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How long should I cook my chicken?

I never get it right when I cook it so what's the right time? The very last time was three weeks ago and I completely forgot about it and it burned.

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    Hi Gerome. The big thing we are missing here is what exactly you are preparing. Are you talking about roasting an entire bird? Baking a quartered chicken? Grilling some chicken breasts? There are tons of options here. Generally speaking, though you're looking for a temperature. Different cooking methods will get you to that target temperature at different times. – Preston May 25 '14 at 4:30
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If your chicken burns, the issue is likely not that you cooked it too long, but that you cooked it too hot. How long to cook it depends on the total amount of meat, the size of pieces that it is in (anything from bite sizes pieces for a stir fry up to an entire chicken), and how you're cooking it - oven, saute pan, braising ...

Roasting in the oven or braising in a stew are generally the most ignorable techniques - if you overcook a roast it may dry out, but won't burn, and if you overcook a stew the meat (especially chicken) may dissolve into shreds but burning is less likely.

Since undercooked chicken can be unsafe, you should choose cooking techniques that are sure to fully cook the chicken without burning it.

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Cooking chicken, like anything else, is not about time, but about outcome.

In the case of meat, the most important factor is the internal temperature to which it is cooked. This should be measured with an instant read thermometer.

White meat should get to about 155-160 F depending on your tastes; dark meat to about 165 - 180 F depending on your tastes.

Note that dark meat, depending on the cooking method, can tolerate a fairly long cooking time, even when the temperature does not rise: during that time, the connective tissues (collagen) will convert to gelatin, and it will become more unctuous and almost silky in texture.

How long this will take depends on the size of the pieces (or whole chicken if cooking whole), the temperature, and the cooking method. Thighs in a 375 F oven might take an hour to an hour and a quarter; being braised, maybe 30 minutes, for example.

See also:

  • I think you've missed a significant factor here--that protein reactions are not all strictly temperature bases (what some have called "fast reactions"); some reactions do require time as well ("slow reactions"). The notable example here is collagen, which I think is quite relevant to your mentions of dark meat and chicken thigh in particular. Cooking a thigh until just done will yield meat that may be perfectly moist, but intertwined with very tough, chewy connective tissue. – Ray May 15 '14 at 16:38
  • @Ray As my other answers indicate, I am well aware of the significance of collagen and gelatin. However, it is far less significant in chicken than it is in, say, beef. Since most cooking methods are not instantaneous, in practice, any method that brings them to temperature is going to a minimally adequate job, and we don't find some connective tissue in our chicken completely objectionable. This is illustrated by chicken braises which have cooking times on the order of 30-45 minutes, as opposed to beef or pork braises at several hours. – SAJ14SAJ May 15 '14 at 17:09
  • I agree, your other answers do tend to be quite clear on this point; perhaps why I noticed it missing here :) – Ray May 15 '14 at 17:19
  • My comment was intended for folks who might drive by and think your answer to be the whole picture here. I don't mean to cast doubt on your (clear) expertise. – Ray May 15 '14 at 17:25
  • @Ray Perhaps I have oversimplified here.... chicken is just so much more forgiving in that way, than say is a chuck roast. Given the starting point in the question, I thought it was a good level of detail. I have added some more comments, but it is a lot to try to compress. A 75 minute baked thigh (my go to convenience meal, with cajun spice) does't have the same texture as a 45 minute braised thigh, but both are quite good in their own way. – SAJ14SAJ May 15 '14 at 17:33
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First things first. DON'T PANIC! Chicken is one of the world's great saviours, and yes it is possible for things to go horribly wrong, but on the whole that tends to happen to low grade products cooked for short periods of time. ie: cheap fairly old or freezer burnt chicken breasts which are diced or cut up for a fairly instant sweet and sour or stir fry, you will be picking bits of chicken 'string' out of your teeth all night! The question is a bit ambiguous, so I will give two answers. First, do you have a pressure cooker, if not, go out and buy one (there's some advice on my site here). Believe me, once you start pressure cooking chicken you are onto a winner.

If you use a pressure cooker, follow the manufacturers instructions, however here are a few timings to get you started.

Chicken, breasts, with bone in, 2 to 3 lb (900 to 1400 g) 8 to 10 mins
Chicken, cubes 5 mins Chicken, drumsticks (legs) or thighs 5 to 7 mins Chicken, ground 4 mins Chicken, frozen, breasts or thighs, boneless 7 to 10 mins Chicken, liver 2 mins Chicken, strips, boneless 5 to 6 mins Chicken, whole, 2 to 3 lb (900 to 1400 g) 12 to 18 mins
Chicken, whole, 3 to 4 lb (1.4 to 1.8 kg) 18 to 25 mins (all on high setting) You can leave chicken in the pressure cooker for much longer, as it doesn't dry out...

so, cooking your chicken with other methods. Frying, if you are starting out on your cooking 'career', then think about how much patience you really have, if the answer is 'little', cut your chicken into strips and pat dry with kitchen paper. Use a good quality oil on a nearly hot setting (about 7/10), place your chicken in the pan, resisting the temptation to squash it flat, give it a couple of mins, then turn over and give the other side a couple of mins. There you have it, not too complicated, and served with a salad and maybe a few few potatoes would be fit for a king. Hope this helps...

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