Chicken is a staple in many healthy diets and for good reason — it’s packed with protein, inexpensive, easily takes on flavor and cooks relatively quickly. It’s also sold in many cuts and various sizes, making it approachable and accommodating for almost any meal. But if you’re constantly eating dry, dull-tasting chicken, you might be guilty of one of the six mistakes below.
Here’s what to avoid the next time you’re cooking the lean protein:
ONLY USING CHICKEN BREASTS
Especially when you’re watching your health, chicken breasts seem like the most obvious option. But if you’re looking for extra flavor, while still eating an overall lean meat, don’t overlook chicken thighs. They’re much harder to overcook and they retain more flavor from the bone. As a bonus, cuts other than breasts are usually cheaper and, compared with white meat, dark meat contains more iron, zinc and B vitamins.
STARTING WITH REALLY COLD MEAT
With all the safety warnings out there, it’s easy to think chicken should stay in the fridge until the last possible moment. But when you drop a super cold chicken breast in a pan, it’s likely going to end up dry and cooked unevenly (since the outside cooks faster than the inside). Take your meat out of the fridge 20–30 minutes before you plan to cook it so it has time to come to room temperature.
FORGETTING TO PAT IT DRY
It’s important to take a paper towel and give your chicken a quick pat before you season or marinate it. That’s because excess moisture can create steam when cooking, which can dry out the meat. This extra step also helps get the outside nice and crispy, especially if you’re opting for skin-on.
NOT MARINATING OR BRINING
A simple marinade or brine imparts flavor inside and out; it’ll also help the meat retain moisture while it cooks. Even a quick 15-minute soak can make a big difference.
COOKING IT UNEVENLY
Most chicken breasts will be really thick in the middle and thinner on the sides. This can lead to uneven cooking — your sides and one end will end up overcooked even if you have a perfect center. To prevent this, place the chicken breasts between sheets of parchment paper or in a plastic bag and pound them with a rolling pin until they’re even throughout.
GUESSING WHEN IT’S DONE
Even if you consider yourself a master chef, you’re still better off using a meat thermometer to tell when the chicken is done. You want your chicken to hit 165ºF (74ºC) — no more, no less — when inserted in the thickest part of the meat. Remember, the chicken will rise in temperature slightly in the first minute off the heat, so pulling it off between 160–164ºF (71–73ºC) is OK.
NOT LETTING IT REST
Treat chicken like steak and let it rest. Allow it to sit at least five minutes after taking it off the heat to let the juices redistribute throughout the meat.