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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.

Raw chicken fillet with spices. Food background, cooking ingredients. Fresh meat. Chicken breast.nadianb/Shutterstock

Seasoning smarts

“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. Chefs wish you would stop making this cooking mistake. 

Homemade baked chicken with lemon and mint on tableAfrica Studio/Shutterstock

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.

Roasted boneless skinless chicken thighs in lemon and thyme dressing served in vintage cast iron skillet, frying panDronG/Shutterstock

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.” Don’t have one? Find out the 12 most reliable cast iron skillets you can buy.

Modern kitchen faucet with LED lightzstock/Shutterstock

Prep properly

“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.

raw whole chicken with spices in a baking bag on a glass tray, ready for cooking on a black cement background.Elena11/Shutterstock

Flavor profile

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.

The concept of Indian cuisine. Baked chicken wings and legs in honey mustard sauce. Serving dishes in the restaurant on a black plate. Indian spices on a wooden table. background image.Zu Kamilov/Shutterstock

Leg up

“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.” This secret ingredient will also help make your chicken super tender.

Roasted chicken with creamy garlic sauce in cast iron frying pan on dark wooden backgroundLisovskaya Natalia/Shutterstock

Be saucy

“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.

Roasted chicken and potatoes on black slate stone background, flat lay with copy space. Menu or recipe templateLana_M/Shutterstock

Perfectly juicy

“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.

Raw organic uncooked whole chicken with salt and pepper on backing paper in old oven tray over black burnt wooden background. Top view with space.Natasha Breen/Shutterstock

Think ahead

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.”

Raw chicken thighs with spices on black backgroundnatali_ploskaya/Shutterstock

Soup’s on

“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.” See why more than one million people love this chicken soup recipe.

Cooking pot with flavored brine for turkey on wooden tableAfrica Studio/Shutterstock

Try brine

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.

Fried breaded chicken wings on plate over black background.Tatiana Volgutova/Shutterstock

Fry guy

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!

Herbs and spices. Rosemary, thyme, chili, garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper on dark table. Cooking ingredients. Top viewLanaSweet/Shutterstock

Piece meal

“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.