Adding chicken to your dinner can be a great way to boost your healthy protein intake and avoid those added calories that manage to sneak into meals. However, if you’re one of many who finds themselves cooking chicken night after night, then you may quickly realize that poultry can get pretty boring. Odds are you’ve turned to nearly every spice in your cabinet and gone through almost every recipe you can find. And while most recipes promise juicy results, the outcomes are often far from it.
While we envision a juicy, tasty chicken dish, the reality is that even the most seasoned chefs experience this problem. To save you the hassle of cooking yet another dry, overcooked chicken plate, the following are 20 things you should avoid whenever you decide to try your hand at cooking a chicken dinner.
20. Using Low-Quality Meat
A chicken dish is only as good as the quality of the chicken. If you begin with factory-farmed frozen chicken, the probability that your chicken will taste dry is high. Whenever possible, try purchasing organic, free-range, and locally produced chicken from a fridge rather than a freezer.
19. Using Skinless Meat
De-boned and de-skinned chicken can seem like a simpler option to cook, but when it comes to chicken, tossing out the skin is essentially tossing out the flavor. If the fat from the chicken is what has you worried, worry not. Experts from the Harvard School of Public Health explain that these fats are healthy, unsaturated fats. Leaving the skin on the chicken allows the chicken to retain moisture and flavor.
18. Using Only Chicken Breasts
Chicken breasts are easy to find and easy to cook, and have been dubbed one of the best ways to eat chicken. But by limiting yourself to cooking breasts every time you decide to eat chicken, you’re missing out on a world of culinary flavor. Don’t be scared to experiment with other chicken parts like wings or legs. However, if you decide to explore new flavors and cuts of meat, don’t assume they’re all the same. Cooking strategies vary depending on the cut you’re using.
17. Washing Chicken
While it may sound like a good idea to rinse off chicken before cooking it, you might want to think again, as food safety rules maintain that this spreads contamination. Washing chicken spreads harmful bacteria onto your sink and countertops, not to mention yourself!
16. Not Drying the Chicken
Washing the chicken might not be the best thing to do, but drying it is! To achieve a golden crisp chicken, you must first begin by drying it. For best results, let the meat air-dry for a few hours in the fridge after taking it out of the packaging. Then remove it from the fridge and pat it dry with a paper towel before cooking it.Related: The 10 Dirtiest Foods You’re Eating
15. Thawing Chicken on the Counter
Decided to let the chicken thaw on the kitchen counter? Not good! Room temperatures provide a warm breeding ground for all sorts of harmful bacteria. Not to mention, the outside of the chicken thaws quicker than the inside, which makes the outside vulnerable to bacteria. To avoid this problem, opt to thaw the chicken overnight in the fridge. Or you can also place it in a plastic bag and submerge it in cold water.
14. Not Following Food Safety Practices
Food safety is just as important as taste, and in the spirit of cooking better food, you should always make sure that you never re-use a plate you placed raw chicken in. You should also avoid letting chicken rest on the counter. Instead, place the chicken in the fridge to marinate. And while this is common knowledge, we’ll go ahead say it anyway: be sure to always wash your hands before and immediately after handling raw meat.
13. Not Tenderizing Chicken
As we’ve all heard before, it’s critical to tenderize a steak before cooking, but tenderizing chicken before tossing it in the pan is just as important. Pounding chicken can help the meat cook in less time, and makes it easier to achieve an overall even cook. For best results, be sure the chicken breasts have an even thickness; aim for half an inch. Another great option is to butterfly the bird.Related: 11 Mouth-Watering Ways to Cook Chicken Breasts
12. Cooking Chicken Directly from the Fridge
Although we mentioned always to avoid letting chicken thaw on the kitchen counter, it is, however, a great idea to let it sit for about 15 minutes on the counter after taking it out of the fridge before cooking it. This will help ensure that both the inside and the outside of the chicken are about the same temperature, which will ultimately increase the chances of the chicken being cooked evenly.
11. Forgetting to Brine
We have all fallen victim to overcooking chicken at one point or another. Since we’re all obsessed with fully cooking the chicken, we end up cooking it too long. “This is where brining can save the day,” said Derek Wolf, fire cooking enthusiast and owner of Over the Fire Cooking. “Basically, what you do is soak your chicken in a blend of herbs, spices, sugar, water, and salt for a couple of hours to prevent over-cooking and to enhance flavor. Plus, it’s super simple. My favorite brine consists of Morton’s Coarse Kosher Salt, thyme, black pepper, sugar, and water.”
