Chicken is one of the most popular and widely consumed meats in the world. Beyond being readily available, it is also relatively inexpensive compared to other forms of meat, making it a staple in many households.
While some people may dismiss chicken as being bland or boring, don't overlook its possibilities. If you know how to cook chicken the right way, it can be succulent and flavorful. The key is to understanding which cooking methods should be used to bring out the best in each cut of meat.
Different cuts of chicken
Chicken is sold in a variety of sizes and packaged in numerous ways from the whole bird to individual parts. Here's a rundown of how most people buy chicken.
- Whole Chicken: Whole chickens less than four pounds are typically referred to as fryers or broilers; anything over four pounds is called a roaster. Very large chickens may be called stewing chickens.
- Breasts: Chicken breasts are white meat and the tenderest part of the bird. They can be sold bone-in or boneless. Bone-in chicken often includes skin while boneless breasts are usually also skinless.
- Legs and Thighs: As the dark meat components of a chicken, thighs and legs (also called drumsticks) are often cooked the same way.
- Wings: Containing little meat, wings are often used for appetizers.
Most common ways to cook each cut of chicken
Depending on the part of the chicken, different cooking techniques should be used. Dry rubs, brines, and marinades are all good ways to impart chicken with flavor. Cooking with the skin on and the bone intact also helps retain moisture.
Here are more details on what you should know about each cut.
- Whole chickens are best when roasted although stewing chickens can be tough and should be braised.
- Because a whole chicken contains both white and dark meat, roasting ensures the entire chicken cooks through.
- Prepare a whole chicken by removing the giblets that may be in the cavity and then seasoning the bird. It can be placed in the oven and cooked at 375-425 degrees. A 3 pound bird should be done in about 1-1.5 hours depending on the temperature.
- A whole chicken is done when juice from the breasts runs clear.
- Whole chickens can also be grilled or barbequed. Beer can chicken on the grill is a popular variation.
- Chicken breasts are best grilled, broiled or sautéed.
- Since chicken breasts are very lean, they can quickly dry out. It's essential to cook them quickly over high heat, particularly boneless, skinless breasts. Bone-in breasts with skin retain moisture better and can be cooked slower.
- Before cooking boneless, skinless chicken breasts, pound them to flatten the thicker end so they will cook uniformly. Then, cook on each side for 3-4 minutes until done.
- Since chicken can carry salmonella, a deadly bacteria, it should always be cooked thoroughly. However, since chicken breasts can dry out quickly, they should be removed from heat immediately once they are done.
- Chicken breasts can also be cut up into tenders and breaded or cubed and used in stir frys and other recipes.
Chicken legs and thighs
- Dark meats work well in braises, stews or other slow cooked dishes.
- Since legs and thighs have a greater fat content than breasts, they can withstand longer cook times without drying out.
- Chicken usually benefits from additional seasonings and ingredients so don't braise chicken alone. Instead, look for a recipe such as Moroccan tagline or a stew to bring out the best in dark meat.
- Dark meat is done and safe to eat when its internal temperature reaches 165 degrees.
- Boneless, skinless thighs can sometimes be used as a less expensive substitute in recipes calling for boneless, skinless chicken breasts.
- Chicken wings are most commonly baked or roasted although they can also be fried or broiled.
- Since chicken wings are small, they are typically served as appetizers. Once done, they often tossed with a sauce before serving.
- For crispy wings, set your oven to 400 degrees and toss the wings with oil and salt. Then cook for 25 minutes until done.
- Wings should be crisp and well done for serving.
- Some cooks use raw wings to make homemade chicken stock.