Chicken Cooking Guide

Roasting | Baking | Frying | Grilling and Broiling | Steaming | Poaching
Braising and Stewing | Sautéing | Stir-Frying | Microwaving
Checking Doneness
| Carving | Shredding | Tips

There are many methods that can be used to cook chicken, with each providing its own distinctive flavor and texture. Each method has many different recipes that can be used. In addition to preparing chicken using these methods, chicken can be used as an ingredient in many dishes. Each method has many different techniques that can be used, which may be determined by the recipe being used or by the personal preference of the person doing the cooking. Shown below are some of the most common methods used and basic instructions for each. Keep in mind that there are many good techniques for accomplishing these cooking methods.


Roasting

When choosing a chicken for roasting, it is best to select a bird that is labeled a "roaster." Roasters are generally older birds with more muscle, flavor and fat. The fat is favorable for roasting because it adds flavor and moisture to the meat as it is cooking and will eventually melt off through the cooking process.

Roasting is accomplished by cooking the chicken uncovered in a hot oven. The chicken is cleaned, seasoned, stuffed (optional), and then placed on a rack in a shallow roasting pan. The rack is not necessary, but it will improve the quality by holding the bird out of the juices and allowing the heat to reach evenly around the entire bird, providing a chicken that is golden brown on all sides. It will also allow the juices to evaporate more easily, developing a caramelized layer, which will produce a very flavorful base for making a sauce or gravy.

The chicken should be cooked in at a higher heat, for a short period of time, to crisp the skin and seal in the juices to provide moist, tender meat. Generally roasting at about 450°F for 15 to 20 minutes is adequate.. The heat should then be reduced to 375°F for the rest of the cooking time. Basting the bird throughout the cooking time is not necessary, unless the chicken is smaller, generally under three pounds. The smaller birds do not have the fat necessary to flavor the meat and keep it moist. Cooking temperatures and times will vary according to the size of the chicken and varying recipes.

The length of time a chicken will have to cook depends on whether it is stuffed and/or trussed and on the quantity of other ingredients, such as potatoes and vegetables, added to the pan. The best way to determine if it has cooked long enough is to check for doneness. You do not want to overcook the chicken but if undercooked, it will not be full flavored and will not have the desired texture. It also needs to be cooked to the proper doneness to make it safe to eat. Shown below are some common methods used to determine doneness.



  • Visually check the skin, which should be golden brown and check the legs, which should move around easily in their joints.
  • When pricked in the thigh or breast, the juices should run clear, with no pinkish coloring. Tilting a whole bird up, so the juices from the cavity run out, should also produce clear juices.
  • To ensure doneness, check with a meat thermometer. A thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh should produce a temperature of 175°F to 180°F or inserted into the breast it should produce a temperature of 170°F to 175°F.

When the chicken is done, it should be allowed to rest (a waiting period before carving) for 10 to 15 minutes. This allows the juices to be distributed through the meat before it is carved.


Baking

Baking is similar to roasting in that the chicken is cooked in a preheated oven. Roasting involves the cooking of a whole chicken where as baking generally involves the cooking of chicken pieces. The pieces can be skinless, skin-on, boneless or bone-in.

Generally baked chicken has a coating applied to it before baking. There are many different coatings used, such as a mixture of herbs, breadcrumbs and sauces. The chicken can also have other ingredients baked with it, such as potatoes and vegetables.

The chicken is baked in a shallow pan, which should be large enough so that the pieces do not touch, allowing the chicken to cook and brown evenly. It is common for the chicken to be turned once through the cooking time but this may depend on the recipe.

The chicken should be baked until the juices run clear when pierced. The amount of time the chicken needs to bake will depend on the amount of chicken and other ingredients being cooked at the time. If some pieces finish cooking before others, they can be removed from the oven and kept warm by placing aluminum foil loosely over them.


Frying

Frying chicken is a quick and simple way of cooking chicken where the cooking can be accomplished by the use of two different methods, pan-frying and deep-fat frying. Both methods work on the principle of using hot oil to cook the chicken, producing chicken with a crispy brown outside and juicy, flavorful meat inside. The chicken is generally coated with a thin layer of flour, crumbs or batter. Chicken pieces are generally used for frying, rather than a whole chicken.

