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How to Cook Chicken: A Beginner’s Guide

posted in Meat, Poultry and Seafood by Jessica Howard

You just want to cook chicken. Instead, you find yourself stuck at the meat refrigerator at the grocery store, wondering what it all means:

Order in?

Don’t panic. There’s a lot of choice when it comes to cuts of poultry, so here’s how to decode the labels and figure out what you need.

Whole Chicken

You get the most bang for your buck by buying a whole chicken and carving it into parts yourself – a process called disjointing. Sounds a bit medieval!

Rather than trying to cut up a raw, whole chicken (the process could get messy!), try roasting it, following’s instructions for roast chicken, then use the step-by-step guide to carving roasted chicken. As easy as roasting a whole chicken might be, most of us rely on the convenience of pre-cut parts, so let’s tackle them one by one.

Chicken breasts

Skinless, boneless chicken breasts are the workhorse of chicken recipes because they’re versatile, cook relatively quickly and are low-fat.

Chicken breasts work well grilled or baked if you pre-marinate them or baste (brush them with sauce or their own juices) while cooking. They can also be pan-fried. And when cut into strips, they can be stir-fried or threaded on skewers.

Boneless, skinless breasts are available either whole, or pre-cut in half. One whole breast typically makes about 2 cups of cooked chicken (a healthy, hearty amount!).

The index, at the top of this page, lists several recipes using boneless chicken breasts including: Chicken Fajitas, Chicken Cutlets, Crispy Chicken, Grilled Chicken with Teriyaki Sauce (shown at the top of this page) and cooking grilled chicken – indoors.

Chicken legs

Chicken legs (otherwise known as drumsticks; although I wouldn’t use them in that capacity) contain dark meat, which is typically fattier than breast cuts. Some people would argue that dark meat is tastier too.

Drumsticks with the bone in the centre are a cheaper option, and are often roasted or deep-fried. Another option is boneless thigh meat, which can sometimes be substituted for breast meat, but is best suited for casseroles and dishes that cook slowly.

Chicken wings

Here’s another cheap cut of chicken, but there’s not a lot of meat on them bones! Fortunately, Food Wishes has a great video on how to remove the bones. Well known as a finger-licking appetizer, wings are best cooked on the barbecue, deep-fried or marinated.

What about the rest of the chicken?

Chicken breasts, legs and wings are the most commonly used parts of the chicken. But there’s more to a chicken than that! Other bone-in cuts like breast quarters (the wing, breast and back) or leg quarters (the drumstick and thigh) are available, but take longer to cook than boneless cuts. They are best braised, roasted or pan-fried.

Now you know what it all means, so start cooking.

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Chef Tom said:

I have a friend who can really use this info! Thanks.

Kathy Maister said:

ThanksTom! I really appreciate you spreading the word! BTW-your new site design looks terrific!

Rachel said:

I love this website. It is so useful.Sometimes i get lost from not cooking all the time and to refer to this was great to jump start the brain!

Kathy Maister said:

That’s great Rachel! Be sure to let me know if you have any questions! :)

Gabby said:

Wow!!! I love this!!! I never really thought about cooking so now that I’m a single mom I’m sad to say we’ve been eating vegetarian … not because of religious beliefs or budget… or even health (worse for me health wise) but because I’m always scared I’m going to give my son and I food poison from plain not knowing how to cook meat… :( lol sad huh? everything here is so simple and straight forward… now I’m able to look and learn and cook and eat healthier in the mean time!! Thank you for all the work you’re putting into this site!!!

I don’t know what I’d be doing without it…. well…. prolly sticking to our normal vegatarian boxed meals diet… :(

thank you!!


Kathy Maister said:

Hi Gabby, what a great story! I am delighted to hear how is expanding your cooking skills. If you check out the index you will discover TONS of different recipes for chicken, beef and fish. Today I’m making my Chicken Noodle Soup recipe for dinner. I’ll be using some leftover Roasted Chicken. It takes minutes to prepare and everyone love it!

Shelly said:

This is great information. I sent your link to my 19-year old neice who is just starting to learn to cook, and I’m sure this will be a big help to her.

startcooking said:

Thanks Shelly! I just sent your link to my niece. She LOVES dogs!

Mariel said:

I’m so glad I found this website!

I’ve learned so much already!


william said:

If you are looking to roast a chicken, then you should really try a vertical chicken roaster – they work really well.

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