Nothing smells like Sunday dinner more than a chicken roasting in the oven. Baking chicken is very easy, whether cooking a whole chicken or chicken parts.

Selecting Chicken

When selecting a chicken, always look for round, plump chicken that yields to the touch. Look at the ratio of meat to bones, as you want to pay for meat, not a lot of bone. Whole chickens should have a large amount of breast meat, and should be nicely shaped. The color of the chicken does not indicate freshness. Squeeze the chicken to determine if it is moist and not previously frozen. Refrigerate the chicken in the coldest part of the refrigerator (the back) and it will keep for up to 2 days after purchase. Chicken can be frozen for up to 2 months.

Cleaning Chicken

Always wash chicken thoroughly before cooking. When cooking a whole chicken, pull out the giblets from inside the chicken and put aside to cook separately. Rinse the outside and inside of the chicken really well, and use a small knife to remove any feathers and excess fat from the chicken. Use the same procedure on chicken parts. Pat the chicken dry when cleaning is completed. Be careful with cross contamination when cleaning and preparing chicken. Use separate cutting boards, clean utensils and counter tops, and wash hands thoroughly when finished handling the chicken.

Preparing Chicken for Cooking

First, set the oven at 400 degrees for cooking a whole chicken, 350 degrees for chicken parts. For chicken to be flavorful and fragrant, it is important to season well.

For a whole chicken, season with salt and pepper, then add other seasonings and herbs to taste. Make sure you season the inside cavity of the chicken as well as the outside.

For a flavorful, juicy breast of the chicken, a suggestion is to gently separate the skin on the top of the chicken from the meat. Prepare a mixture of softened butter and any flavorful herb, such as rosemary and thyme, and liberally rub the mixture under the skin on top of the breast. Use the mixture on the inside of the chicken, and to add additional flavor, stuff ½ of a lemon in the cavity.

Before baking, rub olive oil or butter all over the chicken. This will make a crispy outer skin, and help keep the chicken moist. You can lightly drape aluminum foil over the chicken. Put in the pre-heated oven for 65 minutes, depending on the size of the chicken. If the chicken is over 3.5 pounds, add approximately 8 to 10 minutes more cooking time per pound. Baste the chicken as it cooks. The inside temperature must reach 165 degrees for doneness.

When baking chicken parts it is also important to season the chicken with herbs and spices. Dark meat takes longer to cook than chicken breasts, so plan cooking time accordingly. The dark meat of legs and thighs should cook between 45 and 50 minutes for maximum doneness. There should be no pink meat inside or near the bone when done.

Chicken breasts are popular due to their low fat content. But they can be dry if not prepared well. Season the chicken breasts and bake in the oven for 12 to 15 minutes if they are normal size. Chicken breasts cook fast, and will continue to cook after taken from the oven, so make sure that they don’t bake for longer than the recommended time. The temperature should reach 165 degrees to ensure doneness. Leaving the skin on will add flavor, but many people prefer the boneless, skinless breasts.

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