Pan-Frying: When pan-frying, a heavy skillet with deep sides is generally used. The chicken pieces are coated with flour that has been seasoned with salt, pepper and at times, paprika. It can also be seasoned with other spices, such as chili or curry powder, marjoram, oregano, basil, thyme, and rosemary to create a desired flavor.

 

Once the chicken is coated, it should be placed on a rack to allow the pieces to dry, which may take 20 to 30 minutes. Allowing the pieces to dry will provide for more even browning of the chicken.

To fry, heat 5 or 6 tablespoons of oil in a heavy skillet over a medium-high burner until the oil is very hot. Place the chicken pieces in the hot oil, skin side down, one piece at a time. Leave enough space between pieces so that they are not crowded. This allows the pieces to cook and brown more evenly.

 
 

Continue to cook over a medium heat, turning until all sides are golden brown and the meat is cooked thoroughly.

 

 

As the pieces finish cooking, they should be removed from the pan and placed on a paper towel to allow grease to drain.

The chicken can be checked for proper doneness using one of three methods. The best way to check for doneness is to use a meat thermometer. Chicken breast must reach 170°F and other pieces should be 180°F. If a meat thermometer is not available, a visual test can be performed by piercing the pieces with a fork. If thoroughly cooked, the juices should run clear. Doneness can also be checked by cutting into the thickest part of the chicken and making sure the meat is opaque all the way through.


Deep-fat Frying:
The chicken pieces for deep-fat frying are generally coated with a crumb coating or a batter. If a crumb coating is used, the pieces should be set aside to dry for 20 to 30 minutes after they are coated. If coating with a batter, the pieces of chicken can be coated just before frying. When deep-fat frying, be sure the individual pieces are not too large. Large pieces of chicken are difficult to cook properly, resulting in an outside crust that is overcooked or an inside that is not cooked thoroughly.

To fry, fill a deep pan approximately half full of oil and heat to between 350°F and 375°F. To test the temperature, drop in a cube of bread, it should brown in 50 seconds if the oil is about 365°F. Using tongs or a metal spatula, place three to four pieces of chicken in the hot oil, being careful that they are not overcrowded. Cook until golden brown, approximately 6 to 10 minutes. As the pieces of chicken get done, remove them from the oil and place them on a paper towel to allow the grease to drain.

When using either method of frying, an important part of the process is keeping the oil at the proper temperature. Once the chicken is placed in the hot oil, the temperature of the oil will drop. But, as long as the oil continues to bubble consistently, it will cook the chicken properly. If the temperature of the oil would be brought back up to between 350°F and 375°F, the outside of the chicken would burn before the inside finished cooking. To prevent this from happening, the temperature may need to be turned down a little once the chicken starts browning, but make sure the oil stays hot enough. If the oil is not hot enough, the chicken will be greasy. Controlling the temperature of the oil is an important part of producing delicious fried chicken. Shown below are some additional tips on frying chicken.

  • It is best to leave the skin on while cooking. If desired, remove before eating.
  • When pan-frying, cover for the first 5 minutes of cooking and then uncover for the remainder of the cooking time. Covering for a short period of time will help cook the chicken thoroughly.
  • Use tongs or a spatula instead of a fork when placing chicken pieces in the pan or when turning the pieces. Piercing the chicken with a fork allows the juices to escape.
  • Be sure all utensils and equipment are dry before they come in contact with the oil. Water will make the oil splatter when heated.
  • Using canola oil provides a milder taste, and it contains healthier amounts of saturated and polyunsaturated fats.
  • Remove pieces of chicken from the oil as soon as they finish cooking. To keep the chicken warm while other pieces are cooking, set the pieces that are done on a baking pan covered with paper towels and place it in the oven at a low temperature.
  • Do not cover the chicken once it has finished cooking, because covering will cause the coating to loose its crispness.