10. Overcrowding the Pan
“Ever found yourself with not enough space to cook the chicken breast? In a desperate attempt to speed up the process, you shove all the chicken into one skillet, hoping it all fits,” Wolf says. “What ends up happening is the meat cooks unevenly due to being overcrowded.” Not to mention, overcrowding the pan can cause the chicken to steam rather than get a nice brown sear. Luckily, there’s a great fix that can save your dinner. “When you run into space issues, make sure to give each piece of chicken enough room to cook. Meat needs the heat rising from all sides to fully cook. Just grab another skillet or wait for the chicken already cooking to finish,” says Wolf.
9. Not Checking the Temperature
When following recipes, we usually focus on the time needed to cook chicken. However, we often overlook the most important part–temperature. A meat thermometer is the only tool that can give you a true indication that the meat is fully cooked. Chicken should be cooked to 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
8. Not Stuffing the Chicken
A quick way to make sure your chicken ends up as dry as the desert is forgetting to stuff the cavity. “To add some extra moisture and flavor, cut a lemon, onion, or even an apple in chunks and place it in the cavity along with a sprig or two of herbs or bay leaves. As the chicken roasts, these aromatics will release moisture and flavor,” said Claudia Sidoti, head chef and recipe developer at HelloFresh. “Just remember to remove the stuffing before carving.”
7. Carving the Chicken Immediately
Patience is a virtue. And while cooking chicken when you’re hungry can seem to take forever, by forgetting to apply patience, you can ruin a perfectly roasted chicken. “Don’t rush to carve that chicken right after you’ve taken it out of the oven. Not only is it too hot to handle, but letting it rest for about 15 minutes will allow the juices time to redistribute,” says Sidoti.
6. Being Impatient
“When grilling chicken, finding the right time to flip is essential!” said Wolf. “If you flip too early, then you end up ripping off the top layer of the caramelized meat. The best way to prevent this is twofold: First, use a clean grilling surface. When cooking chicken, make sure that the residue from the previous cooking session is cleaned off, which will prevent the chicken from sticking. Secondly, wait for the chicken to release naturally. When you first place the meat on the grill, it will stick from the heat, but after a while, it will slowly form an outer crusted layer. This layer will release from a clean grill grate at the right time. Just wait for it.”
5. Moving Chicken in the Pan
Constantly moving the chicken around in the pan is similar to pressing the elevator button frequently: it will get you nowhere real fast. “If you want a nice sear, try not to move the chicken for about 5 to 7 minutes once in the pan. If the chicken is sticking, it’s probably not ready and won’t be golden brown. Also, try to avoid over-flipping. Turn it once and don’t touch again for an additional 5 to 7 minutes. Again, the goal is a golden brown color on each side,” said Sidoti.
4. Cooking a Whole Breast
Chicken breasts are pretty thick, and when you try to cook an uneven chicken it will cook at different rates, which can leave you with overcooked chicken at one end and undercooked at the other. To avoid this problem, try doing two things. The first is to butterfly your breast. Take a sharp knife at the middle of the meat and begin to cut down the breast until you’ve cut it in half. The second option is to pound the breast meat until it’s even.
3. Eating Meat Right When It’s Cooked
Chicken is cooked to perfection when it’s at 165 degrees Fahrenheit. This is the perfect time to remove the chicken from the stove and set it on your plate. One thing is important to note: while chicken may look ready enough to eat, it’s important to let it sit after being taken off the stovetop for approximately 15 minutes to allow the juices and moisture to redistribute properly.
2. Improperly Storing Leftovers
You’ve cooked an incredible chicken dinner and have some left over, so naturally you bring out the Tupperware for tomorrow’s lunch. One suggestion: Avoid tossing the leftovers into some Pyrex and cramming the container into the first open space you see in the fridge. Instead, store the chicken on the lowest shelf in the fridge. Since cold air sinks, the lowest part of the fridge will be cooler than the higher shelves.
1. Throwing Bones Away
If you decided to try bone-in-chicken, it might seem reasonable to throw those bones in the garbage, but don’t! You will miss out on the great opportunity to repurpose the bones into delicious and nutritious bone broth. Bone broth can help improve nutrient absorption, relieve joint and cartilage pain, and can even help cure a hangover!Related: CDC Report Finds Chicken Is Most Likely to Make You Sick