The Best Ways to Cook Different Cuts of Chicken

January 30, 2014

Inspired by conversations on the Food52 Hotline, we're sharing tips and tricks that make navigating all of our kitchens easier and more fun.

Today: Learn which cuts of chicken should be the stars of your next culinary production.

Curious how five ingredients could inspire a chicken recipe? Share your creative ideas at the Just BARE Chicken +5 Ingredient Challenge for a chance to have your ingredients developed into a new recipe and win $500.

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Hunter Style Chicken

You wouldn’t find Miley Cyrus at Downton Abbey. Meryl Streep doesn’t do soap operas. It’s all about identifying strengths and finding the right fit. So when it comes to casting the stars of your next meal, it’s important to know your ingredients.

Today, we’re talking all about chicken –- and not the boring variety, but the juicy, skin-cracklin', finger-lickin’ stuff. In the world of the bird, anatomy is key: thighs, breasts, wings, and offal each play distinct parts suited for different types of recipes. Here, we’ll break down the chicken and give you the lowdown on the actors auditioning for your next culinary production. 

Marsha, Marsha, Marsha: It's All About Breasts

Chicken Cutlets Grilled in Charmoula with Quick-Cured Lemon Confit

Some people might think that breasts are the stars of too many shows, when other parts of the bird have so much to offer. Nevertheless, chicken breast is the right choice for many dishes because it is easy to prepare (especially for kids), low in fat, and a versatile protein base for many recipes, including soup. Chicken cutlets are especially convenient due to the fact that they cook evenly and are well suited to breading. Herbed Chicken Cutlets with Panko and Parmesan? Yes, Please.

Roast Chicken Breasts with Mushrooms and Artichoke Hearts

Because of the low fat content in chicken breasts, they dry out easily -- so it’s important to know the right way to prepare them. To trap moisture, the rule of thumb is high heat for a short time when sautéing, pan-frying, broiling, and grilling. (Conversly, for moist heat, such as poaching, you will cook at a lower temperature for a longer time.) 

Quiet Star: Thighs' Time to Shine

Soy Saucy Chicken

Thighs are the quiet heroes of many dishes. Inexpensive and suited to slower, longer cooking, they are your go-to, low stress vehicle to a satisfying meal. The higher fat content of thighs is responsible for its richer flavor -- and when you cook them slowly, the collagen breaks down into gelatin (also known as, savory goodness).  

Oven Braised Buttermilk Chicken

Thighs are best prepared by roasting, broiling, grilling, frying, and braising. See for yourself with this recipe for Oven Braised Buttermilk Chicken with Za'atar.

Wildcard: The Transformative Power of Wings

Korean Style Crispy Rice Chicken Wings

Wings are all about the dressings. Like a good method actor, they have the ability to transform into a myriad of flavor profiles with a simple costume change. After all, it’s all about skin. Considered to be all white meat (that cooks more like dark meat), their flavor is enhanced by the presence of bones, which imparts richness to the meat. Wings are sold whole or as drumettes and are best for roasting, broiling, grilling, braising, and of course, frying, like in this recipe for Rosemary-Brined Buttermilk Fried Chicken

Rosemary-Brined Buttermilk Fried Chicken

Plus: did you know that chicken wings can also cure the common cold?

Character Actor: Liver Takes the Lead

Tuscan Chicken Liver Pate

Waste not, want not, the saying goes. So let’s talk about giblets -- those wobbly bits of bird that you don’t know what to do with, but have so much to offer. If you plan to roast a whole chicken, it’s high time to learn how to use every bit of it -- including organs of the great unknown, like the liver. Liver is beginner’s offal for the adventure-shy, and it's the perfect first step outside of your comfort zone (start with this recipe for Chicken Liver Pate). After all, it wasn’t but a generation ago that it was a staple at most American dinner tables -- and still is in many countries.

Chicken Liver Ragu

More: Recipes to get grown ups and kids on board with liver.

What is your favorite chicken cut, and how do you cook it? Let us know in the comments!

This post was brought to you by Just BARE®.

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Byron Raila
    Byron Raila
  • Catherine Lamb
    Catherine Lamb
  • EatsMeetsWest
  • Two Trays Kitchen
    Two Trays Kitchen
  • Julie Myers
    Julie Myers
Julie Myers

Written by: Julie Myers

Perpetually hungry. Will travel for food.


Byron R. February 1, 2014
Where's the recipe for the very top photo, labeled hunter style chicken which recipe is that?
Julie M. February 1, 2014
Hi Byron!
The recipe is here: You can also access it by clicking on the picture now.
Catherine L. January 31, 2014
Still giggling over the Marsha Marsha Marsha. Genius!
EatsMeetsWest January 31, 2014
Who can turn down fried drumsticks? Not me :)
Two T. January 30, 2014
my fave way to do breasts is a combo of sear and poach. i always do it this way and it is hard to go back. it is outlined on and works every time.