Grilling and Broiling

Grilling and broiling are basically the same type of method of cooking chicken. They both use a dry heat that quickly cooks the surface and then slowly moves to the middle of the meat. The main difference between the methods is that grilling applies the heat to the bottom surface of the chicken, and broiling applies the heat to the top surface. Also, grilling with charcoal infuses the chicken with a smoky flavor from the juices dripping on the coals. When broiling, this infusion of flavor does not occur.

Before cooking, check the size of pieces and cut the larger pieces to smaller sizes so all pieces will cook more evenly. Flatten chicken breasts so that they are more uniform in thickness. If cooking a whole chicken, it should be butterflied for more even cooking. To butterfly, cut along each side of the backbone and then remove it. Turn chicken breast side up and use the heel of your hand to press down on the breast to break the breastbone, flattening the chicken. Use skewers to help the bird lay flat by threading one skewer through a wing, through the breast, and out the other wing. Thread a second skewer into a thigh, through the bottom part of the breast, and out the other thigh.

When grilling or broiling, the chicken will have a tendency to dry out so it must be watched carefully during the cooking process. Coating the chicken with a little oil or marinating it will aid in preventing it from drying out while cooking. Also, the temperature at which the chicken is cooked and the distance the chicken is from the heat source are both important to tender, juicy, properly cooked chicken.

Grilling: A medium heat should be used when grilling chicken. Using too high of a heat will cause some parts to cook too quickly and dry out while other parts will not be done all the way through. To check the temperature of the grill, place the palm of your hand at the cooking level (generally 6 to 7 inches) above the heat source. If you can leave it there for 5 or 6 seconds, the grill will cook at a low to medium low heat. If your hand must be pulled away after 3 seconds, it is at a medium heat, and if it can only be left there for 2 seconds, the temperature is hot. The grate of the grill, which the chicken will be cooked on, should be brushed with oil and preheated before the chicken is placed on it. While the chicken is cooking, be sure to watch the pieces carefully and turn when necessary. Also, do not overcrowd the pieces, so if flare-ups occur from the drippings there is room to move pieces out of the way of the flames.

Broiling: When broiling chicken, there is no benefit from the infusion of smoked flavoring that occurs when grilling, causing the chicken to be fairly bland in taste. This can be remedied by the use of seasoning, such as a mixture of herbs, marinades or basting sauces.

 

 

Use seasoning to add flavor to the meat. Chicken pieces should be placed on the broiler rack skin side down. Do not line the broiler rack with aluminum foil because it will prevent the drippings from falling into the pan below and the drippings that remain on the foil may cause flare-ups to occur.


As with grilling, the distance from the heat source is important for proper cooking and producing chicken that is golden brown, juicy, tender, and thoroughly cooked but not overcooked. To check for proper cooking distance for broiling, place pieces on the broiler rack and place the rack on the broiler pan. Set the broiler pan in the oven and measure the distance from the heat source in the oven to the top of the chicken. It should be 5 to 6 inches away, adjust oven racks accordingly.
 

 
 

Remove broiler pan from the oven and preheat the broiler for 9 or 10 minutes. With chicken pieces skin side down on the broiler rack, place them in the oven to cook. As with grilling, it is necessary to watch the chicken carefully as it cooks, making sure the edges are not cooking too fast and if they are, rearrange the pieces or adjust the heat accordingly.

When one side is nicely browned, turn the chicken pieces to finish cooking. When grilling or broiling, all the pieces will not cook at the same rate so it is necessary to remove them as they finish cooking to avoid overcooking.

 

Whenever possible, it is best to leave the skin on the chicken during grilling and broiling, If you prefer skinless chicken, remove the skin before serving. Leaving the skin on will provide a juicier, more tender piece of chicken and will not increase the fat content as long as it is removed before eating. If the chicken has already had the skin removed, coat it before cooking to prevent it from drying out. The chicken can be coated with cooking oil, a liquid marinade or any type of moist marinade..

The chicken must be checked for proper doneness when using either cooking method. The best way to check doneness is to use a meat thermometer. Ground chicken and chicken breast must reach 170°F. Whole chickens and other pieces should be 180°F. If a meat thermometer is not available, a visual test can be performed by piercing the pieces with a fork. If thoroughly cooked, the juices should run clear. Doneness can also be checked by cutting into the thickest part of the chicken and making sure the meat is opaque all the way through.

