How to bake a chicken so it is perfect, tender and delicious every time.
Chicken is an easy meat to cook if you know how to tell it is done. Undercooked chicken is dangerous because chicken meat can carry various bacteria, including salmonella and staphylococcus, which are easily killed at cooking temperatures. Overcooked chicken is dry and tough. So the trick, obviously, is getting it just right!
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Baked or Roasted Chicken
Traditionally speaking, when we speak of baked chicken we are speaking of cooking cut-up chicken pieces in the oven. Cooking a whole chicken in the oven is usually called roasting a chicken.
Chicken baking today is not the same as grandma’s baked chicken! Chickens used to be a lot smaller, 1-2 pounds. Today’s chickens are meatier and larger, requiring an adjustment in cooking. The trick with chicken is getting the red meat done without drying out the tender breasts. Dark meat on a chicken drumstick needs to be cooked to 170-180 degrees and exude clear juices when pricked deeply with a fork. Breast meat, on the other hand, is done at 160 degrees, and begins to toughen and dry at 165.
There are several options when deciding how to bake chicken
- Whole chicken or pieces
- Similar pieces (i.e. all breasts or all drumsticks) or a variety of pieces
- Covered or uncovered
The Baking Pan
- Stoneware: The very best way, hands down, to cook a chicken is in stoneware: an option that most of our grandma’s did not have. Today we have available numerous stoneware options from terra cotta bakers, to expensive covered bake sets. A covered stone baking dish is a perfect investment as it bakes a perfect chicken with very little trouble.
- Roasting Tray: A roasting tray is an edged pan (to catch the juice) with a rack that sets inside (to let the juice through) Roasting trays will bake a chicken uncovered and give that wonderful, crispy brown crust that we all love. A little trickier to use, but a baking tray will deliver a more traditional baked chicken.
- Cookie Sheet: If you don’t have anything fancy you can get away with baking chicken on a cookie sheet. The chicken will be sitting in it’s own juices, so it is good to turn it once or twice during the baking process.
Baking Chicken Covered
Baking a chicken covered will create a wonderfully juicy bird, but will not give the brown crispy crust that many love. For many, baking a covered chicken is a good idea because it does not encourage us to eat the skin which is high in saturated fats and calories. Removing skin from the chicken, and avoiding the juices is a good way to keep on a healthy diet.
When baking a chicken in covered stoneware you can add a variety of spices, or simply bake plain. Again, baking the bird plain is often a good idea because the skin will be removed before eating, and much of the flavor from the spices will be lost. The meat can be spiced at the table.
If stoneware is unavailable aluminum foil can be used to cover a chicken and keep in most of the juices.
Baking a Chicken Uncovered
It is best to cut up a chicken that will be cooked uncovered to shorted and even baking time. Although many dieters will still prefer to remove the skin of an open baked chicken, spicing it up adds to the color and taste. Good spices to choose are: paprika, thyme, salt and pepper. Any good blended chicken spice will make a wonderful flavor.
Chicken Baking Times
A four pound bird should take 55-60 minutes to bake. For larger birds, add 8 minutes for each additional pound. Use a meat thermometer to get a perfect meal.
Baking a chicken in stoneware will take longer than baking open in the oven. Depending on the weight of your dish, baking times could even double, so plan for some experimentation when you first start baking in stoneware. A nice heavy stoneware dish will distribute heat evenly, and give a slow cooking effect even in a 350 degree oven. A stoneware baked chicken should be falling from the bones when done.
Washing a Chicken
It is not necessary to wash a chicken before cooking although it does not hurt the meat at all to do so. The problem in washing a chicken is that a good cook should always assume a chicken carries bacteria. Washing the chicken will spread and splash bacteria-laden juices around the kitchen and sink. Bottom line is this: if you feel you must wash your chicken, then put on some gloves and do a thorough scrub of your kitchen, sink, and counters afterwards.
Always cut chicken on a small cutting board that can be washed in the sink or dishwasher afterwards to kill any bacteria. Never cut out on the counter because it is much more difficult to clean such surfaces. Also be sure to thoroughly wash any knives and cooking utensils used in handling raw chicken.
Enjoy Baked Chicken
Chicken is an inexpensive, delicious and easy to cook meat that is a part of most families’ diets. Although it is great fun to experiment around with recipes, it’s great to know how to pull out a chicken and pop it in the oven for an easy meal. It’s great to know how to bake a chicken without having to read a recipe.