You Can Be A Chicken Boss: How to Cook a Whole Chicken or Turkey

I know quite a few people who are afraid of fowl.

They give a variety of reasons for not wanting to cook it.

“Raw chicken smells gross!”

“I’m not sticking my hand in there…”

“The fat and tendons are disgusting!”

“Why is it slimy?”

The fowl-challenged stick with the gourmet-trimmed skinless, boneless (and often tasteless) chicken breasts that require not much more than opening the package and slipping them onto the grill or into the oven.  Some true avoiders even buy the precooked strips and/or preseasoned, trimmed breasts.

Not only is that an expensive way to go, but you are missing out on so many opportunities to explore new tastes and healthful options.  For example, homemade chicken broth beats boxed or canned broth by a mile. You are in control of the salt and fat content. You can be sure that your homemade chicken broth is organic and locally sourced. And we haven’t even gotten to the economy of making another meal out of the leftovers!

Just like those who fear using technology, I think those who fear the fowl just need some very basic instruction.

Buy the Whole Thing

Don’t be afraid of the whole chicken, turkey, or Cornish hen. This is the most economical way to enjoy fowl, and you may discover that you do like other parts of the bird in addition to the breast.

Start off with a smaller bird, like the game hen or whole chicken fryer. These cook faster and you will overcome your fears with less anxiety.

Stick Your Hand In

First, unwrap the chicken and pat the outside dry with paper towel. The conventional wisdom is to rinse the bird, but that has changed recently. Studies show that more contamination happens when people rinse meat than when they don’t. Unless you are going to eat the meat under-cooked or raw (and trust me, you won’t), rinsing is an unnecessary step.

Next, stick your hand in there. Go ahead, it’s not that bad. Most birds now are trimmed before packaging. All you need to do is pull out the bag of innards. You can cook the neck in your broth, or save the liver for frying. I don’t do either of these things. I just throw the bag away.

One more time, feel around in the cavity of the bird, and take a peek inside. If you see anything big hanging in there, pull it out and throw it away. Occasionally, the packer will have missed part of the heart or liver. It is not a tragedy if it gets cooked, but it is nicer to have a clean cavity when you cook the chicken.

That’s it! You are ready to cook it. You don’t even need to season the chicken until it is almost done. If you want to, though, you can season the outside of the bird with your favorite spices. I commonly use lemon pepper and garlic salt.

Cook Your Bird

Bake or grill, it’s up to you. Grilled whole chicken gets a wonderful, smokey flavor, but baking gives you more control over the temperature. For newbies, I’d recommend baking, at least on your first attempt.

Preheat the oven to 350°F.  Line a baking pan with foil and, if you have one, put a rack in the bottom of the pan.

Place the chicken, breast side up, on the rack. Bake for an hour, then turn the heat up to 400°F.  Slide the baking pan out and baste the chicken with the juices that have dripped into the pan bottom. You can use a spoon, brush, or baster to do this. Once the chicken is basted, sprinkle on your favorite seasonings if you haven’t done so yet.

Bake for an additional 5-10 minutes, checking until internal temperature of the bird reaches 165°F, and the skin is nicely browned.  To check the temperature, insert the thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh, avoiding the bone. A larger chicken, like a roaster, may need additional baking time.

Give It A Rest

All meat should rest after cooking. The meat will reabsorb some juices, making it more tender and plump when served.  Let the chicken rest for about 10 minutes.

Cut It Up

It isn’t hard to cut up a chicken. I like to start by cutting the legs from the body.  With your hand, pull the leg away from the body and use the knife tip to find the point where the thigh joint attaches to the body. This is where you want to cut. Next. cut the drumstick off the thigh at the connecting joint between the two.

Once the legs are removed, cut the wings off at the joints. Now, turn the chicken onto its breast and cut out the backbone and tail, starting at the tail and lifting it as you cut along both sides.

Then, flip the bird breast side up. Split the breast down the middle at the breast bone. If you have a very large bird, you will want to carve some of the breast meat from the bone to serve in slices. For a whole chicken, we generally just split each breast half in half again horizontally so that there are four breast pieces.

Now, you are ready to serve your first whole bird!

Turkeys And Chickens Are Alike

How do you roast a turkey? You do exactly what you did to make a chicken. The only difference, really, is the cooking time.  Read the instructions on the turkey wrapper for suggested cooking times.

Stuffing the bird before baking will increase the baking time. I usually bake the stuffing separately, adding chicken juices to the stuffing when I am basting the bird.

That’s all there is to it. You are now, officially, a Chicken Boss!

 

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