Grilling and broiling tips:

  • To prevent dryness, leave the skin on the chicken during cooking, which helps preserves the chicken's natural moisture.
  • Be sure racks are clean and coat them with vegetable oil or a nonstick vegetable oil spray to help prevent sticking.
  • When grilling, aromatic woods, such as hickory, mesquite or cherry, can be added to the preheated coals to give the chicken a distinctive flavor.
  • Place smaller pieces of chicken around the outer edges, further away from the main heat source, to allow them to cook slower.
  • Do not use a fork to turn the chicken as it cooks. The piercing causes the juices to escape.
  • To speed grilling or broiling time, partially cook the chicken in the microwave first. Microwave on high approximately 4 to 5 minutes per pound, or 3 to 4 minutes if using cut up parts. Grill or broil the microwaved pieces of chicken immediately to finish cooking.


Steaming

Steaming is an ideal method for cooking boneless chicken breasts and small whole birds such as Cornish hens. It retains the flavor, tenderness and moisture through the use of steam. It is a healthy method of cooking because no additional fat is used. Chicken can be steamed with a traditional steamer that fits on top of a sauce pan, by using a rack that sits in the bottom of a tightly covered pan, suspending the chicken above the water, or by the use of an electric steamer.

When steaming chicken with a traditional steamer, fill the steamer pot half full of water and bring it to a full boil using a high heat. For additional flavor, herbs or other flavorings can be added to the water. Place the chicken in the steamer in a single layer, leaving a little room around the pieces. This allows the steam to circulate freely, cooking the meat at a more even rate. Place the steamer in the pot over the boiling water and make sure no water is coming up through the holes in the steamer. Cover and cook for 8 to 10 minutes. If using a rack or tray in the bottom of a large pot, add at least one inch of water to the pot and bring to a boil. Place the chicken in a heatproof dish and place the dish on the rack in the pot of boiling water. Be sure water is not boiling up over the heatproof dish. Cover with a tight lid and cook for 8 to 10 minutes. Check for doneness and if thoroughly cooked, remove chicken from steamer and use the water for a broth to be eaten on its own or to make a sauce to serve with the chicken.

Steaming Tips:

  • Marinate the chicken before steaming to infuse the chicken with a distinctive flavor.
  • Infuse flavor into the chicken by adding ingredients to the steaming water, such as onions, carrots, celery, and fresh gingerroot.
  • Making a few cuts through the top and bottom surface of the chicken will allow the heat to penetrate more evenly throughout the cooking process.
  • Other ingredients, such as vegetables, can be steamed with the chicken, but do not overcrowd.
  • Avoid removing the cover to the pot during the cooking process. This will allow heat and steam to escape, resulting in extended cooking times.


Poaching

Poaching is a healthy method of cooking chicken because no fat is added. It retains the chicken's flavor, tenderness and moisture through a gentle simmering process. Poaching is an especially good method to use when cooking chicken that normally has tougher meat, such as stewing hens and chicken that has a tendency to be a little dry, such as skinless breasts. Cooking by this method provides a very flavorful chicken because it draws additional flavor from the meat and bones as it cooks.

The poached chicken can be eaten as part of a main meal or used as an ingredient for salads, sandwiches, pot pies, and other dishes. The liquid, in which the chicken is poached, can also be used. It can be used as a broth or reduced to use in making a sauce to be served with the chicken.

 

To poach, place the chicken in a sauce pan or Dutch oven with the vegetables you are using. The chicken and vegetables should fit fairly tight in the pan.


The chicken and vegetables should be completely covered with liquid. Do not use a pan that is too large, avoiding the use of too much water, which would result in a liquid that has a diluted flavor. The pan should be just large enough so that the liquid can move freely around the chicken. Add other flavorings, if desired. The liquid used for poaching can be water, stock or water with the addition of other ingredients such as wine or fruit juices.

 

 
 

Bring the liquid to a boil and skim off the foam that forms on top, then reduce heat to low and partially cover.


