This pesto chicken recipe is super easy, crazy delicious, and fast! Just mix together some pesto and paleo mayo, slather the mixture on some chicken cutlets, and sear in a hot pan. Boom! You’ve got yourself a bright, juicy, and super flavorful chicken dinner that’s gluten-free and Whole30-friendly!

A hand is holding a white plate filled with pesto chicken cutlets topped with extra pesto.

Perfectly juicy and flavorful chicken breasts

You know I’m not usually a fan of boneless skinless chicken breasts or cutlets because they almost always end up dry and chalky. But guess what? This recipe changed my mind!

The inspiration for this insanely easy chicken recipe came from the big brain of J. Kenji López-Alt, creator of the genius recipe Mayo-Marinated Chicken with Chimichurri for the New York Times. If you’re thinking: “mayonnaise on chicken is yuck,” trust me when I tell you that: (1) Kenji knows his stuff, and (2) mayo on chicken is actually—surprise!—the opposite of yuck.

Kenji’s a culinary savant and multiple New York Times bestselling cookbook author who tests everything to the nth degree, so you know his recipes are foolproof. His technique of combining mayonnaise with chimichurri to make a marinade that yields flavorful and moist white meat chicken is brilliant: the chicken breasts or cutlets end up moist and the marinade adheres to the outside of the chicken so it doesn’t burn when you grill or sear it in a pan.

An Asian woman is adding fresh pesto to a glass container with some mayonnaise inside.

I had some paleo pesto in the fridge, so decided to make a variation on Kenji’s recipe by using paleo mayo and paleo pesto instead of chimichurri. The result is juicy seared chicken with an herbaceous coating—and it’s entirely gluten-free, grain-free, and Whole30-friendly. Plus, with pesto and mayonnaise on hand, you can make this chicken dish in minutes. Your whole family won’t stop raving about the flavors!

A smiling Asian woman wearing glasses is holding a plate filled with pesto chicken in a sunny kitchen.

Four ways to cook pesto chicken!

I’ve tested this recipe in a skillet, on the grill, in an air fryer, and in an oven, and if you keep reading, you’ll see that I’ve included cooking instructions for all of the methods. Frankly, I prefer the skillet version because you can get a great sear on the outside and the chicken cooks in just 5 minutes!

Ingredients

An overhead shot of the raw ingredients to make pesto chicken.
  • Boneless, skinless chicken breasts or chicken breast cutlets: Yes, I know I usually use chicken thighs in my recipes, but this method of cooking will produce juicy and flavorful chicken breast meat in minutes! Buying thin cutlets will save you time, but sometimes they’re unevenly cut. If you buy chicken breasts, chill them in the freezer for about 15 minutes to make them easier to butterfly.
  • Diamond Crystal kosher salt 
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Store-bought or homemade paleo mayonnaise: Yes, you can use homemade mayonnaise but there’s no shame in using the store-bought kind, especially ’cause there are quite a few paleo-friendly mayo brands on the market now.
  • Homemade pesto or store-bought pesto: Store-bought paleo and Whole30-friendly pesto aren’t super easy to find because most contain parmesan cheese, but you can often find vegan pesto made with extra virgin olive oil in the refrigerator section at fancier grocery stores. If you want to use homemade paleo and Whole30-compatible pesto, make my Arugula Pesto or the homemade basil pesto from our green cookbook, Nom Nom Paleo: Let’s Go!

How to make pesto chicken

Cut your chicken breasts into cutlets

If you bought chicken cutlets at the store, you can skip the following step. Otherwise, grab your boneless skinless chicken breasts and use a sharp chef’s knife to cut the chicken breasts in half lengthwise. (You can chill the chicken breasts in the freezer for about 15 minutes to make this step easier.)

Four step-by-step shots that show someone cutting a boneless skinless chicken breast in half lengthwise to make to thin cutlets.

Marinate the chicken

Pound the chicken cutlets with a meat pounder until they’re about ¼-inch thick.

An Asian woman is using a meat pounder to flatten some raw chicken cutlets on a wooden cutting board before making pesto chicken.

Sprinkle the chicken cutlets on both sides with salt and pepper and set aside.

An Asian woman in glasses is sprinkling raw chicken cutlets with some salt on a wooden cutting board.

In a large bowl, glass storage container, or baking dish, stir together the mayonnaise and pesto.

