Kitchen Helpline -- Secrets

Chicken, chicken, and more CHICKEN! We haven't flown the coop. The Kitchen Helpline is open and we're answering the chicken questions you've been clucking about. 

Episode: Spring Chicken

Sunny Anderson, Geoffrey Zakarian, Marela Valladolid, Jeff Mauro, Katie Lee, as seen on Food Network's The Kitchen

Question 1: What is the secret to super tender chicken?

There are 2 things to remember here--the mallet and the marinade!

When it comes to tender chicken, the meat mallet is your friend. Use a metal mallet to tenderize boneless cuts of chicken. Pounding the fillets also makes the thickness consistent for even cooking.

To do this, cover the chicken with plastic wrap to contain any splatters and leave enough room all around for the meat to spread. The bumpy side of the mallet head works best, so start with that and then flip the mallet over to the smooth side to finish. Go until the breast is even and you've reach the desired thickness. You could also use a meat tenderizing tool which can be purchased from any kitchen supply store.

The other secret to tender chicken is in the marinade. Marinating your chicken tenderizes the meat by breaking down the muscle fibers and allowing moisture and flavor to penetrate. Moderate acidity is the key to a good marinade, so think about using dairy--which has lactic acid. Try marinating in yogurt or buttermilk.

You can also marinate chicken in sweet tea. Like wine, sweet tea contains tannins that will naturally tenderize the meat, leaving it tender and flavorful. When marinating, you want to be careful not to overdo it. Too much acid or leaving the chicken in too long will make the chicken mealy and not so tasty. Just remember, the more acidic your marinade, the shorter the marinating time. Yogurt, buttermilk and sweet tea marinades are recommended for as little as 2 hours or as long as overnight.

Question 2: I don't want to undercook my chicken, but I don't want it to be too dry and overdone. What can I do to ensure a moist, juicy chicken dinner?

This one may shock you, but "Forget Time, Remember Temperature." Always remember that chicken should be cooked to an internal temperature of 165 degrees F; DO NOT overcook it. Cooking it beyond that temperature is a sure way to dry out the meat.

To get the chicken to the perfect temperature, you should use a meat thermometer. There are 3 basic types: analog, instant-read digital and leave-in digital.

Analog thermometers provide a reading on the internal temperature from 0 to 220 degrees F. Their drawback is that they can be difficult to read and must be calibrated before using by dipping them in ice or boiling water. They are, however, pretty inexpensive, with prices ranging from $5 to $20.

Next up are instant-read digital thermometers. These are best for testing temperatures on the stovetop or in grilled dishes. Instant-read thermometers are great for accuracy and have a reasonable price range. Thirty bucks can buy you a dependable model, but the prices can range from $20 to $50.

Finally, if you're doing a lot of roasting or barbecued chicken, we recommend the leave-in digital thermometer. Leave-in thermometers have a cable that connects to a device that sits outside of your oven or smoker. At the end of the cable is the probe that inserts directly into the meat while it's cooking, giving you a constant temperature read. Many models will sound an alarm when the meat reaches the desired internal temperature. This way you can relax while your meal cooks to perfection. The prices for these range from $25 to $60.

No matter whether you prefer instant-read or leave-in, digital thermometers are the way to go! As mentioned, analog thermometers are often more difficult to read and take longer for the temperature to read. Always remember to take the temperature at the center of the thickest part of the meat, making sure the tip of the thermometer isn't touching any bones.

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