Partially cover and let liquid gently simmer until the chicken is finished cooking. Check for doneness by piercing the thickest areas of the meat and check to see that the juices run clear.
 

 

When done, remove the chicken and let it sit at room temperature to rest for approximately 15 minutes before cutting. This allows the juices to redistribute through the meat.

When using the poaching method of cooking, it is important to bring the liquid to a boil and then lower the temperature so that the liquid is simmering very gently. The liquid should barely be moving with only a few bubbles breaking the surface occasionally, not bubbling as it does when boiling. Vigorous boiling will toughen the meat and make it stringy.

Poaching tips:

  • For added flavor, season liquid with herbs, such as dried rosemary, sage, thyme, dill, or tarragon. Also, other flavorings, such as ginger, garlic and onion can be added.
  • Rubbing the chicken with lemon juice and poaching in water containing lemon juice or white wine vinegar will help to keep the flesh of the chicken white when cooked.
  • If the poached chicken is to be eaten cold or added to another dish, allow the meat to cool in the liquid to provide a moister texture. However, this procedure should be avoided in warm weather, because then the chicken should be cooled as quickly as possible and then refrigerated.
  • After cutting the cooked chicken off the bones, return the bones to the liquid the chicken was cooked in and simmer longer to increase the flavor of the broth.


Braising and Stewing

Braising and stewing are very similar methods of cooking. They both use the same process of searing to enhance color and flavor, and slow cooking in liquid to produce tender, moist meat. Once the meat is browned, it is cooked in a covered pan, either on top of the stove or in the oven. It is best to use the same pan that was used to sear the meat so you get all the benefit of the flavored pieces in the bottom of the pan when making a sauce. Select a heavy sauté or frying pan that is both suitable for the stove top and the oven. The pan should also have a fairly tight fitting lid to prevent moisture from escaping.

To begin braising or stewing, be sure the chicken has been thoroughly dried off with a paper towel to ensure even browning. Heat enough oil, or an oil and butter mixture, to sufficiently cover the bottom of a heavy pan, and then place the pieces of chicken in the hot oil. To ensure even browning, do not overcrowd the pieces. Cook over a medium high heat until pieces are nicely browned on all sides. Once browned, remove pieces from the pan using tongs and then quickly sear any other desired ingredients in that same pan. Replace the chicken pieces in the pan and add the required liquid and flavorings. Heat until the liquid is boiling, then cover the pan and reduce the heat to a simmer, cooking until chicken is done. To prevent the meat from becoming dry and stringy, keep the liquid at a simmer through the remaining cooking time and do not allow it to boil. The covered pan can also be placed in a low temperature oven to finish cooking, rather than on top of the stove.

The meat should be checked occasionally throughout cooking to see if liquids need replenishing. When done, the chicken and all other ingredients should be removed from the pan, so the sauce can be made. After braising, the pan drippings can be thickened with a paste mixture of butter and flour, or a mixture of cornstarch and water to make a sauce. The sauce is then served with the chicken. When stewing, thickening of the liquid may or may not be required, depending on the recipe. The liquid, chicken and other ingredients are served as one dish.

Braising and stewing are almost identical methods except stewing involves the use of more liquid and the ingredients, including the meat, are cut into more bite size pieces. Sometimes the chicken is not seared before stewing, but most often it is.


Sautéing

Sautéing is a cooking method that quickly cooks the chicken using a little oil and high heat. Olive oil, vegetable oil, corn oil, canola oil, and soy oil are commonly used oils. Sautéing and the searing process, used in browning the meat in the beginning steps of braising, are basically the same methods of cooking, except searing browns the meat and seals in its juices, but does not completely cook the meat. Sautéing browns the meat and seals in the juices but it also thoroughly cooks the meat. Seared chicken requires the use of another cooking method, such as braising, to finish the cooking process.

The type of chicken cooked using this method is generally skinless, boneless chicken breasts , which are generally served with a sauce made from the pan drippings. The breasts are most often pounded to form cutlets, which provides breast pieces that are more even in thickness, preventing areas of the breast from becoming overdone while trying to get thicker areas to the proper doneness. Chicken breasts can also be purchased already made into cutlets.

