How to Cook Chicken

If there is one thing I want you, my reader, to be confident in, it’s how to cook chicken. You love it, your kids love it, and today I’m sharing 6 basic ways to nail every chicken recipe EVER.

To get you started, here’s a video on 3 basic methods, oven-baking, pan-frying, and poaching:

Before we go into the HOW and some awesome recipes for each method, let’s review a few details that will help you master the art of cooking chicken.

Choosing the Right Cut of Chicken

Not all chicken cuts cook the same and the most important part of any chicken recipe is the cut of meat you use.

image: three chicken breasts cooking in a pan

For instance, bone-in, skin-on thighs, and drumsticks are best for baking and frying while boneless, skinless chicken breasts are best for pan-frying.

The skin helps to seal in the moisture and juices under high heat and long cooking periods while skinless, leaner cuts cook faster without drying out.

Dark Meat vs. White Meat

Chicken breast is the most popular white meat and it’s no wonder. This cut is high in protein, lean, and super versatile which makes it a great choice for baking, sauteing, grilling, shredding, etc.

image: raw chicken in a shallow white bowl. Smaller dishes of chicken marinade ingredients next to chicken on a cutting board.

On the other hand, dark meat varieties such as thighs and drumsticks are in a league of their own. Compared to white meat, they contain more myoglobin, the protein that gives it a darker color. Dark meat tends to be more flavorful and moist when cooked due to the protein myoglobin, and contrary to popular opinion, dark meat is a lean and healthy option.

image: brushing seasoning onto raw chicken drumsticks on a sheet pan

How Long Does it Take to Cook Chicken

This varies and depends on the method you choose, but the best rule of thumb is when the internal temperature is 165F (74C) for chicken breasts and 175F (80C) for thighs or dark meat.

Six Ways to Cook Chicken

There are so many ways to cook chicken, and if I were to list them all here… yeah that won’t happen, so we are sticking to the basics. Once you get these down pat, you can move on to more challenging recipes- if that’s your thing.

Grilled Chicken

First, we’ll start with one of the most popular ways to cook chicken: grilling. Grilling your chicken gives that slightly charred flavor that’s irresistible and perfect with the right side dishes like or on top a salad, like this Greek Panzanella. 

image: three cooked chicken breasts on an indoor grill pan

Grilling is also a smart way to cook large batches at once, whether you need it to serve to a crowd or for meal prep. I like to do this whenever I plan to prep my Greek Farro Bowls or salads. 

A few steps to the perfect grilled chicken:

1.Tenderize

If you plan to use boneless, skinless chicken breasts, don’t skip this step. Since chicken breasts tend to be thick in some areas and thin in others, they’ll cook unevenly, which results in dry chicken. No fun!

On the flip side, if you’re grilling drumsticks, thighs, or wings, no tenderizing is necessary. 

2.Marinate

Combine 1/2 cup of marinade of choice with 1 lb chicken and marinate for 30 minutes or overnight. 

image: three chicken breasts in a clear bag with homemade chicken marinade

3.Grill 

Bring the grill to medium heat and add the meat! 

  • Boneless, skinless chicken breast- 5 to 7 minutes per side. 
  • Bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts– 10 minutes per side.
  • Chicken legs and wings (both thigh and drumstick)- 5 to 7 minutes per side.

Once the internal temperature reaches 165F (74C) for breasts or 175F (80C) for dark meat, it’s done! 

image: chicken breast being sliced on a cutting board next to indoor grill pan

Baked Chicken

Baking works for any part of the bird and doesn’t require a lot of hands-on work such as sauteing and grilling. Unfortunately, there is one drawback to this method: it’s easy to dry out the chicken. However, that’s why I’m writing this section, so that doesn’t happen to you.

image: cook chicken breasts being sliced on a cutting board

A few steps to the perfect baked chicken:

1.Marinate

Whether you prefer a homemade oil and vinegar-based marinade or your favorite bottled sauce, combine 1/2 cup marinade per pound of chicken in a large zip bag and marinate for 30 minutes or up to 24 hours. 

2.Bake

Baking temperatures will vary by recipe. I like how 375F (190C) cooks my chicken, but since all ovens are different, it’s best to go by the recipes specified temperatures.

image: cooked chicken breasts on a baking sheet

3.Rest

Once you remove the chicken from the oven, allow them to rest, undisturbed for at least 5 minutes; this allows the juices and flavors to stay locked into the meat so that each bite will be delicious. 

