now let’s look at grilling.

grilling chicken breast

Grilling, sometimes called griddling, is a fast cooking method that exposes your chicken breast to direct heat on an open flame or the surface of an electric grill. Moisture in the form of water and fats drains away. Some of the water-soluble nutrients dissolved in this moisture are consequently also lost. This includes B vitamins like Pantothenic Acid and B1 and Vitamin C.

Grilling chicken results in a bolder, smoky flavor but dryer meat than baking.

One 3.5-ounce (100 g) skinless, boneless, small grilled chicken breast has 157 calories, 30.5 grams of protein, 3.1 grams of fat, and 0 carbs.

This variance in cooking style results in two dishes that taste quite different. However, their impact on the nutritional value is quite similar, so it is difficult to say that one is definitively healthier than the other.

Both are definitely healthier than deep-fried chicken. But when it comes to comparing them with each other, neither one stands out.

They both have very similar nutritional values and are hign in protein and low in fat and calories.

Let’s take a look at a nutritional comparison of a 3.5 ounce of plain baked and grilled skinless chicken breast to understand what this means.

NutrientsBaked ChickenGrilled Chicken
Fat3.8 grams3.1 grams
Proteins31 grams30.5 grams
Baked vs. grilled chicken nutritional value

As you can see, there is a negligible difference between using these two cooking techniques. This isn’t enough to determine one to be objectively healthier than the other in terms of nutritional value.

Which Is The Healthiest Way To Cook Chicken?

cooking chicken on high heat

This section of the article will focus on how baking and grilling affect the chemical composition of chicken breasts, especially in relation to the development of carcinogens.

The National Cancer Institute (NIH) has done research that shows that cooking meat at high temperatures can alter its composition and promote the formation of toxic compounds. This includes potential cancer-causing carcinogens [1].

The NIH made links between high-heat cooking methods like grilling on an open flame and pan frying and the production of carcinogens; however, they failed to do the same for baked chicken breasts.

Although we don’t have exact data, we could assume that baking chicken is a safer cooking method than grilling because it is done at lower, indirect heat. Cooking at temperatures below 300°F (149°C) limits the formation of harmful carcinogenic.

So is baked chicken healthier than grilled chicken? In this regard, yes, it is.

Ways To Make Grilling Safer And Healthier

preparing chicken for grilling

While grilling can lead to the development of Heterocyclic amines (HCAs), the scientific name of the previously mentioned carcinogen, you can take certain steps to avoid it.

I have five tips for you.

1. Precook the Chicken

Boiling, poaching, or steaming chicken before grilling heats it up and reduces the cooking time required on a grill. This reduces the time exposed to direct heat and hence reduces HCA formation.

2. Flip the Chicken Often

Frequently turning the meat limits continued exposure to an open flame and reduced HCA formation. Since the chemical alteration is caused by prolonged contact with direct heat, doing this should reduce the likelihood of it happening.

3. Limit Portion Sizes

Using smaller chicken breasts minimizes cooking time and lowers the chances of HCA formation.

4. Consider Marinating Before Grilling

Marinating the chicken breast before grilling reduces cooking time and decreases the formation of HCAs. Especially marinades that contain herbs and spices, grape seed extract, garlic, rosemary, savory, oregano, thyme, tarragon, mint, sage, marjoram, curry leaf, cinnamon, ginger, turmeric, lemon juice, olive oil, and apple cider vinegar.

Any herbs with a high level of antioxidants are a great option, whether you use them in the marinade or just as a rub.

One of the best ways to get tender and succulent poultry meat is to marinate it in buttermilk. Because of its slightly acidic nature, buttermilk helps to tenderize the meat without making it chewy and tough.

Here are 5 Ways To Cook Chicken Soaked In Buttermilk.

5. Grill, Don’t Burn

Remember to cook chicken until it is golden brown, not black, which unfortunately includes a charred appearance. If the meat has crispy burnt spots, trim the burn before eating.

More Healthy Ways To Cook Chicken Breast

poached chicken breast

Although baking and grilling are one of the healthiest and easiest ways to cook chicken, there are a couple of other cooking methods that are considered even healthier.

These cooking methods will give you a tender and juicy chicken breast and limit exposure to direct heat, hence the potential for HCA formation.

These cooking methods are:

  1. Sous vide
  2. Poaching
  3. Steaming

1. Sous Vide

Sous vide is a method of cooking that uses airtight, vacuum-sealed plastic bags to cook food in a water bath. The food is cooked slowly for 1 to 4 hours at a low temperature, and the bag traps the flavors and juices inside. This cooking method produces evenly cooked chicken with a juicy and moist texture.

For this cooking method, you will need An Immersion Circulator like the one below, a large pot, sous vide bags, and a vacuum sealer.

Anova Culinary AN500-US00 Sous Vide Precision Cooker (WiFi), 1000 Watts | Anova App Included, Black and Silver


Anova Culinary AN400-US00 Nano Sous Vide Precision Cooker, 12.8" x 2.2" x 4.1", Silver

Sous vide cooking methods preserve more nutrients than any other cooking method.

2. Poaching

Poaching is a gentle way to cook chicken by simmering it in water or broth. Poaching is done at a low temperature, between 170°F and 180°F (75-82°C), so the meat retains more of its moisture and natural flavors.

Boiling, on the other hand, is a more aggressive way to cook food by submerging it in boiling water. This produces a lot of heat (212°F) which can cause the chicken to become tough and lose its flavor.

Here is how to poach chicken for chicken salad.

3. Steaming

The steaming method is a process in which food is cooked with hot, moist air. This method is often used for cooking delicate foods like vegetables because it preserves their flavor and nutrients, but it also works great for chicken and turkey. The food is placed in a steamer basket or rack above boiling water, and the steam cooks the food.

Steaming is an easy, fast, and lean way to cook chicken. Steaming allows you to cook meat without oil, eliminating extra fat and calories.

Related Post: How To Tell When Chicken Is Done Without a Thermometer? (5 Effective Methods).

Final Thoughts

When choosing between baking and grilling chicken, consider the following:

  1. There is little to no difference in nutritional value.
  2. Grilling can lead to carcinogen formation.

The first point is important because when people say ‘healthy,’ they usually refer to nutrients and calories. If you’re worried about diet and weight loss, then know that there is little to no difference.

Even if you’re willing to take several precautions to minimize carcinogen formation when grilling chicken, baking, in comparison, is the healthier way to cook chicken breast.

About Jen Evansy

Nutritionist, researcher, avid home cook, and writer interested in everything nutrition and food-related. Striving to inform, encourage, and inspire all the readers to make healthy and informed choices when it comes to cooking, food, diet, and nutrition.