 

To sauté, preheat pan to condition it before adding oil.

 

Add only enough oil to lightly coat the bottom of the pan. A nonstick pan or a well-seasoned pan may not require as much oil. Be sure the pan and cooking oil are at the proper temperature before adding the chicken so it will begin to cook immediately once it its placed in the pan.



 

  The chicken can be lightly dredged in flour before being placed in the pan. The light flour coating helps provide a good surface color when sautéing, but is not required. Seasoning, such as salt, pepper and other herbs or rubs, should be applied before cooking to enhance the flavor of the chicken as it cooks.


 

Place the chicken pieces with the best side down so that when they are finished cooking, they will be served with the best side up.

Cook the first side until it is a golden brown color. Then, using tongs, turn the pieces over and finish cooking on the second side. The chicken pieces should not touch each other and they should only be turned once. Turning them more than once can affect their color and flavor.

 
 
 

If necessary, adjust the heat during cooking. When properly done, the chicken can be removed from the pan and if desired, a sauce can be made from the pan drippings.


Stir-Frying

Stir-frying, like sautéing, is a cooking method that quickly cooks the chicken in a little oil, using high heat. The difference between the two methods is that sautéing cooks serving size pieces of meat and stir-frying involves cooking smaller size pieces that have been cut into strips, cubes or diced pieces all similar in size. Stir-frying generally includes meat and other food ingredients cooked at different intervals, which are added together at the end of the cooking process to make one dish. They are cooked according to how quickly each food cooks, with the quickest added last. Generally the process starts by cooking the chicken and the slowest cooking vegetables first, such as carrots, cauliflower and onions. Then vegetables such as broccoli, green beans, peppers, sugar snap peas, and snow peas are added after the first ingredients have been stir-fried for several minutes. A few minutes later vegetables, such as mushrooms, celery, peas, and scallions, are added. Any fresh herbs should be added at the very end of the cooking time. Fruits are also used in many stir-fry recipes and should be added as directed.

Stir-frying is a fast paced cooking method so it is important that everything is ready before beginning to cook. Oil, chicken, vegetables, seasonings, and sauce ingredients are pre-measured and placed within easy reaching distance. The pan used for stir-frying should be a heavy skillet with deep sides to allow the ingredients to be stirred and tossed without being spilled over the edges of the pan while cooking. A wok, which has deep tapered sides that make it easy to stir and toss the ingredients as they are cooking, is a traditional pan used for stir-frying. Although a wok works well, it is not a necessity. Using a nonstick deep skillet also works very well.


 

 

Before starting the cooking process, be sure the chicken and all other ingredients are cut, measured and within easy reach.


Start the cooking process by heating the oil in the pan, trying to coat the entire surface, bottom and sides, with the oil, using approximately 1 ½ to 2 tablespoons of oil per pound of ingredients being cooked. Vegetable, corn and peanut oil all work well for stir-frying.

 
 


 

  When the pan is hot, add the chicken and the ingredients that require a longest cooking time, making sure all are exposed to the oil and the hottest area of the pan. Cook on high heat for several minutes, constantly stirring and tossing until the chicken is almost done. It will be just barely pink in the middle when cut into.


Remove the chicken from the wok, set it aside and cover lightly to keep it warm. Add the next ingredients according to the recipe and cook until just tender, stirring constantly. Add the stir-fry sauce according to the recipe and heat until hot and bubbling.

 


  At the end of the process, the chicken and all other ingredients are added and cooked on high heat until the chicken is completely cooked. The other ingredients should be tender but still have a crunchy texture. The mixture should be heated thoroughly, but not overcooked. Once it is done, it should be served immediately.

Stir-fry Tips:

  • Cut ingredients into small even sized pieces. Using the same size pieces will assist in a more evenly quick cooking of all ingredients. For your convenience, you can purchase the vegetables precut for stir-frying but be prepared to pay more for them.
  • To make the cutting of chicken into thin strips easier, place chicken in the freezer for about ¾ to 1 hour to firm it up or if the chicken was frozen, cut it into the thin strips before it is completely thawed.
  • Use metal or wood utensils for stirring and tossing ingredients while cooking and avoid using plastic because it might melt when exposed to the high temperatures used for stir-frying.
  • After cutting the chicken into thin strips, be sure to properly clean the work area. Wash the cutting boards in hot soapy water after each use and use a mild bleach solution periodically.


