Basics of Chicken, Turkey and Other Poultry

Herbed Chicken

Herbed Chicken

Beyond chicken, poultry also includes turkey, duck, pheasant, geese and Cornish game hens. This chapter is filled with ways to roast, bake, cook and enjoy poultry in all its forms. Here are some poultry basics to help you get started.

The skin color of chicken ranges from white to deep yellow. The skin color is due to the chicken's diet and is not an indication of freshness or quality.

While duck and geese breasts are darker in color than chicken and turkey breasts, they are still considered white meat. Duck and geese breasts are darker because these birds fly and use their breast muscles more than chickens and turkeys.

Duck and geese are generally found in the freezer case of supermarkets. During the holiday season, it is easier to find them fresh.

Make sure the package of poultry is cold and has no holes or tears. Place package in a plastic bag to prevent it from leaking onto any other groceries.

Purchase before the "sell by" date on the packaging for best quality. Refrigerate or freeze poultry immediately when you return home from the grocery store. Use uncooked poultry within 1 to 2 days of purchase.

Never defrost frozen poultry at room temperature. Thaw in the refrigerator (see Defrosting Guidelines), in cold water (see Defrosting Guidelines) or in the microwave oven (refer to manufacturer's directions).

Always wash your hands and anything that has come in contact with the uncooked poultry (knives, cutting boards, countertops) with hot, soapy water to avoid contamination with other foods.

Cook poultry breasts to an internal temperature of 170°. Cook whole poultry and dark meat to 180°. Cook ground chicken and turkey to 165°. Stuffing in whole poultry should be cooked to 165°.

Pierce poultry with a fork in several places. The juices of thoroughly cooked poultry should run clear. Cubes and strips of chicken and turkey are cooked when they are no longer pink and juices run clear.

Purchasing Poultry

The amount of poultry you need to buy depends on the variety, portion and amount of bone. The following lists different types of poultry and an estimated number of servings per pound.

  • Chicken, Whole: 1 to 2 servings per pound
  • Chicken Parts (bone-in, skin on): 2 to 3 servings per pound
  • Chicken Breasts (boneless, skinless): 3 to 4 servings per pound
  • Cornish Game hens: 1 to 2 servings per pound
  • Duck, Whole: 1 servings per pound
  • Goose, Whole: 1 servings per pound
  • Turkey, Whole (12 pounds or less): 1 serving per pound
  • Turkey, Whole(12 pounds or more): 2 servings per pound
  • Turkey Parts (thighs, bone-in breasts): 2 to 3 servings per pound
  • Turkey Breast (boneless): 3 to 4 servings per pound

Roasting Poultry

Remove giblets that are usually stored in a packet in the neck area of the bird. Use for preparing broth if desired. Remove and discard any large pockets of fat that may be present in the neck area.

For whole poultry, drain juices and blot cavity dry with paper towels. Currently the USDA does not advise washing poultry before cooking. If you do, wash the sink with hot, soapy water or sanitize with a mild bleach solution of 1 teaspoon chlorine bleach to 1 quart of water. This will help prevent cross-contamination from the poultry to other foods that are washed in the sink.

Rub the inside cavity and neck area with salt. Place breast side up on a rack in a shallow roasting pan.

For chicken, turkey or Cornish game hens, brush the skin with oil or melted butter. For ducklings and geese, prick the skin all over with a fork. This allows the fat from the fat layer under the skin to drip out of the bird while it roasts. With a baster, remove and discard fat from the bottom of the roaster as it accumulates. Because the drippings are very rich with fat, gravy is not usually prepared from roasted duck or goose drippings.

Insert an oven-safe meat thermometer into the thigh area of large birds, not touching bone. Or use an instant-read thermometer toward the end of roasting time. If the bird needs to cook longer, make sure to remove the instant-read thermometer before you return it to the oven. For smaller birds, test the temperature periodically by placing and holding the thermometer in the inner thigh area.

Roast, uncovered, without liquid according to the temperature and time given in the recipe.

If poultry browns too quickly, tent with foil. Because roasts will continue to cook after being removed from the oven, remove them when the internal temperature is 5-10° below desired doneness. Cover with foil and let stand for 10-20 minutes before removing any stuffing and carving.

Game Hen Recipe»