38 top tips for perfectly cooked chicken

Steps to perfect chicken



Chicken is one of the most versatile and popular ingredients – and it's also one of the easiest meats to get wrong when it comes to cooking, whether that means dry, overcooked roast chicken or fried chicken with a soggy, flabby coating. While you may have your tried and tested techniques, ensure you’re making the most of the meat by checking out our top tips, from roasting and grilling to making the best hot wings.

Buy good quality chicken

<p>Africa Studio/Shutterstock</p>

Africa Studio/Shutterstock

It doesn’t matter how you cook the meat, low-quality chicken will compromise on taste and the animals' welfare. Check where the meat came from and how it was raised – free range is best. If you're buying packaged or frozen chicken breasts, check the ingredients to ensure they're not pumped with water to make them appear better value by weight.

Leave the skin on

<p>Marian Weyo/Shutterstock</p>

Marian Weyo/Shutterstock

Bones and skin help keep meat moist as it cooks. Chicken breast in particular cooks much better with skin because, as there's so little fat, it needs all the help it can get to retain moisture. If you don’t like the taste of the skin (or want to lower the calorie count), peel it off once it’s cooked. It will make all the difference.

Give thighs a go

<p>Sea Wave/Shutterstock</p>

Sea Wave/Shutterstock

They might be slightly fattier, but chicken thighs are full of flavour. The dark meat is easier to keep moist during cooking and much more resilient if you leave a dish in the oven a little too long. Better still, as thighs remain less popular than chicken breasts, they're likely to offer better value for money.

Use plenty of salt



Chicken benefits from ample seasoning to enhance its flavour. Don't just salt chicken once it's cooked, but before as this will help the skin crisp and ensure it’s flavoured throughout. This is especially important if you're roasting a whole chicken where you should be sure to season the cavity too.

Experiment with big flavours

<p>Brent Hofacker/Shutterstock</p>

Brent Hofacker/Shutterstock

From breasts to thighs, almost every cut of chicken works well when paired with bold flavours. You can't go wrong with lemon and herbs such as thyme, rosemary and sage. Sticky honey-mustard sauces add a gentle kick. Plus, there's no end to the ways you can ramp up the heat, whether you prefer the smoky taste of harissa or powerful jerk seasoning.

Pat it dry

<p>AS Food studio/Shutterstock</p>

AS Food studio/Shutterstock

Before you season chicken, remove excess moisture from the surface by patting it with a paper towel. This will help the outside brown up, giving you better flavour and crispier skin.

For more tips check out Julia Child's advice for cooking chicken

Marinade for maximum impact



Marinades help to tenderise meat and pack in flavour. Even twenty minutes makes a difference and a couple of hours is more than enough as acidic ingredients such as lemon, buttermilk, yogurt and vinegar start to affect the meat's texture.

Get the recipe for tandoori chicken marinade here

Always preheat the pan

<p>Kolpakova Svetlana/Shutterstock</p>

Kolpakova Svetlana/Shutterstock

Another trick to get beautiful crispy skin when frying chicken is to ensure the pan and oil are hot before you add the meat. The skin won't crisp if it heats slowly while the pan warms. A light vegetable oil is best for frying – you can always add extra flavour with a drizzle of olive oil before you serve.

Don't overcrowd the meat



Cramming chicken into a pan doesn’t make it cook faster when you're frying. Doing this actually traps the heat under the meat, creating steam and preventing the chicken from browning. If you're cooking large volumes, it's best to fry chicken in batches to ensure all pieces are evenly cooked.

Cook breasts with a heavy grill pan



If you're cooking whole chicken breasts and want to get restaurant-quality results, ditch your favourite frying pan in exchange for a heavy grill pan. The ridges will add colour, transforming your finished dish from bland to beautiful.

Leave it to cook



When shallow-frying or grilling, turning chicken too often prevents it from browning and a crispy skin forming, which in turn seals in flavour and moisture. Allow the chicken plenty of time to cook before flipping it. A sign it isn’t ready is the spatula won’t slide under the meat easily.

Poach chicken in stock



Poaching chicken might be a healthy option, but it can lead to bland and dry meat. If you decide to poach, ensure you're adding as much flavour as possible. The best way to do this is by using a good poaching liquid: chicken stock with onions, peppercorns and bay leaves is a simple option.

Try a chicken tray bake for a low-effort dinner

<p>Elena Veselova/Shutterstock</p>

Elena Veselova/Shutterstock

Looking for a no-fuss chicken recipe you can prep in advance and don't need to watch while it cooks? The answer is a tray bake. Load chicken breasts with the Italian flavours of taleggio soft cheese, pesto and basil, and surround with cherry tomatoes and small cubes of potato for a sophisticated but simple dinner.