An overhead shot of a glass storage container with some mayonnaise mixed with pesto in a one-to-one ratio.

Add the seasoned chicken cutlets to the marinade and toss well to coat. You can cook the chicken cutlets right away or store them in a sealed airtight container in the fridge for up to a day.

Four sequential shots that show an Asian woman adding chicken cutlets to a glass storage container filled with pesto and mayonnaise sauce and then covering it and placing it in the refrigerator.

Sear the chicken in a skillet

Heat a 12-inch skillet over medium high heat until a drop of water splashed into the pan immediately turns into balls that skitter across the surface. When the pan is hot, place the chicken cutlets on the dry pan (no additional oil necessary!) in a single layer.

Adding pesto chicken to a stainless steel skillet with a pair of tongs.

Cook, flipping the chicken every minute or so, until there is a nice golden brown crust and the internal temperature is 150°F with an instant-read thermometer. Set aside and loosely cover the chicken breasts for at least 5 minutes. (Yes, 150°F is okay for white meat if you let it rest for a few minutes before serving. Aim for 175°F if you are using thighs.)

A pair of tongs is placing a golden brown and juicy pan-seared pesto chicken cutlet onto a white plate.

Repeat the cooking method with the remaining cutlets. Before serving, spoon some additional pesto sauce on the chicken if desired.

Spooning pesto onto a plate filled with pesto chicken cutlets right before serving.

What can you serve with PESTO CHICKEN?

This pesto chicken can be paired with your favorite vegetables or veggie side dish. Some examples include a big green salad, roasted green beans, broiled asparagus, steamed broccoli, al dente zucchini noodles, cooked spaghetti squash, crispy potatoes, or cauliflower rice. If you aren’t paleo, you can serve this pesto chicken with pasta or toasted garlic bread.

How to cook on the grill

Heat a gas grill or charcoal grill on high heat for at least 10 minutes. Place the cutlets directly on the grill and cook for about 5 minutes total, flipping occasionally, or until the internal temperature reaches 150°F and the outside of the chicken is golden brown. Transfer the cutlets to a platter, loosely cover with foil, and rest for at least 5 minutes before serving.

How to cook in an air fryer

Preheat the air fryer to 400°F and cook in a single layer for 5 minutes. Then, flip over the chicken and cook for an additional 3 to 5 minutes or until the thickest part of the meat measures 150°F. Transfer the cutlets to a platter, loosely cover with foil, and rest for at least 5 minutes before serving.

How to bake in an oven

For an easy baked pesto chicken, heat the oven to 400°F with the rack in the middle. Place the chicken cutlets in a single layer in an ungreased rimmed baking sheet. Pop it in the oven for about 10 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through to 150°F. Transfer the cutlets to a platter, loosely cover with foil, and rest for at least 5 minutes before serving.

How to save leftovers

The leftovers can be stored in a sealed airtight container in the fridge for up to 4 days or frozen for up to 3 months. You don’t even need to reheat the leftover pesto chicken—you can just slice it and toss it in salads, lettuce wraps, or grain-free tortillas!


Looking for more recipe ideas? Head on over to my Recipe Index. You’ll also find exclusive recipes in my cookbooks, Nom Nom Paleo: Food for Humans (Andrews McMeel Publishing 2013), Ready or Not! (Andrews McMeel Publishing 2017), and Nom Nom Paleo: Let’s Go! (Andrews McMeel Publishing 2022).


Pesto Chicken

4.91 from 11 votes
Prep Time10 minutes
Cook Time20 minutes
Total Time30 minutes
Servings 4
This pesto chicken recipe is super easy, crazy delicious, and fast! Just mix together some pesto and paleo mayo, slather the mixture on some chicken cutlets, and sear in a hot pan. Boom! You’ve got yourself a bright, juicy, and super flavorful chicken dinner that’s gluten-free and Whole30-friendly!