Microwaving

Microwaving is a quick and convenient method for cooking chicken but the flavor of the chicken will not be enhanced as it is with other cooking methods. When cooked properly, it will provide a tender, juicy meat. The flavor can be enhanced by the use of salt, pepper and other seasonings. This is a good method for cooking chicken that is going to be used in dishes that require cooked chicken or when just a small serving is required.

When microwaving chicken, it is best to follow the manufacturer's instruction manual because different varieties of microwaves vary in cooking time. Chicken pieces cook better than whole birds in the microwave and are generally cooked at a high setting. Whole chickens should be cooked at a medium setting. Place the chicken parts in a microwave safe dish arranged so that the larger, denser pieces are placed around the outer edge, and the smaller pieces are placed in the middle. Part way through the cooking time the chicken pieces should be rearranged by turning and exchanging positions of the pieces that are cooking faster with those that are cooking more slowly. This will assist in getting most of the pieces done at approximately the same time. While cooking, the chicken should be covered with wax paper or plastic wrap, leaving one corner open for venting purposes.


Checking Doneness

Checking doneness is accomplished in basically the same manner regardless of the cooking method you are using. Some methods are more accurate than others and some are more suitable in regard to the cooking method and to the cut of chicken. Shown below are the most common methods for checking doneness.

Thermometer: Using a thermometer is the most accurate method for testing doneness of the chicken. A regular meat thermometer or an instant read thermometer can be used. A regular meat thermometer is inserted before placing the chicken in the oven or other heat source and remains there throughout the cooking time.



 

An instant read thermometer is used to check doneness once the chicken is cooked. The chicken is taken away from the heat source and the instant read thermometer is immediately inserted into the thickest part of the breast or thigh (it should not be touching a bone). The thermometer provides a temperature reading in approximately 15 seconds.

Internal Temperatures for Proper Doneness
Whole Chicken - Thigh Area 175° - 180°F
Whole Chicken - Breast Area 170° - 175°F
Chicken Breast and Wings 170° - 175°F
Chicken Parts - Dark Meat 180°F
Ground Chicken 170°F
Stuffing Inside Whole Chicken 165°F

Note: If the proper temperature is not reached, the chicken should be returned to the heat source for further cooking.

 

Piercing: Another method for testing doneness is to prick the chicken with a fork or the tip of a knife and check to see if the juices that escape run clear. If the juices have any pinkish coloring, the chicken is not done and should be returned to the heat source for further cooking.

Visual: The visual method of determining doneness is to make a small slit with the tip of a knife into the thickest part of the chicken and then pry the slit open. The meat should be opaque with no signs of pink coloring. If the meat shows any signs of not being done, the chicken should be returned to the heat source for further cooking.

 

Carving

Before carving, the chicken should sit for 10 to 15 minutes after it is removed from the oven. This allows the juices to be redistributed throughout the meat, resulting in a firmer, juicier and easier to carve chicken. Choose a carving knife that is long enough to cut the entire length of the breast. It is important that the knife be extremely sharp so it allows thin slices to be carved and easily cuts through the joints when necessary. Shown below are the steps to carving a chicken.

