Chicken is wonderfully versatile -- it can be plated in whole pieces, shredded and stuffed into tacos, or sliced into pieces and placed on top of salads. Whichever way you serve it, making sure it stays moist and tender isn’t hard if you know the secret.
Roasting to Perfection
Roasting is time-honored and easy, especially for new cooks, and produces juicy chicken every time as long as you pay attention to time and temperature. You want to start with a good temperature for roasting—350 degrees lets it cook relatively low and slow, the key to a tender bird. Always preheat your oven for at least 10 minutes before you start cooking so it doesn’t stay in the oven longer than it needs to.
Set the timer. Chicken needs to cook for about 20 minutes for every pound of meat. Keep the pan uncovered while it cooks so the skin gets a nice, golden brown color and crisps up. Invest in a baster and use it every 20 minutes to pour juices over the top of the bird. If you layer the bottom of the pan with onions, carrots and celery, the moisture and flavor that comes out of those vegetables will help season and moisten the chicken.
The Most Important Tool
“Cook it ‘til the juices run clear.” “Cook it until you pull the leg off easily.” This is not the best way to cook meat, especially if you are new to the kitchen. Professional chefs rely on thermometers and you should as well. Get yourself a kitchen thermometer. They’re cheap, easy to use, and the only way you’re going to know for sure when your chicken is safe to eat.
To use, simply stick the probe into the breast meat and push until it’s about halfway through. If you’ve hit bone, you’ve gone too far. Read the gauge. Chicken needs to cook to 165 degrees, but, as we are about to find out, it doesn’t have to stay in the oven the entire time to reach that temperature.
A Good Trick
One of the most important ways to ensure that you’re getting juicy chicken is to not overcook it. It’s true, you want to cook a chicken to a safe cooking temperature of 165 degrees, but there is no need to blast it with ridiculously high heat for hours on end. That will kill any chance you have of tender meat no matter what you brine, marinate or slather it with beforehand.
So here’s the thing. Pull the chicken out of the oven when its 10 degrees undercooked, yes…undercooked, and let it rest in the pan for 10 to 15 minutes. Don’t cut into it, don’t carve it up. You can cover it lightly with foil if you like, but let it just sit there.
Here’s what happens—the chicken continues to cook as it rests. This resting period allows the meat to come up to the right temperature and gives the juices that have been pulled into the center of the bird while it was in the oven time to redistribute to the surface of the meat. Too many people pull the chicken out of the oven and start hacking into it right away—don't be one of those people. Be someone who knows how to cook juicy chicken. You can do it!