Don’t let dry chicken ruin your dinner – follow these tips for a moist and flavorful bird every time.
We’ve all been there: you spend hours marinating and prepping your chicken, carefully follow the recipe, and yet somehow, it still turns out dry and overcooked.
Sounds familiar? It’s a common problem, but the good news is that you’re the right place — a few simple tricks can help you ensure that your chicken stays moist and tender every time, and by the time you’re done reading this article, you’ll know them all.
Don’t Overcook the Chicken
First and foremost, it’s important to make sure you’re not overcooking your chicken. A meat thermometer is your best friend in this situation — aim for an internal temperature of 165°F (74°C) at the thickest part of the bird or cut.
According to the USDA, this is the internal temperature at which the chicken’s tender and the bacteria in it won’t kill you (or make you sick). Since overcooking is the number one reason chicken turns out dry, keeping an eye on that meat thermometer’s the number one way to prevent it.
Tip: Get that meat thermometer handy and use it to test doneness when you suspect that the chicken’s right about done.
Don’t Use Too High a Heat
Another mistake that a lot of home cooks make is using too high a heat when cooking chicken. It’s understandable — we all want to get dinner on the table as quickly as possible, and turning up the heat seems like a good way to do it. But unfortunately, this can lead to dry, overcooked chicken.
The key to tender, juicy chicken is low and slow cooking. L-o-w a-n-d s-l-o-w. Using medium-high heat on the stovetop or baking at 350°F (180°C) in the oven is a great rule of thumb to follow. This allows the chicken to cook evenly and gradually, ensuring that the center’s cooked while the crust stays moist and tender.
Tip: The next time you’re cooking chicken, remember to keep the heat at a moderate level to achieve the best results.
Cooking It In Liquid Won’t Help
One myth about cooking chicken is that cooking it in a liquid — like generously salted water or broth — will always help keep it moist. While it’s true that cooking with moist heat, also known as boiling, can help keep chicken moist, it’s important to remember that, in moist-heat cooking, heat is still a factor. And as we all know, heat causes moisture loss.
If you overcook your chicken while it’s boiling, it will still turn out dry and overcooked. It’s important to pay attention to the internal temperature of the chicken and make sure it’s not being overcooked.
Tip: As a cooking method, boiling can still dry out your chicken. Keep tabs on the temperature and remove it from the pot before it’s too tough.
For Juicy Chicken, Do This
Here’s the secret to perfectly juicy chicken every time: dry-brine it for one hour.
All you have to do is salt the meat, refrigerate it for an hour, and then remove it from the fridge 15 minutes before cooking to bring it up to room temperature. This helps to season the chicken and keep it moist as it cooks.
Next, boil the chicken in salty water (a pinch or two of sea salt will do) for 5 to 8 minutes (the bigger the pieces, the longer the boiling time). This helps to cook the chicken evenly and ensures that it stays moist.
Preheat a frying pan with a drizzle or two of cooking oil over medium-high heat. Pat the chicken pieces dry with a paper towel to prevent the oil in the pan from splattering. Then, sear the chicken until it’s golden brown on all sides and the internal temperature is correct.
Why two steps, you asked?
Because boiling the chicken dries it out less, but searing it adds aroma and flavor, and creates that crispy, golden brown crust we all love.
Finally, let the chicken rest for 3 minutes before serving. This allows the juices to settle in the poultry, ensuring that every bite is as juicy as it gets.
What if it’s a whole bird?
First, dry-brine your chicken for at least an hour (but ideally, for a few hours). This will help to season the meat and keep it moist as it cooks. Next, slow-roast the bird at 350°F (180°C). No need to baste the bird or fiddle with it in any way — let the heat of the oven work its magic.
The chicken will cook to perfection and will be done when it reaches the correct internal temperature on the inside.
What’s All the Talk About Meat Thermometers?
Now, don’t get me wrong — a meat thermometer is an incredibly useful tool when it comes to cooking chicken. It’s the only way to ensure that your chicken is cooked to the proper temperature, which is essential for both food safety and achieving tender, juicy meat.
But that doesn’t mean you have to be running around the kitchen with a thermometer in your hand at all times. As you try out different recipes and get a feel for the heat level and cooking times that work best for your equipment, you can leave the thermometer in the cabinet and still cook delicious chicken.
The key is to pay attention to the chicken as it cooks. Once you know the approximate heat level and cooking times, look for visual cues like the color of the meat and the juices running off of it. And don’t be afraid to slice into the chicken to take a peek at the inside — a little bit of experience and practice will go a long way in helping you cook chicken that’s full of flavor.
Well, there you have it.
A few simple tricks that will help you cook juicy, flavorful chicken every time. By dry brining your chicken, using a moderate heat, and cooking it with a combination of boiling and searing, you’ll be able to achieve perfect results every time.
And while a meat thermometer is a useful tool, especially in the beginning, it’s not always necessary — with a little bit of experience and practice, you’ll be able to cook chicken that’s tender and safe to eat without having to rely on it.