There are a variety of tips for cooking chicken, many of which depend on overarching technique and the form of the chicken in the first place — frying chicken breast and broiling a whole chicken raise different issues, for instance, and grilling requires another approach entirely. Cooks often employ a range of different preparation techniques to maximize flavor during cooking, including marinating and brining, and herbs, spices, and liquids can be combined to achieve certain desired tastes, too. An important consideration when cooking chicken using any technique is to completely cook it, not only to maximize flavor but, more importantly, to kill harmful bacteria. There’s a fine line between adequately cooked and overcooked, though; a bird that’s been overdone often lacks flavor and tenderness. It's also important to adjust cooking times for whole chickens, bone-in chicken parts, and boneless chicken. Without bones, chicken typically takes approximately half the time to cook as bone-in cuts. People who are unsure of the best cooking method for their particular bird or cut are usually wise to consult a cooking manual or butcher for more personalized advice.
Storage and Preparation
Some of the best tips for cooking chicken actually have to do with what one does in the preparation phase, before the cooking has started at all. Buying a fresh chicken and properly storing it is important. When fresh chicken is purchased, it is best to cook it right away as freezing will frequently dry it out and impair its moistness. If freezing is necessary, it should be double or triple wrapped in plastic or preferably placed in a tightly sealed freezer storage bag to prevent freezer burn, dry skin, and tough flesh. Slowly defrosting the bird in the refrigerator instead of on a kitchen counter generally yields a juicier cooked dish, too, and normally also reduces the chance of harmful bacteria forming on the chicken. Submerging the chicken in water while defrosting in the refrigerator may defrost the bird faster, too.
Marinating the raw meat is often one of the best tips for a tender, juicy finished product. There are many different options to choose from, but cooks usually look for something that’s mostly liquid; broth, water, and juice are often good options. Adding an acid like vinegar can help tenderize the meat, and the cultures in yogurt normally work the same way. Brining the chicken before cooking it is another option, and usually involves soaking overnight or at least for a few hours in a saltwater solution.
Something else to think about is whether the skin will stay on during cooking or whether it is going to be removed. Store bought chicken pieces often come with skin removed in advance. Skin removal can be advantageous as a means of reducing the fat and calories in the finished dish. One disadvantage of this approach, however, is that the chicken itself is more likely to dry out and become tough. Brines or marinades are often very helpful in these cases.
Roasted whole chicken is generally easy to prepare in most home kitchens that have a traditional oven with a reliable thermostat. It is normally a good idea to place the chicken in a pan large enough to capture the juices that the chicken creates as it roasts. A good tip to achieve a crispy exterior on roast chicken is to lightly oil the surface before placing it into the oven.
Frying and Sautéing
When frying chicken, a non-stick pan can come in handy as it will require less oil. It is normally a good idea to dry the chicken with a towel before frying it to avoid spattering when it touches the heated oil in the pan. To ensure all the pieces are done at the same time, cooking the dark meat pieces first, which take longer to cook than the white meat of the breast portions, is often helpful.
It’s also possible to cook chicken in a skillet with a bit of butter or oil, creating what’s known as a sauté. In a sauté, the cook aims to slowly release the poultry’s natural juices over low heat in a small amount of fat. The meat isn’t fried but rather is gently cooked.
Grilling and Broiling
Chicken that is destined for the grill or broiler is often coated in some sort of sauce or high-sugar marinade. When the exterior comes in contact with the intense heat of the cooking source, the sugars often caramelize, creating something of a crust for the meat and giving it a crispy exterior without getting charred.
Importance of Internal Temperature
To make sure chicken is properly cooked, an instant-read thermometer is helpful. Thermometers are a more surefire way of ensuring that the chicken is completely cooked through. Relying on timing isn't always wise as ovens can cook at different temperatures despite what the oven dial or display says. Additionally, cutting into the chicken can cause the loss of some of its juices and therefore flavor. Appropriate cooking temperatures are usually listed in recipes or they can be found online.