How to Wash and Cut Up a Whole Chicken

The only way to kill foodborne pathogens on poultry is to cook it and cook it to an internal temperature of 165 degrees.
The only way to kill foodborne pathogens on poultry is to cook it and cook it to an internal temperature of 165 degrees.Getty Images

Some meals are so familiar, they no longer require we breakout the cookbook. But even if you have committed the classic roast chicken dinner recipe to memory, it’s not always easy to agree on the perfect way to prepare it. Here are the must-know answers to the questions about one of America’s dinner favorites.

Should You Rinse the Chicken?
Never say never unless you’re talking about washing raw chicken because then the answer is actually never. According to Shelley Feist, executive director of the nonprofit organization Partnership for Food Safety Education, rinsing raw chicken is not a safety step, meaning it doesn’t protect you from the things that could get you sick. “There isn’t really a way [to clean raw chicken] that I can think of that doesn’t risk cross-contamination,” says Feist. All it does is dramatically increase the risk of cross-contamination splashing campylobacter, salmonella, and other foodborne pathogens around sinks and countertops.

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The only way to kill foodborne pathogens on poultry is to cook it and cook it right. The bird needs to reach an internal temperature of 165 degrees, measured not by the color of the meat or the running juices but solely with a thermometer. Another benefit of using a food thermometer assures no overcooking—optimal for juicy meat.

Should You Truss the Chicken?
Nope, don’t do that either. Trussing, or strategically wrapping chicken in twine or making slits and tucking in certain parts, is mainly for aesthetic purposes. Chef Scott Swartz, associate professor at the Culinary Institute of America, had roast chicken every Friday night growing up and over the years, he’s perfected his recipe. In his opinion, trussing is commonly skipped and for a good reason. Although a trussed roast presents better on the plate, the technique requires the chicken to cook longer by not allowing the same amount of heat to reach the inside. For the everyday home cook, it’s simply not necessary. “I never truss my roast chicken when I’m at home with my family,” says Swartz.

When and How to Stuff the Chicken
Now you’ve got the unwashed, non-trussed chicken in the pan and it’s ready to be seasoned. The standard salt, pepper, garlic, and lemon is Swartz’s favorite seasoning combination. Post-squeeze, take the lemon and stuff the whole thing inside the cavity in the center of the bird, allowing for the skin of the lemon to perfume the chicken. It’s important to season the inside of the chicken heavily so the flavors saturate through bone and cartilage. Fill chicken with more sprigs of fresh thyme, crushed garlic cloves, and a heap of salt and pepper.

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Resting The Roast
Everyone is watching anxiously, impatiently, waiting for the moment when the chicken can be pulled out of the oven and devoured. The idea of putting a piece of aluminum foil over it and letting it sit for fifteen minutes might be torturous, but Swartz says that “resting” is a common technique that chefs use to ensure all of the juices are soaked into the meat, and carving too soon is the most common mistake people make. Not allowing the chicken to rest after roasting will lead juices to run out of the meat and all over the countertop. It also allows for more time to finish cooking the roasted vegetables and get the table ready.

How To Carve It Up
Begin with one leg of the chicken facing you. Pull the leg away from the breast and slice in between leg and breast until you see where leg and thigh separate. Then simply bend back the leg and thigh to remove. Turn the chicken around and repeat with the other leg. For the breast, keep the open cavity away from you. Feel for the keel bone, which runs down the middle of the breast, and cut on one side with your knife, staying as close to the bone as possible. Follow down to the wishbone and remove from the carcass. Repeat this for the other breast. And don’t forget to pick any extra meat off the carcass; the leftover bones and carcass scraps can be good for soup or gravy.

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