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The 1 thing you need to know about how to bake chicken

Baking a chicken shouldn't be intimidating! Learn how to master this essential cooking skill.
by Alessandra Bulow / / Source: TODAY
How to bake chicken: Baked chicken breast, thighs, legs and more
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It's time to banish dry, overcooked chicken forever. Oven-baked chicken is delicious and incredibly easy for weeknight meals or weekend entertaining. But with so much information out there, finding the best method for baking chicken is a bit confusing.

Here to clear things up is an instructor from one of America's top cooking schools, who shared his expert tips with TODAY Food for how to bake chicken perfectly every time.

"First of all, don't wash the chicken — that just spreads germs," Frank Proto, chef-instructor at the Institute of Culinary Education in New York City, told TODAY Food. "If you want the skin to be super crispy, leave the chicken in the refrigerator overnight, uncovered. And always rub the chicken in oil or butter, which will caramelize the chicken and aid in browning and texture."

Another important prep step to remember is to not crowd the pieces of chicken. Letting them each have a little personal space will help them cook more evenly.

Proto cautioned that chicken is safe to eat only after it has reached an internal temperature of 165 degrees. In order to make sure that chicken is properly cooked — but still flavorful and juicy — Proto cooks each cut until it reaches an internal temperature of 150 degrees (the TODAY Food team recommends using a simple meat thermometer).

Then, he removes the chicken from the heat and allows it to rest for about 10 minutes. As the chicken rests, it continues to cook, but won't be overdone. Before serving, he double checks the chicken with a thermometer to ensure it's reached the proper temperature.

Now bring on the juicy chicken breasts, legs, drumsticks, wings and more!

How to bake chicken: Baked chicken breast
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Baked chicken breast

For skin-on, bone-in chicken breast:

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Rub the chicken breast with olive oil or butter and season it with salt and pepper. Place the breast skin-side up, on top of a cooking rack placed inside a roasting pan (like this baking sheet and rack set).

Using a cooking rack allows air to circulate around the chicken. Cook for 5 to 7 minutes, then turn the heat down to 350 degrees. Cook until an instant-read thermometer registers 150 degrees, about 10 to 18 minutes. Set aside the breast and allow it to rest for 10 minutes. The baked chicken breast is ready to be served when an inserted thermometer registers 165 degrees.

For boneless, skinless chicken breast:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a large 12-inch, oven-safe pan, add about 2 tablespoons of olive oil, vegetable oil, clarified butter or ghee to coat the bottom of the pan. Heat the pan until the fat is smoking. Add the breast and cook until it's browned on one side, about 10 minutes. Flip it over, then place the pan in the oven. Cook until an instant-read thermometer registers 150 degrees, about 10 minutes. Allow the breast to rest until the internal temperature is 165 degrees, about 10 minutes.

How to bake chicken: Baked chicken thighs
Getty Images

Baked chicken thighs

For skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Rub the bone-in thighs with olive oil or butter and season with salt and pepper. Place the thighs skin-side up on top of a cooking rack placed inside a roasting pan. Cook until an instant-read thermometer registers 150 degrees, about 40 minutes. Allow the thighs to rest until the internal temperature is 165 degrees, about 10 minutes.

For boneless chicken thighs:

Follow the same prep steps as described above. An instant-read thermometer will register 150 degrees after about 25 to 30 minutes. Allow the thighs to rest until the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees, which will take about 10 minutes.

How to bake chicken: Baked chicken legs
Getty Images

Baked chicken legs

For baked chicken legs (thigh and drumstick):

Follow the same prep steps as described in the steps for skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs. An instant-read thermometer will register 150 degrees after about 50 minutes. Allow the legs to rest until the internal temperature is 165 degrees, about 10 minutes.

For drumsticks only:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Rub the drumsticks with olive oil or butter and season with salt and pepper. Place the drumsticks skin-side up on top of a cooking rack placed inside a roasting pan. Cook until an instant-read thermometer registers 150 degrees, about 35 to 40 minutes. Allow the drumsticks to rest until the internal temperature is 165 degrees, about 10 minutes.

Roast Chicken with Potatoes and Vegetables
Nathan R Congleton / TODAY

Baked chicken wings

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Rub 3 pounds of chicken wings with olive oil or butter and season with salt and pepper. Place the wings on top of a cooking rack placed inside a roasting pan. Cook for about 25 minutes. Don't turn them. Need them done faster? Cook the wings on top of aluminum foil for about 20 minutes instead. For baked Buffalo wings, toss the cooked wings with a mixture of 2 cups Frank's Red Hot sauce and one stick of melted unsalted butter.

How to roast a whole chicken

"Bigger chickens are tougher," Proto said, so for roasting a whole bird, he recommended choosing one that weighs no more than 3 to 3 1/2 pounds.

Truss the chicken using butcher twine: Tie the legs together at the ankles. Tuck the wings under the bird and secure them in place by tying twine around the front of the breast. This will help the bird cook evenly and prevent the wings from getting burnt.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Rub the bird with olive oil or butter and season with salt and pepper. Place the chicken on a cooking rack placed inside a roasting pan. Alternatively, the chicken can be placed on top of six coarsely chopped medium Yukon Gold potatoes or other chopped vegetables like carrots, onion and celery. Cook the chicken for 15 minutes, then turn the heat down to 325 degrees. Cook until an instant-read thermometer inserted in the thigh registers 150 degrees, which will take about 40 minutes. Allow the chicken to rest until the internal temperature of the thigh is 165 degrees, about 10 minutes.

Now that that's covered, it's time to get cooking with these delicious baked chicken recipes for breasts, thighs, wings and more!

Best baked chicken recipes

Extra Crispy Oven-Baked Wings

"Drying chicken wings and baking them at a high temperature help make the perfectly crispy without any of the added fat of frying," Food & Wine's Justin Chapple told TODAY Food.

Hoda Kotb's mother Sami livens up chicken breasts in under 30 minutes with fresh pesto, sliced tomato and gooey melted cheese.

Oven-Fried Chicken

Oven-Fried Chicken

Justin Chapple

It is possible to bake chicken and have it taste just as great as the fried kind with this genius recipe for oven-fried chicken.

In the mood for a super-moist, very flavorful, comforting chicken dish? It doesn't get any better than these juicy thighs that are baked with onion and garlic.

"This is the essence of easy home cooking for me," TV show host and cookbook author Nigella Lawson told TODAY Food. "Everything goes into the roasting pan together — yes, even frozen peas, unthawed — and what emerges is a comforting dish with an elegant flavor that is sure to become a favorite."

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