Pan-fried or Sauteéd: Chicken On the Stove

Also known as pan-fried or sauteéd, this method is commonly used in all those one-skillet weeknight dinner recipes. Boneless, skinless cuts such as breasts and thighs are ideal for the skillet, and as you saw in the video, it gives the chicken a golden, crispy crust. 

image: three sliced chicken breasts with spices in a shallow white bowl with a fork

A few steps to the perfect pan-cooked chicken:

1.Tenderize

Same as grilling, this will help ensure that the chicken cooks evenly. 

2.Heat pan

While tenderizing, heat a large skillet over medium heat, you want to hear a sizzle as soon as the chicken touches the pan.

3.Season

Season both sides of the chicken with salt, pepper, and your choice of herbs/spices.

4.Sauté

Add the chicken and allow to cook for 6 minutes on one side before flipping and cooking for another 4 to 6 minutes. 

5.Rest

Once the chicken reaches an internal temperature of 165F (74C), remove from the pan and allow it to rest on a plate 5 minutes before slicing and serving. 

Fried Chicken

Fried chicken is the epitome of soul food- crispy, delicious, and gives you all the feels. Serve it with mashed potatoes and, you’ll be in heaven. 

I recommend bone-in, skin-on cuts for best results and that golden, crunch from the breaded and fried skin is OUT OF THIS WORLD! Trust me, some things are worth eating no matter if they aren’t the “lightest” and homemade fried chicken is one of them!

Now, how to make the fried chicken magic happen: 

1. Prep the chicken

Add buttermilk, salt, pepper in a large bowl. Add the chicken pieces, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 4 hours.

2. Heat the oil

Pour oil into a deep skillet until it measures 3 inches in the pan. Heat over medium heat until it reaches 350F (176C). 

Important note: make sure to use an oil that has a high smoke point, such as peanut oil or vegetable oil. 

3.Dredge the chicken

Meanwhile, combine flour and seasonings in a large bowl. Remove the chicken from the buttermilk mixture, shake it gently to remove the excess, and coat the chicken in the breading. Tap off the excess and set aside on a plate. 

image: three white bowls with raw chicken strips, flour and chicken breading

4.Fry it up!

Place the breaded chicken pieces 3 to 4 at a time into the hot oil and fry for 14 minutes, turning each piece every 2 minutes until the chicken is cooked through, 165F (74C) for chicken breasts and 175F (80C) for thighs and drumsticks. Keep in mind, smaller pieces will cook faster, so gauge about 5 to 6 minutes before checking for doneness.

5.Rest

Remove the chicken from the oil and set it onto a paper towel-lined plate. Allow them to rest for 10 minutes before serving and enjoying. 

Oven Roasted Chicken

Similar to baked chicken, but in this, it’s the whole bird- all at once. Sounds Intimidating? In reality, extremely simple, and once you remove a beautifully bronzed chicken from the oven, you’ll thank yourself over and over.

image: roasted whole chicken on a plate with roasted vegetables

You can see how to make an entire roasted chicken in the video below:

See, that was easier than expected, and if you want to see it in word form, check below. 

A few steps to perfect oven-roasted chicken:

1.Preheat

Preheat the oven to 425F (220C). 

2.Prep the Chicken

After you’ve removed the giblets, rinse the entire chicken under cold water and pat dry with a paper towel. 

image: raw whole chicken in a baking dish with spiced vegetables

3.Season

Generously season the chicken with salt and pepper. Place your choice of herbs and citrus in the cavity and baste the entire bird with melted butter.

4.Tie it up

Using kitchen string, tip the legs together and tuck the wings under the bird. Place it in a large baking dish and transfer to the oven. 

5.Roast

Roast the chicken for 1 hour and 15 minutes, more or less, depending on the size of the bird. Check for doneness at 165F (74C) around the breast and 175F (80C) around the thigh. 

Poached Chicken

The last method is not as popular, but it’s useful for when you want to make any kind of shredded chicken dish like the Buffalo Chicken Sliders or Southern Chicken Salad.

image: freshly poached chicken breasts on a plate

A few steps to perfect poached chicken:

1. Combine the Ingredients

To a large stockpot, add the chicken breasts, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and choice of herbs/seasonings. 

2.Bring to a Boil

Add enough water to the pot to cover the chicken by an inch. Set to cook over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Once it boils, reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 8 minutes or until the chicken reaches 165F.

