An A to Z guide to choosing, storing, preparing, and cooking fresh produce and recipe ingredients.

  • Common Cuts
    Bone-In Breast

    Big and juicy, this cut is a boon to white-meat lovers who don’t want to roast an entire bird. It is sold whole or split into halves.

    Best for: Pan-frying, roasting, broiling, and grilling.

     

    Boneless, Skinless Breast

    This weeknight staple almost always comes split into halves. Tenderloin strips come from the upper-muscle portion.

    Best for: Sautéing, pan-frying, broiling, grilling, and poaching.

     

    Cutlet

    Pounded or thinly sliced breast meat, this cut cooks quickly and evenly, thanks to its uniform thickness.

    Best for: Sautéing and pan-frying.

     

    Drumstick

    This dark-meat piece is often sold with the thigh attached, labeled as a “leg.” To separate the two parts, cut through the joint with a sharp knife.

    Best for: Roasting, broiling, grilling, and braising.

     

    Thigh

    Sometimes sold boneless, juicy dark-meat thighs are economical, flavorful, and hard to overcook.

    Best for: Roasting, broiling, grilling, and braising.

     

    Wing

    The boniest cut, the wing is considered white meat. It is made up of three sections, the first of which is sometimes sold separately as a “drumette.”

    Best for: Roasting, broiling, grilling, and braising.

    How to Choose Chicken
    A delicious chicken dinner starts with buying the right bird. But the claims made on the labels (what’s natural? what’s organic?) can be confusing.


    Decoding the Label 
    Natural: All meat can be labeled “natural” as the USDA defines it: It simply means that no artificial ingredients or preservatives were added during processing. But the bird might have been fed antibiotics. (The USDA does not permit hormones to be given to poultry.)

    Free-Range: Although the term implies that the bird roamed free to eat a varied diet (which adds to the chicken’s flavor, not to mention well-being), the USDA requires only access to the outdoors, with no amount of time specified. If you want a guarantee that your bird had ample time to roam free, look for a “Free Range” label in conjunction with one that states it is “Certified Humane Raised & Handled,” “Animal Welfare Approved,” or “Food Alliance Certified.” Issued by independent monitoring organizations, these labels are much better indicators of the humane treatment of animals. (To find certified products in your area, go to the individual organizations’ websites.)

    USDA Organic: This label is the USDA’s certification that chickens were not given antibiotics (giving hormones to poultry, organic or otherwise, is not permitted); that their feed was 100 percent organic, produced without using most synthetic pesticides and fertilizers; and that they were given access to the outdoors.

    Certified Humane: This label, issued by a nongovernmental organization, certifies that the chickens were raised in conditions exceeding federal standards, were given a nutritious diet, and were raised with sufficient space to perform “natural behaviors.” They were fed no animal by-products and no antibiotics, except when ill. Look for the “Certified Humane Raised & Handled” logo.

    Kosher: These chickens were raised and slaughtered following Jewish dietary rules. Because kosher processing involves hand salting, the meat is often saltier than that of non-kosher birds.

  • How to Store Chicken
    Uncooked chicken can be refrigerated in its original packaging (slipped into a plastic bag to prevent contamination of other foods should the chicken drip) for up to 2 days. It can be frozen, tightly wrapped, for up to 12 months. Cooked chicken (leftovers) can be refrigerated in airtight containers for up to 4 days. Rotisserie chicken from the store should be used within 2 hours or cut up into pieces and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days; it can be frozen for up to 4 months.

    How to Prepare Chicken
    Don’t rinse raw poultry before cooking or you risk contaminating your sink and work surfaces with bacteria-soaked water and juices. If you want to get rid of the juices on the meat, pat it with a paper towel. (This also keeps the seasonings from dripping off and helps the chicken brown better.) According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, any bacteria that may be lingering on the bird will be killed off during cooking. Just make sure you’ve cooked the chicken to the right temperature (see Cooking Temperatures).

    Always remember to wash your hands and anything that the raw meat or its juices touch to avoid cross-contamination.

  • Cooking Temperatures
    The safest, most accurate way to figure out when your chicken is perfectly cooked is by checking the internal temperature with an instant-read thermometer. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s recommendation for maximum food safety is 165° F for all chicken. For white meat, however, for best taste and texture, the Real Simple test kitchen’s preference is 160° F.

    Real Simple Chicken Recipes:

    See all Chicken recipes »

  • How To: Freeze and Quick-Thaw Meat

    Buying meat in bulk can save you money and time (in the form of last-minute supermarket trips). Keep it fresher longer—this video shows how.

     

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