  1. If the chicken was trussed, cut and remove all strings. Place the chicken on the cutting board breast side up and begin carving by cutting through the skin and meat between the thigh and breast. Using a carving knife, pry the thigh away from the body and locate the joint connecting the leg to the body. Cut through the leg joint, detaching it from the body. On smaller birds, the thigh and leg can be served as one piece or it can be cut into separate pieces. Separate the two by cutting at the joint.
  2. If the chicken is a larger bird with thighs and legs that are fairly meaty, you may want to slice the meat from the thighs and legs. Hold the meat in place using a carving fork and cut the slices parallel to the bones.
  3. Remove the wing by cutting through the joint that attaches the wing to the body, keeping the cut as close to the body as possible. Remove the wing tip, if desired, before serving.
  4. Before beginning to carve the breast meat, run the knife horizontally under the breast, cutting the entire length of the bird. Make sure to cut all the way in to the bone. Begin carving the breast by cutting parallel to the rib cage, cutting slices as thin as possible. If you are carving the chicken away from the serving table and will be serving the chicken already carved, remove the breast in a whole half and place it on the cutting board to slice. Using a carving fork to hold the breast in place, slice across the breast, cutting across the grain of the meat. Cutting across the grain shortens the fibers and provides a more tender piece of meat.
  5. Repeat the carving process on the opposite side.


Shredding Chicken

After the chicken has been cooked, it can be shredded to use for several purposes. Shredded chicken is good for making sandwiches, adding to salads, and is used as an ingredient in many different dishes.

To shred chicken, use two forks and insert the prongs, back sides facing each other, into the center of a portion of meat. Pull the forks gently away from each other, causing the meat to break into thin strips. Continue the process until the entire piece has been pulled apart.

 

Tips

Tenderness Tips

  • Avoid freezing whenever possible to eliminate additional moisture loss during thawing, which results in less tender meat.
  • Keep chicken from drying out in the refrigerator by keeping it tightly wrapped. If the chicken dries out, it will become tough.
  • Leaving the skin on the chicken, when cooking it, helps to hold in juices, which increases tenderness.
  • To keep breast area of chicken from drying out during roasting, place a piece of foil over this area. Remove during last 30 minutes of roasting time to allow the skin to brown properly.
  • Cook chicken to the proper temperature, because undercooking the chicken will cause it to be tough and overcooking the chicken causes loss of moisture, making the chicken drier.
  • Let roasted chicken rest for 10 to 15 minutes before carving to allow juices to be distributed throughout the meat. Standing the chicken up with bottom end up allows more juices to run into the drier breast area.
  • Cutting meat across the grain will produce slices with shorter fibers, resulting in more tender pieces.
  • When adding cooked chicken to dishes that have a long cooking time, it is best to use dark meat because it will stay moist longer than white meat.

Light Tips

  • Roasting chicken on a rack, broiling and grilling are cooking methods that allow fat to drip away from the meat. Poaching, steaming and microwaving are methods of cooking where no additional fat is used. All provide for less fat content in the meat when it is done.
  • When frying or browning chicken in a pan, use a nonstick skillet, which requires less added fat, or use a nonstick skillet with a fat free nonstick cooking spray to reduce the amount of fat used.
  • Reduce added fat by seasoning chicken in marinades that are low-fat or fat-free. Use ingredients such as low-fat yogurt, juices, wine, herbs, and spices
  • Removing the skin before eating chicken eliminates about two thirds of the fat content.
  • When stewing chicken for soup, let broth cool and then discard fat that forms on top before reheating to serve.

Cooking Tips

  • When adding chicken to a recipe that calls for a measured amount, determine how much chicken is needed by following a standard of one pound of boneless chicken equals approximately 3 cups of cubed chicken.
  • When roasting a chicken, an untrussed chicken will cook faster and more evenly than a trussed chicken.
  • Covered chicken takes longer to cook in the oven than uncovered chicken.
  • When frying, grilling, broiling, or sautéing chicken, remove pieces as they get done to avoid overcooking while finishing other pieces. White meat and smaller pieces, such as breasts and wings, will get done faster than dark meat pieces, such as legs and thighs.
  • For a quick test of doneness when roasting a chicken, hold on to the leg, move it around, and side to side. The leg should move freely at the joint if it is done. Be sure to use other methods for checking doneness also!
  • Do not overcrowd chicken pieces when cooking. Leaving space between them will allow them to brown and cook more evenly.
  • If using a marinade for basting, set some marinade aside before placing raw chicken in it to marinate. Never reuse marinade that the chicken was marinated in for basting.
  • Be sure to use a sharp knife when cutting or carving chicken. Sharp knives will make the job a lot easier, especially when having to cut in the joint areas, and will provide neatly cut slices and pieces.

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