As it cooks, you’ll notice a white foam rising to the surface. This is totally normal but you can use a mesh scoop or regular spoon to scrape off and discard.

image: chicken breasts in a deep pan of water with spices and flavorings

3.Rest

Remove the chicken from the poaching liquid, allow it to rest 5 minutes and then you can slice or shred. 

image: shredded chicken in a white bowl with two forks

4.Shred

Self-explanatory, but if you want to check out some neat ways to shred chicken, make sure you check out this post. (Hint: it involves a hand mixer).

How to Prevent Chicken from Getting Dry

When cooked, we know chicken can be juicy, easy to cut and crave-worthy, however, when overcooked, it’s so unforgiving! Here are simple tips to make sure your bird cooks perfectly! 

Keep the skin-on:

If you purchased skin on cuts, don’t remove it. The skin helps retain more moisture and flavor, making a tastier and juicer piece of chicken. If you’re watching fat intake, remove the skin after cooking and before eating. 

image: six raw bone in, skin-on chick breasts on paper.

Perfecting Temperature: 

Chicken is fully cooked when it reaches an internal temperature of 165F (74C) for white meat or 175F (80C) for dark meat.

To test, insert a meat thermometer into the thickest part, usually the center, of the chicken. Let the thermostat do its job, and once it reaches the correct temperature, the chicken is fully-cooked.

Keep a Lid on It

In this case, we’re talking about pan-frying. When you cook the chicken, allow it to brown on one side, flip, then cover with a lid and don’t touch it for 6-8 minutes or until the recipe states to check for doneness. 

Best Tips for Cooking Chicken

If you’re reading this, it’s likely chicken is a regular part of your routine and for a good reason. It’s inexpensive, versatile, and kids like it! Unfortunately, it’s not always the easiest to cook with, especially chicken breasts! Here are a few tips to make sure you nail perfect chicken recipes every time.

image: chicken being sliced on a cutting board next to baking dish

Follow the Recipe

This is the #1 reason a recipe will turn out wrong but thankfully, it’s the easiest to fix, just follow. the. recipe. Trust me.

Keep the bones in and skin-on

If you purchased bone-in, skin-on cuts, don’t remove either. The skin helps retain more moisture and flavor, while the bones help to give a more rich flavor. If you’re watching fat intake, you can remove the skin before eating, but you’ll be missing out on all the delicious flavor and collagen that’s oh so good for your skin. 

image: six cooked chicken thighs in a pan

Perfecting Temperature: 

Chicken is fully cooked when it reaches an internal temperature of 165F for white meat or 175F for dark meat.

To test, insert a meat thermometer into the thickest part, usually the center, of the chicken. Let the thermostat do its job, and once it reaches the correct temperature the chicken is fully cooked.

Thaw it Safely

If you are starting with frozen chicken there are 3 ways to defrost chicken safely. Make sure you use one of these, so that your chicken doesn’t go bad before you have a chance to cook it.

Start with HOT pan

When pan-frying make sure the oil is HOT. High temp is essential for a nice sear and caramelization.

image: chopped chicken breast pieces in a frying pan

Chicken Dinner Ideas

The part EVERYONE loves- delicious chicken recipes that you can add to that list of healthy dinner ideas you have going. I too, still get excited when I come across a new recipe that looks super tasty and 95% of the time it involves chicken. 

6 Ways to Cook Chicken + Oven Baked Chicken Tenders

If you want to know how to cook chicken, so it’s juicy, check out this post and recipe video to see how to bake it, cook it in a pan, and poach it!

  • Author: Laura Fuentes
  • Yield: 6 servings 1x
Scale

Ingredients

  • 1 and 1/4 pounds boneless skinless chicken tenders
  • 1/2 cup white flour
  • Salt & black pepper
  • 1 egg, whisked
  • 3 teaspoons minced garlic
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1/4 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 cup Panko breadcrumbs
  • 2/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 cup marinara sauce, for dipping

Instructions

  1. Trim the fat from the tenders.
  2. Preheat the oven to 400F and line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.
  3. Set out three medium bowls.
  4. In the first bowl combine the white flour, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Stir to combine.
  5. In the second bowl combine the whisked egg and minced garlic, stir.
  6. In the third bowl combine the basil, paprika, Panko, and parmesan cheese. Stir to combine.
  7. Place the tenders in the flour mixture, then the egg mixture, then the panko mixture making sure to evenly and thoroughly coat each piece.
  8. Place the tenders on the sheet pan leaving enough room between each tender to ensure even cooking.
  9. Place in the oven and bake for 15 minutes before flipping the tenders and cooking for another 5 to 8 minutes or until the internal temperature of the chicken reaches 165F.
  10. Remove and serve with marinara sauce.

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