Summer is the perfect time of year for backyard grilling. Looking for more light, flavorful meals to add to your grilling menu? This grilled lemon pepper chicken sandwich is the perfect solution.
Lemon zest marinated chicken breasts are grilled until juicy and topped with a fresh basil aioli, lettuce, tomato, and onion on a toasted bun. These sandwiches pack tons of fresh flavor that's both refreshing and filling.
Serve grilled lemon pepper chicken sandwiches with my grilled vegetable skewers for a complete grilled meal! This recipe is easy to double or triple for your next summer party or Fourth of July bash.
Ingredients and substitutions
- Chicken breasts - You'll need one pound of boneless, skinless chicken breasts for this recipe. You'll either need to slice each chicken breast in half lengthwise, two create four thin pieces, or pound your chicken to about 1 inch thickness.
- Oil - I recommend using an oil with a high smoke point, since the chicken is going on the grill. Vegetable oil, avocado oil, or peanut oil are great choices.
- Lemon - You'll need one lemon for this recipe - we're using the zest and juice to make a marinade. Most of the lemon flavor comes from the zest, so I don't recommend omitting it unless you're not looking for that citrusy flavor.
- Dijon mustard - Adds tangy flavor to your marinade. Can be substituted with yellow mustard if needed.
- Salt & pepper
- Buns - Fresh bakery buns are perfect for this recipe. Brioche buns or sesame seed buns are great options.
- Toppings - Use your favorite sandwich toppings - I added lettuce, tomato, and onion to my sandwiches.
Basil aioli ingredients
- Mayonnaise - Feel free to use homemade or store bought mayonnaise.
- Basil - You'll need about 15 fresh basil leaves, about ¼ cup lightly packed, for this recipe.
- Lemon juice - Can be substituted with apple cider vinegar if needed.
- Garlic - Fresh garlic adds the best flavor to your aioli, but it can be substituted with garlic powder if needed. Add ½ teaspoon of garlic powder to substitute two cloves of garlic.
- Salt - Salt enhances the flavor of the other ingredients. Feel free to adjust as desired to suit your tastes.
Tips for grilling chicken
- Use oil with a high smoke point - this means an oil can stand up to higher heat (like a grill) without burning.
- Oil the grill grates before placing food on the grill. This ensures your food doesn't stick.
- Use a meat thermometer to test for doneness. Chicken needs to be cooked to an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Cooking for longer will result in dry, tough chicken. Using a meat thermometer guarantees juicy, perfectly cooked chicken.
- Move your chicken as little as possible for nice grill marks. Gently lift up one corner to check the progress of your chicken, then lay it back down in the same spot if it's not ready to be moved yet.
How long to marinate chicken
Since this marinade is made with lemon juice, you don't want to leave your chicken marinating for more than about 2 to 3 hours at most. The acidic properties of this marinade will start breaking down your chicken, changing the texture to make it rubbery or sometimes mushy.
I recommend marinating your chicken anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours for best results.
Looking for the perfect finishing touch for your lemon pepper chicken sandwiches? Maybe you want to create a toppings bar where family or guests can assemble their own chicken sandwiches. Here are a few more topping ideas:
- Sliced tomato
- Sliced red onion
- Bread and butter pickles
- Spicy dill pickles
- Buffalo sauce
- Burger sauce
- Ranch dressing
- Sliced avocado
- Spicy aioli
- Cooked bacon
- Pepper jack cheese
- American cheese
What to serve with grilled chicken sandwiches
Grilled chicken sandwiches are hearty enough to be served on their own, or with a simple side dish like pasta salad or arugula salad. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Southern potato salad
- Classic pasta salad (for a crowd)
- Southern macaroni salad
- Chopped kale avocado salad
- Grilled vegetable skewers
- Roasted potato arugula salad
- Pineapple kiwi salad
Grilled Lemon Pepper Chicken Sandwich
Lemon pepper chicken
- 2 large boneless skinless chicken breasts about 1 pound
- ⅓ cup vegetable oil
- 1 tablespoon dijon mustard
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 lemon
- 4 brioche buns
- lettuce, sliced tomato, and red onion optional toppings
- ½ cup mayonnaise
- ¼ cup basil leaves lightly packed (about 15 leaves)
- 1 clove garlic
- ½ tablespoon lemon juice
- ⅛ teaspoon salt
Lemon pepper chicken
- Carefully slice chicken breasts in half lengthwise to create four thin pieces (as if you were butterflying them, but continue slicing all the way through). Or, pound thick chicken breasts down to 1 inch thickness.
- In a bowl (or a sealable plastic bag), add oil, salt, and pepper. Zest entire lemon into bowl. Then, slice lemon in half and juice lemon into bowl. Add chicken and toss until evenly coated. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes to 2 hours (do not marinate for more than 3 hours). Meanwhile, make your aioli (directions below).
- Preheat grill to medium-high heat, about 375 to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. If needed, clean grill grates.
- Wipe grill grates lightly with oil, then place marinated chicken perpendicular across the grill grate (optionally, add buns around the edge of the grill to toast. This will take about a minute or less - bread browns quickly). Cook for about 4 to 5 minutes before flipping. Cook for another 4 to 5 minutes, or until chicken is cooked to an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Rely less on time and more on the temperature and look of your chicken to determine when they're done. Grill temperatures and conditions can vary greatly.
- Remove from grill and allow to rest for 5 minutes before assembling sandwiches. Spread basil aioli over buns, add chicken, and top with lettuce, tomato, and onion. Serve warm.
- In the bowl of a food processor, add mayonnaise, basil leaves, garlic cloves, lemon juice, and salt. Cover and blend until smooth. (If you don't have a food processor, mince basil leaves and garlic cloves as small as possible, add to a bowl with remaining ingredients, and whisk until incorporated).
- Cover and store in the refrigerator for 30 minutes (or more) to allow flavors to meld.
- Chicken should not sit in marinade for more than 3 hours - lemon marinade is very acidic and will begin to break down the chicken, causing it to become mushy.
- Leftover chicken will keep for about 3 to 4 days in a sealed container in the refrigerator.
- I highly recommend using a meat thermometer to check your chicken for doneness and to prevent overcooked/dry chicken.
- This marinade can be doubled or tripled for a large crowd.