Get the recipe for chicken, pesto, Italian cheese and tomato tray bake here

Bake chicken in foil

<p>Africa Studio/Shutterstock</p>

Africa Studio/Shutterstock

Another way to keep chicken breasts super moist is to individually wrap pieces in foil parcels, ideally with a light sauce. A little chicken stock, olive oil and lemon juice or white wine works wonders or you could go sauce-free as the foil alone helps to seal in moisture.

Wrap it in Parma ham

<p>Kamila i Wojtek Cyganek/Shutterstock</p>

Kamila i Wojtek Cyganek/Shutterstock

Another great way to seal in flavour and moisture is to stuff chicken breasts with a soft cheese, then wrap them in bacon or Parma ham. Perfect for a fancy dinner, it looks impressive but couldn't be easier.

Get the recipe for Parma ham-wrapped chicken here

Don't be intimidated by a whole chicken

<p>Waitrose & Partners/loveFOOD</p>

Waitrose & Partners/loveFOOD

A whole roast chicken is great for feeding a family or if you want leftovers for the week. Get the skin crispy by rubbing it with olive oil or softened butter before it goes in the oven and be generous with your seasoning. Add spices such as ground ginger and smoked paprika, plus a squeeze of lemon, to give it a twist – this combination pairs well with ginger mayonnaise.

Get the recipe for roast chicken with ginger mayonnaise here

Cook stuffing in a separate dish

<p>Brent Hofacker/Shutterstock</p>

Brent Hofacker/Shutterstock

While it’s the perfect addition to a roast, it’s best to cook stuffing in a separate pan instead of inside the cavity. Not only will it prevent the chicken from cooking evenly and slow down cooking times, it may not be done by the time the chicken is ready.

Let roast chicken rest before carving

<p>AS Food studio/Shutterstock</p>

AS Food studio/Shutterstock

Cutting the meat straight after a chicken comes out of the oven will release the juices and dry the chicken out. A whole chicken should be left to sit, wrapped in tin foil, for around 15 minutes before it’s carved.

Set aside time to make fried chicken

<p>JD Spears/Shutterstock</p>

JD Spears/Shutterstock

Nothing beats homemade fried chicken – but the process takes time. If you want to get perfectly crispy but tender Southern-style wings and drumsticks, set aside a day to marinate the meat and make them properly. A quick coating of flour and a few minutes of frying just won't cut it.

Use a meat mallet to make pieces even



If you're cooking chicken breasts that aren’t evenly sized, they won't cook evenly. To prevent this, pound them with a meat mallet or rolling pin. Not only will it make them flat, it will help them to cook faster. This technique is great for shallow-fried dishes such as chicken schnitzel. Covering the chicken in cling film (plastic wrap) before thinning them will prevent any germs from spreading around the kitchen too.

Get the recipe for herb and hazelnut crusted chicken schnitzel here

Use buttermilk to tenderise chicken



Before cooking chicken, marinate the meat in buttermilk to make it ultra-juicy. Two hours is enough time to make a difference. Then coat it in a mix of flour, cayenne pepper, garlic powder, salt and pepper and bake it in the oven for a healthy take on a chicken burger.

Get the recipe for oven-baked chicken burgers here

Choose the right coating

<p>Brent Hofacker/Shutterstock</p>

Brent Hofacker/Shutterstock

The jury's out on the perfect fried chicken coating. Some cooks swear by breadcrumbs, a few include cornflour and others opt for plain flour liberally seasoned with herbs and spices. Whether or not you dunk the chicken in egg before you coat it is also controversial. Ultimately, it's a matter of personal taste.

Get the recipe for Korean-style fried chicken here

Get the oil hot enough

<p>KIRATIYA KUMKAEW/Shutterstock</p>


The key to frying chicken perfectly is the oil temperature. You want the oil to be very hot, about 180°C (360°F), when you first put the chicken in. For best results, the oil should remain between 150°C to 160°C (300°F to 325°F). This temperature range will cook the chicken through without burning the crust. (When frying at home make sure your pan is only one-third full of oil).

Don't use paper towels

<p>Unique Shutter/Shutterstock</p>

Unique Shutter/Shutterstock

Avoid using paper towels to drain fried chicken because they create steam which can make the chicken soggy. The best way to drain fried chicken is to place it on a wire cooling rack over a baking sheet.

Avoid the microwave



There's an easy way to ruin leftover fried chicken: reheating it in the microwave. Although microwaving chicken will make it safe to eat, it will also make the coating soggy. Reheat it in the oven on a high heat for about 20 minutes to keep it crispy.

