Cooking Chicken 101
Chicken is one of the most popular dishes in America. It's a low-cost protein that doesn't have strong flavors and can be prepared in a number of creative ways. The downside to chicken is that it can easily be overcooked, leaving you with a dry, tasteless, and inedible meal. Even worse is when your guests sit down to eat and bite into red, raw, undercooked chicken. We aren't trying to scare you, but some of the nastiest diseases you'll ever get can come from uncooked chicken. We've got a few tricks up our sleeves for making sure that your next chicken cooking extravaganza goes flawlessly.
The Correct Chicken Temperature for Juicy Meat Every Time
Cooking chicken to the right temperature is about much more than the right amount of doneness – it's about food safety. The United States Department of Agriculture, the official government organization in charge of ensuring food safety and consumer safety information says that chicken must be cooked to at least 165 degrees. Properly cooked chicken must reach an internal temperature that high to kill off harmful bacteria that can grow in the meat of poultry. The CDC says that as many as 1 million people each year suffer the effects of a foodborne illness from chicken. They also say that on average, one of every 25 bagged chickens in the store are contaminated with bacteria that can make you sick.
Types of Bacteria Common in Chicken
The most common types of harmful bacteria found in chicken include Campylobacter, salmonella, Clostridium perfringens.
- Campylobacter: This common foodborne illness causes diarrhea, cramping, and nausea. Symptoms can last about a week.
- Salmonella: People sickened by this bacteria experience diarrhea, fever, and cramping. Symptoms last four to seven days.
- Clostridium perfringens: This nasty bacteria reproduces by spores in food kept at unsafe temperatures. Diarrhea and stomach cramps are common symptoms that usually alleviate in 24 hours.
Food Handling Tips for Raw Chicken
You might be surprised to learn that many foodborne illness outbreaks don't come from undercooked chicken, they come from cross-contamination. Cross-contamination frequently happens when people handle raw chicken and then don't wash their hands. Juices from raw chicken can contaminate counter tops, cutting boards, and even your sink. When you are going to cook chicken, start with a clean surface, prepare the chicken, wash your hands with hot soapy water, then clean everything that could have come in contact with the chicken before moving on to the next task. Don't forget to wash your hands again after you have cleaned up.
These tips are good advice for handling any type of raw meat. Always make sure to keep your food prep areas clean as a matter of food safety. You want your friends and family to look forward to your cooking, not fear it.
Cooking Safety Tips
Medium-rare is fine for steaks, but not so much for chicken breast. The safe internal temperature must be higher than 165 F. The good news is that the perfect internal temperature for thigh meat, wings, and legs is higher than 165 f. We usually cook breast meat to about 170 degrees using an instant read thermometer to check for doneness. Getting a juicy chicken doesn't mean you have to keep the cooking temperatures low, just that you need to accurately monitor your chicken.
No More Dry Overdone Birds
Now for the fun part – talking about cooking chicken. The best cooking method for chicken is a matter of personal preference. A roasted whole chicken is a fall favorite around our house, but no one ever turns down a fried chicken tender (or three) either. The secret to getting the perfect, juicy, tender chicken is getting the correct cooking time and internal temperature without losing moisture.
Tips for Juicy Chicken
Marinade. It doesn't matter what cooking method we are going to use, we always marinade chicken. Sometimes it's just a few hours, but more often than not, we marinade overnight or longer. Make sure you put your chicken in a bowl with a lid or a plastic bag so that the marinade always stays above the meat. Dairy works as a great base. You can use milk, kefir, sour cream, or yogurt. Try marinading chicken in a robust red wine, or use a healthy splash of tequila with lime juice and salt. Get creative, you can't go wrong. Always drain the chicken from the marinade before cooking, but don't rinse the meat off. Personally, we also really like using our Bearded Butcher Blend Cajun and Hollywood seasoning on chicken.
Cooking Times and Temperatures for Chicken
We're going to give you some cooking times and temperatures to help you make great chicken. We'll discuss a couple different cuts and the best way to cook them.
You can cook a whole chicken in the oven in a roasting pan. Baste with butter as it cooks. The trick is to cook the whole bird covered in foil at 350 degrees. You'll know the bird is done when a meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the breast reads at least 165. Uncover and crisp at 450 degrees. You can tell that a whole roast chicken is close to done by grasping a wing. If it pulls right off, the chicken is done.
Deep frying a whole chicken is also a fun experience. Make sure to use a thermometer in the thickest part of the breast to know when it is done. The wings and legs will cook faster, so you are likely to end up with some crispy extremities.
Chicken wings are a fun and fantastic meal or appetizer. These parts have not a lot of meat, but the meat is quite tough so your proper internal temperature will be somewhat higher than breast meat. Aim for about 185 to 190 degrees. We like to roast them in a glass pan in a spicy sauce, then broil them for a few minutes to crisp up. Delicious with ranch dressing.
Chicken breasts are the most tender and juicy part of the bird, but are also the easiest to overcook. If you are cooking skinless, boneless chicken breast, you can pull it at 160 degrees and rest the chicken. The temperature will come up by about ten degrees while the meat rests.
Chicken breasts are one of the more versatile poultry products out there. Slice them and coat in a beer batter and fry, grill with a bunch of your favorite barbecue sauce, or saute with vegetables and soy sauce for an Asian-inspired dish.
Resting the Chicken
Just like with beef and pork products, you'll want to rest the chicken after cooking. Breasts and wings only need to rest for five to ten minutes, while a whole chicken should rest for 20 minutes. This helps the meat reabsorb moisture.
Chicken Temp FAQs
A: Always cook chicken to a minimum of 165 F.
A: Chicken can harbor and breed numerous types of harmful bacteria that make you sick.
A: Use an instant read meat thermometer to test and make sure the internal temp is above 165.
A: Rest chicken for 5-10 minutes for smaller pieces and 20-30 minutes for whole birds.
Using these tips and guidelines, you'll be turning out mouth-watering, juicy chicken every time. Just remember to mind your food safety and keep your workspace clean to prevent illness and always cook poultry to above the minimum temperature.
P.S. If you're looking for a good chicken recipe, check out our YouTube video on how to spatchcock chicken: