When you’ve added chicken breast to your weekly meal rotation in efforts to boost your protein intake and slim down fast, poultry can get pretty boring—and fast. You’ve exhausted your spice cabinet’s flavor arsenal and even cracked open those enshrouded cookbooks. And to make matters worse, the new recipe you unearthed on the internet promised juicy results, but the actual outcome was far from it.
Let’s face it, even the most seasoned chefs get plagued by dry, tasteless meat. To help you double down on your kitchen skills and cook poultry perfectly, we’ve rallied up six common mistakes people make when cooking chicken, so you know what to avoid once meal prep Sunday rolls around. Once you’ve mastered these, try your newfound skills on these 29 Best-Ever Proteins for Weight Loss, too.
You Forget to Brine
Mistake: At one point, everyone has overcooked chicken. Because you want to make sure the chicken is fully cooked, we end up cooking it too long. “This is where brining can save the day,” Derek Wolf, fire cooking enthusiast and owner of Over the Fire Cooking tells us.
Solution: “Basically, what you do is soak your chicken in a blend of herbs, spices, sugar, water, and salt for a couple hours in order to create a perfect amount of moisture inside the meat. It helps to prevent over-cooking and to enhance flavor. Plus, it’s super simple. My favorite brine consists of Morton’s Coarse Kosher Salt, thyme, black pepper, sugar, and water.
You Overcrowd the Pan
Mistake: “Ever found yourself with not enough space to cook the chicken breast? In a desperate attempt to speed up the process, you shove all the chicken into one skillet hoping it all fits,” Wolf says, reminding us all of this common blunder. “What ends up happening is the meat cooks unevenly due to being overcrowded.” Additionally, overcrowding can cause your chicken to steam rather than help it get that nice caramelized-brown sear.
Solution: Thankfully, there’s a quick fix that can salvage your dinner plate of undone meat. While Sidoti suggests starting with a wide frying pan that helps keep splattering to a minimum, Wolf has another solution that will come in handy if you’re already mid-process. “When you run into space issues, make sure to give each piece of chicken enough room to cook. Meat needs the heat rising from all sides in order to fully cook. Just grab another skillet or wait for the chicken already cooking to finish,” Wolf tells us. “Better to have fully cooked chicken than not!” We couldn’t agree more, especially since chicken is one of the 20 Foods Most Likely to be Contaminated.
You Ignore the Cavity
Mistake: Forgetting to stuff the chicken’s cavity before roasting is a sure-fire way to end up with desert-dry dinner.
Solution: “To add some extra moisture and flavor, cut a lemon, onion, or even an apple in chunks and place in the cavity along with a sprig or two of herbs or bay leaves. As the chicken roasts, these aromatics will release moisture and flavor,” Claudia Sidoti, head chef & recipe developer at HelloFresh tells us. “Just remember to remove the stuffing before carving.”
You Don’t Let the Juices Do Their Thing
Mistake: We get it, you’re hungry! But forgetting to practice patience can cost you a perfectly roasted chicken.
Solution: “Don’t rush to carve that chicken right after you’ve taken it out of the oven. Not only is it too hot to handle, but letting it rest for about 15 minutes will allow the juices time to redistribute,” Sidoti says.
Mistake: “When grilling chicken, finding the right time to flip is essential!” Wolf informs us. “If you flip too early, then you end up ripping off the top layer of the caramelized meat. (This is my favorite part!)” Ours, too, Derek.
Solution: “The best way to prevent this is twofold: First, have a clean grilling surface. When cooking chicken, make sure that the residue from the previous cooking session is cleaned off, which will prevent the chicken from sticking. Secondly, wait for the chicken to naturally release. When you first place the meat on the grill, it will stick from the heat, but after a while, it will slowly create an outside crusted layer. This layer will release from a clean grill grate at the right time. Just wait for it.”
Moving the Chicken Around the Pan
Mistake: Moving the chicken around the pan too often is like pressing the elevator button again and again. Doing either won’t get you results any faster!
Solution: “If you want a nice sear, try not to move the chicken for about 5 to 7 minutes once in the pan. If the chicken is sticking, it’s probably not ready and won’t be golden brown. Also, try to avoid over-flipping. Turn it once and don’t touch again for an additional 5 to 7 minutes. Again, the goal is golden brown color on each side,” Sidoti reminds us.
You Cook the Breast Whole
Mistake: Chicken breasts can be a pretty thick piece of meat. Not only can they be up to two inches thick, but they can also be very thin at the other end. Because of the uneven thickness, the chicken will cook through at different rates, leaving you with overcooked chicken on one end and cooked (or even undercooked) meat on the other end.
Solution: To prevent uneven cooking, you can do one of two things. One option is to butterfly your breast. Carefully place your hand on the top of the breast and apply light pressure. Starting at the thickest part of the breast, take a sharp knife at the middle of the meat and begin to slide the knife down the breast until you’ve cut the fillet in half. You can either leave one edge of the meat connected (at which point if you opened up the sliced meat into one piece it would look like a butterfly), or you can separate the fillet entirely. A second option is to pound the breast meat until it’s entirely even. You can do this with a full breast or even with your sliced meat. For more tips to be a better home cook, don’t miss these 20 Secrets to Cook Better Every Time.