Main Ingredient: Chicken

Cooking tips everyone should know before getting started

Chicken dish and carrot dish served on table

Nadine Greeff/Stocksy United

 

Cooking chicken is so easy, anyone can do it. But if that's the case, why do professional chefs cook chicken so much better than we do? It's because the pros know how to select and prepare ingredients, and follow each step of a recipe or technique towards a delicious meal. Of course, chefs are also trained specialists, so their finished dishes tend to have that mouth-watering, photo-worthy look. So what's the secret to getting similar results when cooking for family? Cook like the pros do — we'll show you how.

Why Is Chicken So Popular?

Chicken is the most popular meat in the United States, with the average American consuming about a hundred pounds of chicken each year. Owing to its budget-friendly price point, versatility, protein content, and a mild flavor that takes well to any number of preparations (from beginner to advanced), chicken remains one of the country's favorite meals.

Chicken in Different Cuisines

Poultry isn't just popular in the United States, it's beloved all over the world. Most meat-eating cultures cook with chicken and pass down traditional recipes through the generations. You'll find any number of variations on whole roast chicken seasoned with regional flavors, as well as recipes for braising, frying, poaching, grilling, and soup.

Types of Chicken

Chicken can be sold fresh or frozen. The most popular types of chicken to cook are broilers (the youngest and smallest), fryers (slightly larger), and roasters — the largest and oldest chickens that are best-suited for roasting whole. All three can be prepared for any recipe, but the amount of meat each yields will vary slightly.

Chicken is also sold cut up into pieces: breasts, wings, party wings (wingette/drumette) thighs, legs (or leg quarters with the thigh intact). Many grocery stores sell chicken backs or bones to make soups and stocks, as well as chicken livers, which are delicious made into mousse or pâté or used to enrich sauces.

Keeping Chicken Moist & Juicy

The only thing worse than undercooked chicken (which is not safe to eat) is dry, stringy, overcooked chicken (which is simply unpleasant to eat). This common pitfall can be easily avoided using simple, popular techniques like marinating, brining, braising, and keeping a close eye on temperature and cooking time.

Internal Temperature For Chicken

According to the USDA, the safe minimum internal temperature for whole chicken or chicken pieces is 165 F. For ground poultry, the temperature is slightly lower: 160 F. Use a high-quality digital instant-read or infrared meat thermometer for the most accurate temperature to ensure that your chicken is done cooking and safe to eat.

Chicken Nutritional Information

Chicken supplies nutrients that are essential for optimal health, especially niacin, Vitamin B6, selenium, phosphorous, and of course, protein. A medium chicken breast contains about 50 grams of protein and very little fat, while a thigh contains about 30 grams of protein and 10 grams of fat. Nutritional content will vary depending on the cut of chicken as well as the preparation — a fried wing will have less protein and more fat than a poached breast, for example. Removing the skin before or after cooking will result in a lower-fat option.

Chicken liver and other internal organs or "giblets" like gizzards and hearts are rich in iron, folate, choline and biotin.

Storing Chicken

Store chicken in a refrigerator set to below 40 F. Prolong its freshness by keeping it in the original supermarket packaging, re-wrapping or vacuum-sealing the unused portion for later use. Chicken will keep tightly wrapped in the refrigerator for up to two days. Cooked chicken can be stored tightly wrapped or packed in a sealable container for a little longer, up to three days.