An absolute staple of easy, breezy weeknight cooking is the humble chicken cutlet but what are chicken cutlets, how do you make chicken cutlets and how can you cook them? The answers are all right here.

4 chicken cutlets on a chopping board.
4 flattened chicken cutlets on a board.

What are chicken cutlets?

Closeup of chicken cutlets on a chopping board.
4 flattened chicken cutlets on a chopping board – these are from 2 chicken breasts.

What are chicken breast cutlets?

So what is a chicken cutlet anyway? It’s simply a skinless boneless chicken breast fillet, sliced in half horizontally (or through it’s thickness) to make two thinner slices of chicken. So, instead of having a chicken breast that might be anywhere up to an inch thick at it’s thickest point, you’ll have two chicken breasts at half that thickness.

Why use chicken cutlets?

Now you know the what, here’s the why. There are a number of reasons to use chicken cutlets.

  • Portioning: Not just for portion control but also to make serving up easier. A chicken cutlet is the perfect single serving so you can place a “whole” piece of breast on each plate as opposed to chopping them up after cooking.
  • Quick cooking: Chicken cutlets are the heroes of weeknight dinners. They cook very quickly; as little as 6 minutes depending on how thick they are.
  • Even cooking: Chicken cutlets are often pounded before cooking. Flattening out the thicker parts of the chicken cutlet will allow the meat to cook evenly.

Chicken cutlets are perfect for breading and shallow frying just like these chicken schnitzels but they’re also brilliant without a coating just like in this favourite lime coconut chicken.

Chicken breast vs tenderloin

A chicken breast and chicken tender on a chopping board.
A chicken breast fillet and chicken tenderloin.

The chicken tenderloin, also known as chicken tenders, are a thin piece of meat loosely attached to the underside of the breast (the rougher side, not the smooth side). Chicken breasts are sometimes sold with the tenderloin attached, and it’s very easy to find it, but most often the tenders are removed and sold separately.

Chicken tenders cook very quickly and as the name suggests, are lovely and tender. They’re fantastic crumbed (recipe coming soon) but just as lovely simply seasoned and grilled.

What are chicken thigh cutlets?

Chicken thigh cutlets on a chopping board.
Three chicken thigh cutlet pieces.

Here’s where things get a little confusing. Where a chicken cutlet refers to just the breast meat sliced into two (sometimes three) thinner portions a chicken thigh cutlet is actually the thigh meat still on the bone. It may or may not have the skin attached.

Chicken thigh cutlets are wonderful seared until the skin is crunchy and have a tendency to be the more succulent part of the chicken.

Can you substitute chicken breast for chicken cutlet?

Chicken breast and chicken cutlets are technically the same meat, though cutlets are thinner so if you use breast in a recipe that calls for cutlets your cooking time will vary since chicken breast is thicker.

How to make chicken cutlets (step-by-step)

Making chicken cutlets is fairly easy – you just need to slice a chicken breast in half. The skill is in getting those two halves an even thickness but you’ll get better and better at it as you practice.

When you’re just learning the technique, you can place your chicken breasts in the freezer for just 10-15 minutes before you start which will make the meat a little firmer and easier to slice.

Tools you’ll need

A chefs knife, meat tenderiser and chopping board.

How to cut chicken breast into cutlets

  1. If there is a tenderloin remove that and save it for another recipe.
  2. Place the chicken breast onto a chopping board, smooth side up.
  3. Place the palm of your hand of your non-knife hand on top to hold the chicken breast in place.
A knife slicing through a chicken breast.
Slicing through a chicken breast to create 2 chicken cutlets.
  1. Starting at the thicker end, use a sharp chefs knife or filleting knife to slice the chicken breast cleanly in half.
Two halves of a chicken breast fillet.
Two chicken cutlets.
  1. Peel the two pieces apart to see your two perfect chicken cutlets.

Slice slowly, so you can make sure you’re cutting it evenly all the way along. This way you can make adjustments along the way if you need.

How to flatten chicken breast

While not essential, often chicken cutlets are flattened. This helps with quick cooking and also helps with even cooking, by making the cutlet an even thickness all the way across. Here’s how to pound chicken to get it nice and even.

  1. Lay a large piece of plastic wrap onto your chopping board and sit the cutlet on top. Depending on the size of your board, you may be able to do two at once. Place another sheet of plastic wrap on top.
  2. Grab a meat tenderiser / meat mallet, or even use the base of a heavy saucepan, 6-8 inch skillet or rolling pin.
Two chicken cutlets on a chopping board that have been pounded.
Two flattened chicken cutlets – use the flat side of the meat mallet.
  1. Using the flat side of the meat mallet, gently pound the chicken, focusing on the thicker end, and going slowly so you don’t make holes until it’s an even thickness all the way along.
Hands holding a chicken cutlet to show the thickness.
See how the thickness is even all over and around ¼ inch / 6-7mm.

Don’t just bash up and down on the chicken. Use a slight sideways pushing motion with each pound to push the chicken out a little.

And remember – be gentle so you don’t tear holes in the meat.

4 chicken cutlets on a chopping board.
4 flattened chicken cutlets from 2 chicken breasts.

How to cook chicken cutlets

Chicken cutlets can essentially be cooked any way you’d cook a chicken breast. Just keep in mind they’re thinner so they cook much quicker.

Pan fried chicken cutlets

Lime coconut chicken in a large skillet, ready to be served.

The easiest way to cook chicken cutlets is to pan-fry them. Pan fried chicken cutlets take 3-4 minutes each side and can be seasoned and cooked in just a little oil or butter, cooked right in with a sauce. They make a great one pan dinner like with this creamy Tuscan chicken and this creamy peppercorn chicken.

How to fry chicken cutlets

Closeup of 2 chicken schnitzels on a baking tray.

You can also shallow-fry or deep fry chicken cutlets. Shallow frying is using enough oil to come about half way up the side of the chicken cutlets while deep frying is totally immersing the cutlets into hot oil. When shallow frying crumbed chicken, it’s best to use a non-stick pan – large frying pan or large skillet.

Frying is a great way to cook breaded chicken cutlets so you get super crunchy golden-brown schnitzels like these saltimbocca schnitzels and my Italian breaded chicken cutlets which are both shallow fried. Deep frying will also give a great result and take less time to cook but will soak up more oil.

Oven baked chicken cutlets

Chicken breasts in salsa topped with melted cheese in a black skillet.

Baking chicken cutlets is another simple method and another one that’s great for breaded cutlets. You’ll get the crunchiest results from placing your breaded cutlets on a wire rack over a baking sheet first. Bake them at 200C/400F for 14-18 minutes. You can also bake chicken cutlets in a sauce like this baked salsa chicken.

Grilling chicken cutlets

Much like pan fried chicken cutlets, grilling is very quick and easy. Add a simple seasoning and cook over an oiled grill for 3-4 minutes each side. Like any of the cooking methods, how long to grill chicken cutlets will depend on their thickness.

Air fried chicken cutlets

Air frying chicken cutlets is especially good when you have breaded cutlets as it gets the coating nice and crispy. Make sure to add a little oil to the crumb mixture first and brush some oil onto the air fryer basket before adding the chicken. Air fry them for 12-15 minutes at 200C/400F, flipping them over at the halfway point.

Broiled chicken cutlets

Broiling chicken cutlets or chicken breasts (some may know this as overhead grilling) is a really underutilised method. It will give the meat a lovely caramelised outside much like you get with panfrying but without the added oil.

Keep an eye on them closely so any seasonings don’t burn and don’t cook it too long or it can dry out. This method works, similar to pan-frying, for about 3-4 minutes on each side and is great for cutlets that aren’t crumbed.

Crumbed raw chicken cutlets on a chopping board.
Breaded, raw chicken cutlets ready for cooking or freezing.

How to reheat chicken cutlets

You’ll get best results from reheating chicken cutlets in the oven. They’ll take about 8-10 minutes on a wire rack over a baking sheet at 180C/350F. This method should keep them nice and tender and moist inside.

Chicken is cooked when the internal temperature reaches 74C/165F on a meat thermometer pushed into the thickest part. If you don’t have a meat thermometer, just cut one open – it should be moist but not pink.

Seasoning chicken cutlets

Closeup of the top of the marinade.
Greek marinade

Here are just a few ideas for seasoning chicken cutlets;

  • Salt and pepper: A simple mixture of salt and pepper then pan-fried, and chicken cutlets are flavourful and perfectly tender.
  • Add pre-made flavoured seasonings like cajun seasoning, taco seasoning, Moroccan seasoning or fajita seasoning – just like my seriously tasty fajita chicken in these nachos. Having some good seasoning mixes on hand will make your weeknight dinners fuss-free.
  • Marinades add amazing flavour and can be made ahead of time. Try this Greek marinade then simply pan-fry, grill or broil/overhead grill your cutlets.
  • Breading: Dredge the chicken cutlets in all purpose flour, then egg letting the excess drip off, then coat in a seasoned crumb mixture – adding things like herbs, garlic and parmesan cheese to panko bread crumbs – for a seriously delicious meal.

Serve your chicken cutlets with anything from a nice salad to roasted vegetables, crunchy roasted potatoes, rice or pasta. Chicken is such a versatile meat and full of flavour so you can easily customise a dish to suit the whole family. Check out all our side dishes and salads to find the perfect one.

Storing chicken cutlets

  • Fridge: If you slice your chicken breast into cutlets as soon as you bring them home from the store, keep them in an airtight container or wrapped well in plastic wrap up until the use by date shown on the packaging.
  • Freezer: Once sliced you can freeze your chicken cutlets, as long as they haven’t been frozen and thawed already, for up to 3 months.
  • Breaded: You can bread your chicken cutlets (try my Italian chicken cutlets breading) then chill or freeze as per the last two points. When freezing, place a piece of baking paper between each one. If frozen, they’re best thawed overnight in the fridge. You’ll have schnitzels ready to go any night of the week!

Nutritional information

Chicken breast is rich in protein and lower in calories than many types of meat making it a healthy option. It has also been linked to higher levels of the chemical serotonin (“the feel-good hormone”).

Per 100g:  Calories 165  |  Total Fat 3.6g  |  Saturated fat 1g  |  Cholesterol 85mg  |  Sodium 74mg  |  Potassium 256mg  |  Total Carbohydrate 0g  |  Dietary fiber 0g  |  Sugar 0g  |  Protein 31g

4 chicken cutlets stacked.
4 stacked chicken cutlets

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