Since you’re probably cooking chicken tonight and you may have questions, we’ve created this helpful chicken food safety guide with selection, storage, and cooking tips, as well as a variety of recipes.
There’s a reason why we frequently say “This tastes like chicken.” For carnivores, the mild meat has perhaps the most commonly recognized flavor and texture in the world. In fact, nearly eight billion chickens are consumed each year in the U.S. alone. While this may be bad news for our poultry friends, the protein-packed food isn’t leaving supermarket shelves and restaurant menus any time soon.
How to Select Chicken
If you’re searching for a whole chicken, you’ll first want to ensure that its round breast is pliable to the touch. This indicates that the chicken is young and the meat will be more tender. When purchasing cuts of chicken, the press test also works; the meat shouldn’t feel too hard, but it also shouldn’t remain sunken where you (gently) pressed it. It should spring back.
The color of its skin has no bearing on freshness or nutritional value. Instead, look at its flesh to ensure it is pink with limited amounts of white striping; avoid any shades of gray. If you don’t plan to cook it right away, be sure to check the sell by or best by date on the package too.
If you’re concerned with the actual provenance of the chicken, things get more complicated; see our guide to sourcing humanely raised chicken for more help on that front.
Related Reading: The Best Meat Delivery Services to Try in 2020
How to Store Chicken
Raw or cooked chicken can be stored in a refrigerator for a few days after its sell-by date, though it’s important to prevent raw chicken juices from leaking and contaminating other foods. Ensure that chicken remains in its original packaging (which should be vacuum-sealed or tightly-wrapped) until it is ready to be cooked. When raw, keep it on the lowest shelf in your refrigerator, just in case leaks do occur. You can place paper towels underneath it to help absorb any drips as well.
How to Freeze Chicken
While freezing will make your chicken less tender and juicy, it is the perfect way to store the family-sized pack you bought at Costco last weekend. Remove the chicken from its original packaging and rewrap it tightly using aluminum foil, plastic wrap, or freezer paper. Double wrap if you are planning to store the chicken for more than two months. Ground chicken can last up to three months in the freezer, while chicken pieces can last up to nine.
Stasher Silicone Storage Bags, $9.99-$19.99 from The Container Store
Your second layer of wrapping can also be a reusable silicone bag.
How to Thaw Chicken
You should never thaw chicken at room temperature, as it is highly susceptible to the growth of harmful bacteria. Frozen chicken should be defrosted in the microwave, refrigerator, or a bowl of cold water (which should be changed every 30 minutes).
How to Handle Raw Chicken
To reduce the risk of cross contamination, use separate cutting boards for meat and everything else (fruits and vegetables, cheese, bread, etc.), and never rinse your chicken as rinsing raw meat can be harmful. Thoroughly wash your hands after you’ve prepared your chicken for cooking and be sure to wash all surfaces with which it came in contact.
How to Cook Chicken
As far as food safety goes, the USDA recommends that chicken be cooked to an internal temperature of 165° F, so you may want to invest in a meat thermometer to make sure. But in general, if you cut the chicken open and its juices run clear with no trace of pink, it should be safe to eat. Now for the fun part:
Chicken’s flavor may be one-note, but it’s a sponge for complex seasonings, marinades, and sauces. We’ve rounded up nine of the most common ways to prepare and cook poultry, along with drool-worthy recipes that deserve spots on your rotating dinner menu.
There’s no form of fried chicken we don’t adore, but this Japanese-style fried chicken has an incredibly crispy coating thanks to rice flour and sparkling water in the batter. Plus, any excuse to dip something in mayonnaise. Get our Tatsutage Fried Chicken with Spicy Yuzu Mayonnaise recipe.
Grilled chicken is definitely healthy, but that doesn’t mean it has to be boring. A punchy marinade with balsamic vinegar and fresh rosemary infuses these chicken breasts with tons of flavor, and forms a caramelized crust once cooked. Get our Grilled Chicken Breasts with Balsamic Rosemary Marinade recipe.
Roasted: Basic Whole Roasted Chicken
Roasting a chicken is an essential kitchen skill, and this method is dead simple, and doesn’t even require a roasting pan. Get our Basic Whole Roasted Chicken recipe and change up the seasoning however you want (for those extra-fancy dinners, you can even slip truffles under the skin.)
Indulge your inner kid (and/or your actual kids) with these healthy baked chicken fingers for an easy weeknight dinner everyone will love. But get those dipping sauces ready. Get our Baked Cracker-Crusted Chicken Fingers recipe.
Braised: Braised Tunisian Chicken Thighs
Braising is an easy method for tender, saucy dishes, but this one balances comfort food vibes with exciting spice combinations for something better than your average chicken dinner. Get our Braised Tunisian Chicken Thighs recipe.
Poached: Poached Chicken and Pomegranate Orzo
Poaching chicken is an easy way to get juicy, tender meat for shredding into salads—and the poaching liquid makes a great medium for cooking grains or pasta for the base of those salads (or save it for soup at a later date). Get our Poached Chicken and Pomegranate Orzo recipe.
Broiled: Easy Broiled Chicken Breasts
Don’t fear the broiler; it’ll give you crusty, crunchy chicken skin and a little charred flavor when you can’t grill. The garlic, lemon, and rosemary marinade here keeps the meat juicy and adds delicious flavor. Get our Easy Broiled Chicken Breasts recipe.
Ground: Chicken Cordon Bleu Burger
Ground chicken is great for healthier meatballs, pasta sauces, tacos, and burgers. Adding ham and melted cheese to said burger may make it a bit less healthy, but it also makes it way more exciting. Get our Chicken Cordon Bleu Burger recipe.
Smoked: Hickory Smoked Chicken
Smoking meat is a labor of love, but it’s totally worth it. Use smoked chicken for the best chicken salad you’ve ever had, or make it into tacos or burritos—or just eat it slathered in white BBQ sauce. Get our Hickory Smoked Chicken recipe.
Related Reading: 11 of Our Favorite Crock Pot Chicken Recipes
Related Video: How to Make Slow Cooker Chicken Adobo
Header image by Chowhound.