Ingredients  

  • pounds boneless, skinless breasts I like to choose 8 ounce boneless skinless breasts. (You can also buy thin cutlets, about 4 or 5 ounces each.)
  • Diamond Crystal kosher salt 
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • ¼ cup arugula pesto or your favorite pesto (homemade or store-bought)
  • ¼ cup paleo mayonnaise plus more for serving (optional)
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Instructions 

  • If you bought chicken cutlets at the store, you can skip the following step. Otherwise, grab your boneless skinless chicken breasts and use a sharp chef’s knife to cut the chicken breasts in half lengthwise. (You can chill the chicken breasts in the freezer for about 15 minutes to make this step easier.)
  • Pound the chicken cutlets with a meat pounder until they’re about ¼-inch thick. Sprinkle the chicken cutlets on both sides with salt and pepper and set aside.
  • In a large bowl, glass storage container, or baking dish, stir together the mayonnaise and pesto. Add the seasoned chicken cutlets to the marinade and toss well to coat. You can cook the chicken cutlets right away or store them in a sealed airtight container in the fridge for up to a day.
  • Heat a 12-inch skillet over medium high heat until a drop of water splashed into the pan immediately turns into balls that skitter across the surface. When the pan is hot, place the chicken cutlets on the dry pan (no additional oil necessary!) in a single layer. 
  • Cook, flipping the chicken every minute or so, until there is a nice golden brown crust and the internal temperature is 150°F with an instant-read thermometer. Set aside and loosely cover the chicken breasts for at least 5 minutes. (Yes, 150°F is okay for white meat if you let it rest for a few minutes before serving. Aim for 175°F if you are using thighs.) Repeat the cooking method with the remaining cutlets.
  • Repeat the cooking method with the remaining cutlets. Before serving, spoon some additional pesto sauce on the chicken if desired.

Notes

HOW TO COOK ON THE GRILL
Heat a gas grill or charcoal grill on high heat for at least 10 minutes. Place the cutlets directly on the grill and cook for about 5 minutes total, flipping occasionally, or until the internal temperature reaches 150°F and the outside of the chicken is golden brown. Transfer the cutlets to a platter, loosely cover with foil, and rest for at least 5 minutes before serving.
HOW TO COOK IN AN AIR FRYER
Preheat the air fryer to 400°F and cook in a single layer for 5 minutes. Then, flip over the chicken and cook for an additional 3 to 5 minutes or until the thickest part of the meat measures 150°F. Transfer the cutlets to a platter, loosely cover with foil, and rest for at least 5 minutes before serving.
HOW TO BAKE IN AN OVEN
For an easy baked pesto chicken, heat the oven to 400°F with the rack in the middle. Place the chicken cutlets in a single layer in an ungreased rimmed baking sheet. Pop it in the oven for about 10 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through to 150°F. Transfer the cutlets to a platter, loosely cover with foil, and rest for at least 5 minutes before serving.
HOW TO SAVE LEFTOVERS
The leftovers can be stored in a sealed airtight container in the fridge for up to 4 days or frozen for up to 3 months. You don’t even need to reheat the leftover pesto chicken—you can just slice it and toss it in salads, lettuce wraps, or grain-free tortillas!

Nutrition

Calories: 378kcal | Carbohydrates: 1g | Protein: 52g | Fat: 18g | Fiber: 0.2g | Sugar: 1g

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Like this? Leave a comment below!

About Michelle Tam

Hello! My name is Michelle Tam, and I love to eat. I think about food all the time. It borders on obsession. I’ve always loved the sights and smells of the kitchen. My mother was (and is) an excellent cook, and as a kid, I was her little shadow as she prepared supper each night. From her, I gained a deep, abiding love for magically transforming pantry items into mouth-watering family meals.

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10 Comments

    1. You can definitely use cast iron! I’ve tried this recipe in a cast iron skillet, stainless steel skillet, enameled cast iron skillet, and non-stick and all work. My personal fave is a stainless steel skillet.

  1. 5 stars
    This recipe was a hit! So easy yet the flavors were delicious. I’ll be adding it to our menu rotation.

  2. 5 stars
    Super easy to make and absolutely delicious! The whole family loved it! Always good to have another flavor profile for chicken in the rotation.

  3. 5 stars
    My husband and I made this using chimichurri we had in our freezer, and it was so easy and so good! Do you think it would be possible to use this mayo technique for other types of chicken marinades, such as schwarma or lemon chicken?

  4. 5 stars
    This really IS juicy on the inside, and a little crunchy on the outside edges. I used the air fryer method.
    I ran out of pesto so I used Penzy’s Sunny Paris and Trader Joe’s Green Goddess Seasoning. I can’t wait to try this again now that I’ve restocked the pesto!