The Ultimate Guide to How to Cook Chicken

Updated: May 07, 2024

Whether you want to know how to defrost chicken the right way or just need a new recipe to try, there's a lot to keep in mind when it comes to the best way to cook chicken.

Our go-to for an easy weeknight meal? Chicken. The popular poultry can be dressed up with almost any flavor, and there are simply so many ways to cook chicken, whether you’re craving crispy, juicy fried chicken, a Chinese chicken stir-fry or a jalapeno popper chicken casserole.

Because it is so versatile, there’s a lot to decide when you’re looking into the best way to cook chicken. Read on for everything you need to know about buying chicken, prepping chicken, cooking chicken and even reheating chicken for a delicious next-day meal.

Young Asian woman grocery shopping and choosing fresh poultry in supermarketd3sign/Getty Images

How to Buy Chicken

Frozen and fresh and fried, oh my! Chicken comes in all shapes and sizes—and packaging.

Reading chicken labels

Deciphering the labels on packages of chicken at the grocery store can be confusing. For starters, keep in mind that “hormone-free” on a label doesn’t mean much, because the USDA requires that all chicken is free of hormones. Instead, look for terms like “organic” and “certified humane raised and handled” when you’re at the store. Learn more about how to buy the best chicken.

If you’re shopping online, you’ll likely have an even wider range of options. Butcher Box, Cooks Venture and Thrive Market are a few of the best places to buy chicken online.

Choosing cuts of chicken

Boneless, skinless chicken breasts are the most popular option when it comes to everyday cooking, but there are so many other delicious options that you can work into your recipe rotation. After you check out these chicken breast recipes, don’t forget about chicken thighs (boneless, skinless chicken thighs, too) and chicken wing recipes. If you’re craving fajitas or chicken tenders, look for chicken tenderloin recipes. In the mood for dark meat? Buy drumsticks or legs.

Precooked frozen chicken

While cooking your own chicken from start to finish can be super easy, sometimes you just want to pick up a precooked bird that only needs to be heated. The Taste of Home Test Kitchen found the best frozen chicken tenders—and here’s who has the best grocery store rotisserie chicken.

A person cuts raw chicken. Cook's hand with a knife close-up on the background of the kitchen.Master class professional chef. The background is blurredEvgeniia Ozerkina/Getty Images

How to Prep Chicken

Now that you know how to select the best chicken, let’s get into how to prepare chicken.

Tools You’ll Need

How to thaw chicken

Knowing how to store chicken correctly is key to retaining its freshness. If you’re not going to use it within a few days of purchase, keep it in the freezer.

But thawing chicken can be tricky: If you’re not careful, the inside might still be frozen while the outside of the chicken is a warm breeding ground for bacteria. There are three ways to defrost chicken: in the microwave, in cold water, and in the refrigerator (not at room temperature!). Patience is key.

Once you’ve thawed your chicken safely, make sure you avoid these raw chicken cooking mistakes.

How to cut chicken

Even if you don’t normally buy whole chickens, knowing how to cut up a whole chicken is useful knowledge to have. (You might want to start buying whole chickens anyway—you can save money, and you’ll be able to use the bones for bone broth once you learn how to debone a chicken.)

Spatchcocking a chicken starts with a whole chicken too, and cuts down the cooking time almost in half—and it’s a lot easier than you think. Knowing how to butterfly chicken comes in handy when you want to make recipes that require a thin cut of meat, like chicken piccata. It’s also a useful technique for when you want to bread chicken—it creates more even cooking on the inside, and creates more surface area for delicious, crunchy breading on the outside.

Chicken thighs in a frying panHenn Photography/Getty Images

Methods for Cooking Chicken

One of the reasons why chicken is such a popular meat choice is because it’s so versatile. Not only will it take on any flavor, but since there are so many ways to cook chicken you can customize it however you like.

How to grill chicken

When the warm temperatures hit, grilling chicken is a great (and juicy!) way to get your protein without heating up the house. Learn how to grill a whole chicken with the beer can method, the bundt pan method or spatchcocked. Of course, you can cut it up into pieces, too. Check out our best grilled chicken recipes.

How to roast chicken

Along with grilling, knowing how to roast chicken will help you get that crispy outside and juicy, tender inside. Many of these roast chicken recipes cook the chicken with vegetables, which provides natural flavoring with minimal effort and prep.

How to bake chicken

Out of all of the ways to cook chicken, baking chicken breasts is the most prone to drying out, so you may be wary. However, if you know how to bake chicken the way our Test Kitchen does, you won’t have to worry anymore! Make sure to set the oven to a high temperature and learn how to brine the chicken before baking—and you’ll have a good shot at a juicy chicken breast when making ones of these baked chicken recipes.

How to fry chicken

Fried chicken is such a treat. While it’s delicious to order from a restaurant, it’s worth knowing how to make fried chicken at home too—and you can even start with a copycat chicken recipe.

When you fry chicken at home, keep these two tips in mind: Coat your chicken in a gallon plastic bag so your counters stay clean, and use a high-sided Dutch oven or fryer pot to avoid splashing hot oil onto your skin as you perfect these fried chicken recipes.

How to cook chicken in a slow cooker

If you know you’re going to be busy all day, using the slow cooker is one of the easiest ways to prep a proper meal for later. Just set it and forget it!

Plus, you’ll never run out of slow cooker chicken breast recipes to try.

How to cook chicken in an Instant Pot

If you forgot to start your slow cooker in the morning or you’re simply itching to use your favorite kitchen tool, knowing how to cook chicken breasts in an Instant Pot will help you get juicy, shreddable meat for recipes like a chicken enchilada bake or Thai chicken pizza.

If you forgot to pull your chicken out of the freezer ahead of time, no sweat: Learn how to cook frozen chicken in the Instant Pot and you’ll be all set for dinner in no time.

How to cook chicken in an air fryer

Of course we have to include how to cook chicken in an air fryer! The convection air flow keeps the meat juicy and heats it evenly. You may want to cook the chicken in batches depending which air-fryer chicken recipes you choose.

Can’t get enough chicken? Learn how to braise meat, including chicken.

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Chicken Recipes to Try Tonight

Not only are there so many methods of cooking chicken, but there are endless chicken recipes, too. It’s hard to pick a favorite when you’re choosing between recipes from all over, like these Indian chicken recipes, Mexican chicken recipes, Japanese chicken recipes, and Chinese chicken recipes.

And don’t forget about Grandma’s favorite chicken recipes, or these easy canned chicken recipes!

What to Do with Leftover Chicken

If you have leftovers, or you’re making chicken ahead of time, knowing how to reheat it properly makes all the difference. Follow our guide for how to reheat chicken in the oven, on the stove, in an air fryer or in a microwave to guarantee a juicy and tender second-day meal.

Made a batch of crunchy, juicy fried chicken? Learn how to reheat fried chicken so it stays crispy. And of course, you can always turn that chicken into a new meal—here are some of our favorite leftover chicken recipes.