Grilled Chicken Margherita

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Grilled Chicken Margherita has all of the classic Italian flavors you know and love in a simple, flavor-packed restaurant style dish! The grilled pesto chicken is moist and tender, coated in a lemon butter sauce with fresh tomatoes and lots of ooey-gooey melted cheese! 

titled image for chicken margherits recipe

My copycat of the chicken margherita Olive Garden® recipe is way less expensive to make, but just as delicious.

Honestly, copycat recipes are a bit dangerous: I just want to make them every single day!

ingredients for olive garden chicken margherita

Grilled Chicken Margherita

This copycat Olive Garden chicken margherita is so amazing!

It grills up in just 30 minutes, and if you don’t feel like grilling outdoors, you can make it on a grill pan indoors!

Chicken breasts are seared, fried in garlic, then doused in a mouthwatering lemon butter sauce.

With huge dollops of melty mozzarella, tomatoes, and a slathering of pesto, you get all of the colors and flavors of Italy on one plate!

If you love the flavors of pesto chicken, you can have the same flavors on a pizza – including the lemon!

My lemon herb margherita pizza is just as quick and easy to make as grilled margarita chicken, and just as tasty. I also have an amazing Italian chicken cutlet recipe that you will love!

grilled chicken in skillet

Ingredients and Substitutions

  • Chicken – The original chicken margherita Olive Garden recipe uses breasts, but you could use cutlets instead if you want!

    Those will actually cook faster and more evenly than thicker breast meat. 

Using boneless chicken thighs is another option that should work well. Just be sure they aren’t too thick or you may have problems grilling them completely.

  • Pesto – You can use store bought pesto, or make homemade basil pesto. Honestly? I always use homemade! It’s super quick, super cheap, and super tasty.
  • Italian Seasoning – This is a great staple seasoning to have on hand for any Italian recipes.

    But, if you have the time, I suggest using fresh herbs instead: oregano, thyme, rosemary, and basil are easy to dice and can be found in most grocery stores all year round.
  • Tomatoes – These are chopped up and sprinkled right on top as the grand finale for the grilled chicken margherita!

    Use regular sized tomatoes if you have them; otherwise, cherry or grape tomatoes cut in half are perfect. 

Check out my quick kitchen hack for slicing small tomatoes – it’s a huge time saver!

adding mozzarella and basil pesto to grilled chicken

Recipe Variations

Make it cheesier! 

Once you lay the mozzarella on the chicken, cover the skillet with a lid.

Or, you can slide your skillet under an oven broiler to get the cheese nice and brown on the surface as it melts into ooey gooey perfection.

Sauce it up! 

To make a saucier version of chicken margherita, add about 1 tablespoon of flour into the pan after frying the garlic. 

Then, when you add the lemon zest and juice, include ½ cup of water or chicken broth/stock as well.

Let it simmer, reduce, and thicken into dreamy, creamy lemon butter sauce!

Include more veggies.

There isn’t a veggie on the planet that wouldn’t taste divine on this plate! In fact, the grilled chicken breast is just begging for some diced eggplant and squash, mushrooms, and a handful of spinach.

Grill it, or cook it on the stovetop.

If you’d like to use the grill to cook the chicken breasts, that’s totally doable!

Just be sure to use an instant-read thermometer to ensure that the internal temp of the chicken reaches 165°F.

grilled chicken margherita in cast iron skillet on table

What to eat with Chicken Pesto

There are plenty of sides that go well with chicken margherita! Something simple like a loaf of rosemary bread would be fabulous!

Some roasted potatoes will soak the yummy lemon sauce right up, making them extra tasty, or you could try your hand at making homemade pasta! 

Or you might want to lighten the meal with a fresh salad: with this recipe, you already have the ingredients for a nice tomato basil salad!

Just whip up some Olive Garden Italian dressing and you’re good to go.

Storing and Reheating Leftovers

You should store leftover grilled pesto chicken without all of the toppings, to keep the texture and flavor just right.

Reheat in a skillet with the sauce once again. Then, add the pesto and mozzarella as written in the recipe instructions below.

Store your leftover grilled chicken margherita in a covered container in the fridge, and it will keep for 4-5 days.

