- INSIDER spoke with two chefs about the most common mistakes people make when cooking chicken.
- When preparing chicken, you should never wash it or rinse it with water as this can lead to the spread of potentially harmful bacteria.
- You should avoid overcrowding your pan when you cook chicken and you should always season your meat.
- Visit INSIDER’s homepage for more stories.
Chicken can be easy to cook, affordable, and healthy, making it a popular ingredient for many home chefs. But even though it is seemingly a no-fuss dinner item, chicken can become tough, dry, and bland if you don’t prepare it quite right.
INSIDER spoke with Claudia Sidoti, principal chef at HelloFresh, and Christina Ferrari, the chef at and owner of the Shoreline Lake Boathouse & American Bistro in Mountain View, California, about some cooking faux pas that could ruin any poultry dish.
Here are some common mistakes you could be making when preparing chicken and what you should do instead.
You’re not completely drying chicken off before you cook it
Although it’s easy to take raw chicken out of the fridge and throw it directly into a frying pan, you may want to pat it dry with a paper towel before you cook it.
“If you correctly pat the chicken dry prior to cooking, you will get a crispier skin,” Sidoti told INSIDER, adding that the goal of drying the chicken is to “reduce the chicken’s overall moisture content. If the chicken is not dry, it will release more moisture while cooking.”
If any moisture in the chicken seeps out into the pan, the chicken will steam. The chicken will still cook, but it likely won’t get very crispy.
Before you cook the chicken, you wash it or rinse it
Many people make the mistake of washing their chicken before cooking it, thinking that this will rid the meat of bacteria. This isn’t the case.
“Washing raw chicken before cooking can increase your risk of food poisoning from bacteria,” Sidoti told INSIDER. “Washing raw chicken can also spread bacteria to hands, countertops, and cooking utensils.”
Fortunately, cooking poultry will generally kill any bacteria that may be on it.
You’re not using enough seasoning
When it comes to seasoning chicken, a pinch of salt and pepper usually isn’t enough. Seasoning the meat adds flavour and some ingredients, like salt, can act as a brine, keeping chicken moist, said Sidoti.
She said she usually uses 1 tablespoon of Kosher-style salt to season an entire 4-pound to 5-pound bird. She said she also rubs a combination of spices (like minced garlic, rosemary, sage, and thyme) all over the bird.
Per Sidoti, it’s best to let the chicken marinate in seasoning for a few hours before you cook it.
You’re over-marinating your poultry with acidic ingredients, which can toughen up your meat
Sidoti said that acidicmarinades can toughen meat up over time, so you shouldn’t have your poultry soaking in them for longer than two hours. Some popular acidic marinade ingredients include vinegar, beer, and citrus juices.
To really allow the flavours to soak in during that time period, Sidoti said you may want to pierce small holes in your chicken or cut it into smaller pieces so it can more effectively absorb the marinade.
She said she suggests you marinate your chicken in a sealed, plastic bag to better distribute the flavours.
You don’t pound your meat, even if it has an uneven thickness
Although there’s nothing wrong with cooking chicken just as you bought it from the store, it’s best to work with a piece of meat that has even thickness.
“You want to achieve an even thickness so the flavours from the seasoning are absorbed more evenly. [This will also ensure] the internal and external cooking temperatures are more consistent,” Ferrari told INSIDER.
Using a meat cleaver, you can pound chicken until its thickness is uniform throughout.
You’re poaching your chicken incorrectly, causing it to become tough and bland
Some people accidentally boil chicken instead of poaching it, which can lead to tough, bland chicken.
“Poaching is a nice way to keep chicken moist and tender while also keeping it healthy,” Sidoti told INSIDER. “This is a great technique for cooking chicken for salads and grain bowls.”
Sidoti said she poaches chicken in an even layer in a pot with 1 1/2 inches of cold water that’s seasoned with either bay leaf, thyme, or peppercorns. Then, she said she places the pot on medium heat until the water begins to simmer. She said she then lowers the heat and cooks the chicken until an internal cooking thermometer reads 165 degrees Fahrenheit. She said the chicken should be served immediately after it is poached.
When you cook your chicken, you’re crowding the pan
It might seem like a time-saving hack to pile raw pieces of chicken into a frying pan, but it could lead to some poorly cooked poultry.
“If you crowd the pan, the breasts won’t brown as nicely or cook evenly,” Sidoti said. If the chicken pieces don’t all have the same access to the pan’s surface area, you can even end up with raw chicken.
Instead, be patient and cook a few pieces of chicken at a time or use a larger pan.
You’re not using a poultry thermometer
Chicken should be cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit – this is a food-safety guideline, not just a culinary preference. Many home chefs only rely on recipe cooking times, but using a meat thermometer can be safer and more accurate.
“To ensure accuracy, a meat thermometer will provide you with the correct temperature, so you don’t overcook and dry out your meat or get sick from undercooked meat,” Ferrari told INSIDER. She said you’ll want to insert the thermometer at the thickest part of the bird, making sure you are not touching bone.
You’re thawing your chicken by leaving it on your counter, which can potentially be dangerous
You should avoid thawing poultry on your kitchen counter as room-temperature chicken can become a breeding ground for harmful bacteria.
The best way to thaw frozen chicken is overnight and in the refrigerator. But, if you are in a hurry, Ferrari said you should “seal the chicken in a plastic bag (removing the air as you seal it) and submerge it in cold water. Make sure the chicken stays submerged, and change out the water frequently so it remains cold.”
She said the water needs to stay well below room temperature to avoid the development of the aforementioned bacteria. Defrosting chicken in a bag in water will also ensure that the exterior and interior of your chicken evenly thaws.
After you cook the poultry, you’re not letting it rest
“Meat, including chicken, must rest for a short time after cooking, so all the juice doesn’t flow out of it when you cut into it,” Ferrari explained. Letting the meat sit and firm up a bit will allow these juices to redistribute.
In addition, meat continues to cook after it has been removed from a heat source, so cutting into food too soon can shorten this process. Ferrari said you’ll usually want to let chicken rest for 10 minutes before you cut into it.
As you cook, you keep moving the chicken around the pan
Though it is tempting to poke, prod, and move the chicken around the frying pan as it cooks, try to avoid this if you want your dish to be evenly browned.
“The reason you don’t want to move meat around in a pan is to ensure a Maillard reaction takes place,” Ferrari said. A Maillard reaction is when, at high heats, amino acids in proteins react with sugars. This causes food to brown and develop more distinct flavours.
Be patient as you cook and let your chicken stay in one place for a bit so it can develop a nice, browned exterior.
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.