How to Cook Chicken: A Guide to Preparing America's Favorite Bird

What’s for dinner? If you’re anything like us, the answer is probably chicken.

Endlessly versatile, widely available, and relatively inexpensive, chicken is an undefeated mealtime MVP (Most Valuable Protein) — provided you know how to cook it.

Whether you’re searing off a few boneless, skinless breasts for a week of desk lunches or roasting a whole bird for a dinner party, this guide is here to help. Read on for Blue Apron’s chicken cooking basics, a breakdown of six of our favorite methods, and a bunch of tips and tricks. We’ve also included a handful of our favorite chicken recipes, encompassing a variety of delicious cuisines and techniques

Getting started

Regardless of the cut or cooking method you plan to use, the first step is to pat your chicken dry with paper towels. Eliminating any moisture keeps the chicken from steaming when you cook it, and helps it to achieve an even browning.

A note on washing chicken before cooking it: Don’t do it! Ever. Seriously. Running raw chicken under water aids the spread of bacteria on your hands, workspace, sink, and tools.

If your recipe calls for pounding your chicken into a thin layer (for example, for katsu or chicken marsala), tackle that project here.

How to pound chicken
To create thin pieces that cook quickly and evenly, place the chicken between two sheets of plastic wrap or lay them flat inside a resealable plastic blag. Using the bottom of a heavy pan, flat meat mallet, or even a rolling pin, pound to ¼-inch thickness.

Next, season your chicken. While a spice blend or rub can impart a lot of flavor (and some color) on your chicken, all you really need is freshly ground black pepper and kosher salt— and probably more of the latter than you think.

Finally, if your cooking method of choice calls for breading your chicken (it’s the secret ingredient for schnitzel or chicken milanese) now is the time.

How to bread chicken
Evenly and thoroughly coat your chicken by creating a mini assembly line for yourself. Place flour and breadcrumbs on two separate large plates. Crack an egg into a large bowl and beat until smooth. Working one piece at a time — using one hand for the wet steps and one hand for the dry — coat the chicken in the flour (shaking off any excess), then in the egg (letting the excess drip off), then in the breadcrumbs. Press to adhere.

But preparing your meat is only half the battle. Before you can cook your chicken, make sure your pan or oven is ready to roll. If searing, heat a few teaspoons of olive oil in a pan on medium-high until hot. Don’t add your chicken until the oil is thin and shimmery; you should hear a sizzle immediately when the meat hits the pan. If baking or roasting, check the recipe and preheat your oven accordingly.

The FDA recommends an internal temperature of 165°F for chicken, regardless of the cut or cooking method. Test by inserting an instant-read thermometer into the thickest part of the chicken.

Searing

A quick and simple way to cook chicken, searing means browning your cut on all sides in a hot pan. When seared, smaller pieces (like breasts and thighs) can cook all the way through; larger cuts, like legs, can be seared on all sides to achieve a perfect golden brown exterior before being transferred to a braising pot or into the oven to cook the rest of the way.

Breast or thigh
Precise cook times will vary based on the size and thickness of your chicken pieces, but in general, expect to sear your breast or thigh 4 to 7 minutes per side. If you’re cooking skin-on chicken, start with the skin-side down in the pan and occasionally press with the back of your spatula to ensure an evenly crisp exterior.

RECIPE: Balsamic-Glazed Chicken Thighs with Goat Cheese Mashed Potatoes & Broccoli

Baking or roasting

The oven is your friend when it comes to hands-free chicken cooking, from boneless skinless breasts to the whole dang bird. Use a baking dish or sheet pan to cook your chicken all the way through (a crispy coating gets even crispier thanks to this method) or for just a few minutes at the very end to give your dish its finishing touch, like a blanket of melted cheese.

Breast or thigh
While precise cook times will vary, Blue Apron recommends baking or roasting boneless chicken breasts or thighs for 18 to 22 minutes at 450°F — on the shorter end if you’re cooking the chicken by itself, and on the higher end if you have something else sharing the pan, like vegetables. Lining your baking sheet with foil helps keep everything from sticking.

If you’re using a skin-on cut, be sure to place your chicken skin-side up on the sheet pan, to keep it from getting soggy. For extra crispy skin, sear your pieces skin-side down in a hot skillet for a few minutes before placing them skin-side up on the sheet pan.

RECIPE: Creamy Mustard Baked Chicken with Potato Wedges and Spiced Yogurt Dipping Sauce

A note on bones
Cooking a cut of chicken that includes bones means the end result is more likely to be juicy and flavorful — but it does require more time! Add a few minutes to your cook time, and use an instant-read thermometer to check for doneness.