Grilled Chicken Margherita FAQ

How do you know when grilled chicken is done cooking?

As with all chicken, my answer is that you can’t tell just by looking!

It’s best to use a digital thermometer to tell you when the internal temperature has reached 165°F. 

You’re actually only grilling until 162°F, because the meat keeps cooking while it rests.

So keep an eye out for that number – that’s your sign that it’s time to remove the chicken from the heat.

What is in chicken margherita sauce?

Roasted garlic, melted butter, lemon sauce, and lemon zest. So simple, yet so good!

It’s a relatively thin sauce, meant to cover the chicken without coating it, but you can always thicken it with a bit of flour or cornstarch.

chicken margherita closeup

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grilled chicken margherita in skillet

chicken margherita in cast iron skillet

Grilled Chicken Margherita (Olive Garden Copycat)

Donna Elick
Grilled Chicken Margherita is our copycat for the popular Olive Garden recipe. The succulent grilled pesto chicken cooks up in 30 minutes!
5 stars from 1 review
Tried this recipe?Please comment and review!
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Total Time 30 minutes
Course Main
Cuisine Italian
Method Grill, Stovetop
Servings 4


  • 6 boneless skinless chicken breasts, sliced horizontally to create cutlets (See Notes)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, or to taste
  • 4 tablespoons salted butter
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon lemon zest, (1 small lemon)
  • 2-3 tablespoons lemon juice, freshly squeezed (from zested lemon)
  • 6 slices fresh mozzarella
  • 6 tablespoons basil pesto, homemade or store bought
  • 1 cup diced fresh tomatoes, (we use a combination of halved grape tomatoes and quartered Campari tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil


  • Remove chicken breasts from packaging and use a paper towel to pat them dry. Rub all sides with olive oil, then sprinkle with Italian seasoning, salt, and pepper.
  • Heat grill to medium high heat. Cook prepared chicken for 3-4 minutes on each side, or until internal temperature reaches 162°F. (Time will vary depending on thickness of chicken breast. If some chicken pieces are larger than others, remove chicken as it is done cooking and set aside while larger/thicker pieces finish cooking.)
  • In a cast iron skillet, heat butter over medium heat until melted. Add the garlic and sauté for 1 minute, or until very fragrant.
  • Add lemon juice and lemon zest to the skillet, whisking to combine; simmer for 1-2 minutes.
  • Place the grilled chicken into the pan, flipping it once to coat both sides in the lemon butter sauce.
  • Top each piece of chicken with 1-2 slices of fresh mozzarella. Cover the pan and simmer on low for another minute or two, until cheese has melted. *See Notes
  • Spoon a tablespoon of pesto (more or less to your liking) over each piece of chicken and top with fresh tomatoes and chopped basil. Serve immediately.

Donna’s Notes

After topping the chicken with the mozzarella, rather than covering the pan with a lid, you can place the pan under a broiler for a couple of minutes to melt/brown the cheese.
The lemon sauce is thick enough to lightly coat the chicken, but we do not add a thickening agent (such as flour or cornstarch). So, it isn’t thick like a gravy.
If you want extra sauce, add 1 tablespoon of flour just after toasting the garlic, then whisk in ½ cup water along with the lemon zest and juice, then simmer until it thickens.
Using thin-sliced chicken breasts (aka, chicken cutlets) works really well and keeps the grill time short. Also, cutlets are typically more uniform in thickness, which means they cook evenly.
Do not overcook the chicken or it will dry out. A digital instant-read thermometer is the best tool to use to determine doneness.
Chicken is properly cooked when the internal temperature taken at the thickest portion of the breast reaches 162°F. During a 10-minute rest time, the chicken continues cooking, so the internal temp will reach a food-safe final temperature of 165°F.


Serving: 1 | Calories: 586cal | Carbohydrates: 6g | Protein: 47g | Fat: 41g | Saturated Fat: 16g | Cholesterol: 174mg | Sodium: 1202mg | Sugar: 2g | Fiber: 1g | Calcium: 286mg | Iron: 1mg

All nutritional information is based on third party calculations and is only an estimate. Each recipe’s nutritional value will vary depending on the ingredients used, measuring methods, and portion sizes.

Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!
titled image for chicken margherita recipe

Originally published August 2022

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