Professional Chefs Reveal What They Always Do When Cooking Chicken
Perfect your poultry with tips from in-the-know professional chefs who work with chicken each and every day.
“Chicken breasts are naturally not super flavorful, so be sure to liberally season your chicken,” says Samantha Eaton, personal chef and nutrition coach. “As a rule of thumb, use 1 teaspoon of sea salt per 1 pound of chicken, along with some other flavor-booster staples like pepper and garlic powder.” She adds about 1/2 teaspoon each per pound.
No thermometer? No problem
Overcooking chicken is a common problem, so it’s helpful to have a meat thermometer on hand to find out what’s going on inside that piece of poultry. If you don’t have a thermometer handy, Eaton suggests using the “finger doneness” test and uses this chart from Furious Grill to get an idea of what completely cooked chicken should feel like.
Cast iron crisp
“I well-season my chicken with a dry rub mixture of coffee, coconut sugar, dried marjoram, garlic powder, onion powder, and cracked pepper,” says Chef David Slay of Slay Estate & Vineyard in St. Rita Hills, California and Slay Steak + Fish House. Then he cooks it in a cast iron skillet, which he says gives it “a nice crisp and golden color.”
“When prepping a chicken dish, always rinse and pat-dry the bird first,” suggests Slay. “Then remove any excess fat or skin either with scissors or a boning knife.” If you’ve never broken down a chicken before, check out this easy-to-follow video from America’s Test Kitchen. Preparation is so important—so is avoiding these 50 shockingly common kitchen mistakes.
To add more flavor, try marinating the bird for a few hours. “I use extra virgin olive oil, Italian parsley, rosemary, lemon zest and juice, kosher salt, and cracked pepper,” Slay says. Then he grills it with a mixture of mesquite and oak for an added robust flavor.
“Glaze isn’t just for donuts,” says Claudia Sidoti, head chef and head of recipe development at HelloFresh. “I like to jazz up crispy chicken legs by making my own version of a glaze with brown sugar, hot honey, or ginger soy and serving the extra sauce for dipping.”
“For chicken breasts, I really like pan searing the chicken and then creating a simple pan sauce, like a creamy herb Dijon, which adds extra flavor and can be draped over sides like veggies or potatoes,” says Sidoti. “Make the sauce in the same pan as the chicken so it will blend with the chicken drippings and you’ll have one less pan to clean up.
“When preparing a whole chicken, I first season generously with salt and then create a spice mixture of freshly minced garlic and a blend of herbs like rosemary, sage, and thyme,” says Sidoti. She rubs it all over, including the inside cavity, to boost the flavor. “To add extra moisture, cut a lemon, onion, or an apple in chunks and place in the cavity along with a sprig or two of herbs/bay leaves. As the chicken roasts, these aromatics will release moisture and flavor.” Just remember to remove before carving. No time to cook? You’ll be surprised by these facts about Costco’s famous rotisserie chicken.
Getting your chicken dry before you pop it in the oven is key to that coveted crispy skin. “Open the package, pat it down dry, and put it on a rack uncovered in the fridge overnight,” says Frank Proto, a chef-instructor with the Institute of Culinary Education in New York. “This will help concentrate the chicken flavor and help you get that super crispy skin on the outside. You can even do this over a two-day period if you are really looking to amp up the crispiness and flavor.”
“I prefer chicken thighs over chicken breast,” says Proto. “Chicken thighs have more fat so they won’t dry out like chicken breast does.” He likes using them in soups and broths. “The trick to getting a really flavorful broth is to brown the chicken in the oven before adding it to the soup.”
Brining is not just for your Thanksgiving turkey. “To ensure chicken is cooked and fried to perfection with great flavor, start with a good cold, salty brine and follow with your favorite recipe, adding any preferred spices or herbs,” says Brian Morris, director of operations at Hattie B’s Hot Chicken, which recently opened a new location at The Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas.
If frying is your thing, take this very important tip from Morris: “It’s important to fry chicken low and slow, frying in 300 degrees Fahrenheit oil until the chicken is done—165 degrees in the center for white meat; 200 degrees in the center for dark meat.” You have to see the fried chicken recipe that has been viewed more than 200,000 times!
“I prefer to use chicken quarters (leg, thigh, breast, and wing),” says Vasili Tavernakis, Chef de Cuisine at BALEENkitchen in The Portofino Hotel and Marina in Redondo Beach, California. “A very quick marinade that is packed with flavor is oil, thyme, rosemary, garlic, salt, and pepper. Toss your chicken and leave in refrigerator for a minimum of 30 minutes—even better if you can leave it overnight.” Just be sure to avoid these 20 ways you could be cooking chicken wrong.