Give homemade nuggets a go



Think you can't make your favourite fast food order at home? Think again. Homemade nuggets can be just as crispy and delicious. Cut your chicken into bite-sized chunks, coat in seasoned flour, egg and breadcrumbs, then fry in vegetable oil for around eight minutes.

Make naked nuggets

<p>ILEISH ANNA/Shutterstock</p>

ILEISH ANNA/Shutterstock

For a healthier option, try making Indian-spiced chicken nuggets that are coating-free. They use flavourful chicken thigh blended in a food processer and are fried with just a spray of cooking oil.

Get the recipe for Indian spiced chicken nuggets here

Clean your grill

<p>Arina P Habich/Shutterstock</p>

Arina P Habich/Shutterstock

No barbecue is complete without juicy, smoky chicken – and there's no end to the recipes you can try. But before you start, it's important to get your grill in good order. It may look clean, but you might be surprised how much residue can build up. So give it a once over so you don't compromise your chicken's flavour and the meat doesn't stick to the shelf.

For more great grilling tips check out these famous chefs' barbecue secrets

Have a go at beer-can chicken

<p>scott conner/Shutterstock</p>

scott conner/Shutterstock

Forget about drumsticks and wings for a moment, you need to try this great method for barbecuing a whole chicken. After seasoning, place a half-empty can of beer in the cavity and put it on the grill. This will keep the meat succulent as it cooks. It should take around an hour and a half on a preheated, closed-lid barbecue at about 175°C (347°F).

Get the recipe for beer can chicken here

Spatchcock for quicker cooking

<p>Food52 Any Night Grilling/Ten Speed Press</p>

Food52 Any Night Grilling/Ten Speed Press

Whether you're cooking on the grill or in the oven, a spatchcocked chicken will speed up the cooking time. This means the bird has had its backbone removed and is flat – you can ask your butcher to do this. If your grill doesn't have a lid, this will be particularly helpful to ensure your meat cooks through.

Get the recipe for spatchcocked chicken with green beans here

Avoid charred chicken



Cooking chicken (particularly smaller pieces such as wings) over direct heat can cause the meat to burn, sometimes charring the outside of the chicken while the inside remains completely rare. There are two ways to avoid this: keep the heat steady and if you're using a sugary barbecue sauce or sticky teriyaki sauce only baste the meat towards the end of the cooking time.

Make a blue cheese dip for Buffalo wings

<p>Brent Hofacker/Shutterstock</p>

Brent Hofacker/Shutterstock

You can't beat a spicy Buffalo wing, but it's all too easy to be a little generous on the chilli as you baste. A classic blue cheese dip is a great way to cool things down.

Get the recipe for Buffalo chicken wings with blue cheese dip here

Don't ignore chicken livers



Chicken livers are one of the few remaining cheap meats and they can be delicious if prepared correctly. Just don't overcook them or they will become bitter-tasting and grainy. If you're not sure where to start, try creamy chicken livers and mushrooms on toast.

Get the recipe for livers and mushrooms on toast here

Check out vegan alternatives

<p>Brent Hofacker/Shutterstock</p>

Brent Hofacker/Shutterstock

Who says a great chicken dish has to contain chicken? Chicken substitutes such as seitan (made from wheat gluten), Quorn and tofu are great alternatives. In dishes like fried chicken and waffles, a chicken burger or nuggets you can barely notice the difference.

Get the recipe for vegan chicken and waffles here

Store chicken safely



However you cook chicken, remember to store it and cook it safely. When buying fresh chicken, check it has been kept refrigerated and is well-sealed. At home, store raw meat separately from other chilled goods to avoid any risk of cross-contaminating food that's ready to eat.

Don't cook it from frozen

<p>vi mart/Shutterstock</p>

vi mart/Shutterstock

Chicken shouldn’t be cooked from frozen. It's best to defrost it in the refrigerator overnight or microwave it on low to defrost immediately before cooking.

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Don't rinse chicken

<p>ben bryant/Shutterstock</p>

ben bryant/Shutterstock

The belief rinsing chicken before cooking it kills germs isn’t true. In fact, it actually spreads them. When you wash chicken you run the risk of splashing contaminated water onto work surfaces and clean cooking equipment.

Make sure it's fully cooked

<p>AS Food studio/Shutterstock</p>

AS Food studio/Shutterstock

It's never safe to serve chicken rare. Always ensure the juices run clear and the breast meat is an even white colour or use a thermometer to check the internal temperature has reached 75°C (165°F).

Now check out these quick and easy chicken dinners the family will love