RECIPE: Mozzarella & Tomato Baked Chicken with Garlic Parmesan Rolls

Whole
A whole roast chicken is a stunner of a dish, and not nearly as difficult to make at home as you might think. The simple, classic recipe we turn to again and again (linked below!) calls for cooking a fully room-temperature, very dry chicken — rubbed with olive oil and seasoned generously with salt and pepper — for 65 minutes at 475°F. Don’t forget to rest the finished bird for at least 20 minutes before carving!

RECIPE: Simple Roast Chicken

Grilling

Nothing says summer like grilled chicken. Whether you’re lighting up a backyard barbecue or heating a grill pan in the comfort of your kitchen, the subtle smoky flavor that a bit of char imparts lends a whole new depth of flavor to your favorite dishes. A few tips to nail this technique: Make sure your grill is hot before adding your chicken, and once you do, don’t fuss with it! For picture-perfect grill marks (on chicken, definitely, but also any other protein or grill-able food), only move your cut once, to flip it.

RECIPE: Grilled Chicken Breasts with Brown Butter Rice & Marinated Tomatoes

Breast or thigh
Preheat your grill to medium-high; clean and oil the grates. If you’ve marinated your meat, let any excess drip off before transferring it to the grill. Cook your boneless chicken breasts or thighs 5 to 8 minutes per side, depending on their size, or until browned and cooked through.

Braising

RECIPE: Moroccan Braised Chicken Legs with Couscous & Currants

A technique that involves cooking meat or vegetables in flavorful liquid at a low temperature, braising is a great way to cook larger and thicker cuts of chicken, like whole legs or bone-on breasts or thighs. To ensure that your braised chicken looks as good as it tastes — especially if you’re using a skin-on variety — sear the pieces first, just to brown their outsides. Don’t worry about cooking the chicken through, as that will happen during the low-and-slow time in the pot.

Bone-in breasts, thighs, or legs
While the exact searing and braising times will vary from cut to cut (and depend on how many you cook at once), be sure to sear your chicken pieces until just nicely browned on all sides before transferring to a plate. If you can do this directly in your braising pot, thereby leaving a bunch of flavorful fond for the aromatics, vegetables, and braising liquid to pick up, all the better! Nestle your chicken (skin-side up, if applicable) into the cooking liquid, then cover and cook about 40 to 55 minutes.

Poaching

While poached chicken has a bad rap for being bland health food, when made with highly seasoned and flavorful cooking liquid, it can easily be the highlight of any meal. Stud your base with punchy aromatics, herbs, spices, and plenty of salt,

RECIPE: Ginger Poached Chicken & Congee with Spicy Marinated Cucumbers

Boneless, skinless breasts
Starting with cold poaching liquid means your poached chicken will be tender and flavorful, rather than tough. Be sure there is enough liquid to cover the chicken, then bring the mixture slowly to a simmer over medium heat (which will take about 10 to 15 minutes). Reduce the heat to low and cook 13 to 15 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through (when pierced with a knife in its thickest part, the juices should run clear).

Frying

Fried chicken is decadent and, when done right, equal parts crispy and juicy. Deep frying may seem like the kind of thing to be left to the professionals, but with a thermometer and a killer brine recipe (we have one! linked below) in hand, you’ll be surprised how easy it is to recreate restaurant-level fried chicken at home.

RECIPE: Fried Chicken with Spicy Honey

Dark meat
Any part of the chicken can be fried, but we prefer to use dark meat pieces, such as thighs and drumsticks, for maximum flavor. In our favorite recipe, we marinate our chicken pieces in buttermilk to help tenderize the meat, then double dredge and fry them in 350°F oil for 9 to 14 minutes. Separating your chicken into small batches of like-sized pieces ensures that they’ll cook evenly and finish at the same time.


Recipes we love

Balsamic-Glazed Chicken Thighs with Goat Cheese Mashed Potatoes & Broccoli
Creamy Mustard Baked Chicken with Potato Wedges and Spiced Yogurt Dipping Sauce
Mozzarella & Tomato Baked Chicken with Garlic Parmesan Rolls
Simple Roast Chicken
Grilled Chicken Breasts with Brown Butter Rice & Marinated Tomatoes
Blackened Cajun Chicken with Creamy Farro & Corn
Moroccan Braised Chicken Legs with Couscous & Currants
Ginger Poached Chicken & Congee with Spicy Marinated Cucumbers
Fried Chicken with Spicy Honey