Novice cooks may find the array of chicken cooking options to be intimidating. It doesn’t help when you watch pro chefs on TV get chewed out for serving undercooked chicken to judges. How do you figure it out?

Your chicken will be destined for great things with a little preparation. Watch out for common rookie mistakes or getting caught up in the same boring routine. The list below gets down to chicken prepping basics, helping you duck the scourge of Salmonella and the curse of dry chicken. You’ll need to dig up your own recipes, but whether you’re a beginner or champion, these tips can get you on track.

  1. Thawing Incorrectly

    Out of all the thawing no-no’s, letting your frozen chicken thaw on the counter at room temperature is error number one. Salmonella and other bacteria love warm weather, and it only takes about 20 minutes for them to get the party started, get out of hand, and bring that poison to your gut.

    Instead, allow your chicken to head from the freezer to the fridge where it can defrost in a cold environment. If you’re trying to save time, giving it a cold bath to thaw in will work too. Zip it up in a freezer bag and allow it to deice in a bowl of cold water for 2-3 hours. Just be sure to keep the water’s temp cold.

    For freezer-to-pan meals, keep in mind that they take longer to cook but this method can be ideal for slow cooker recipes or stews.

  2. Underseasoning

    seasoned chickenEric Kilby via Flickr

    Salt and pepper certainly have an effect but you can push it with other flavors. Get in the cavity with other flavors like fresh garlic, rosemary, paprika, or curry. Marinate or brine those raw chicken breasts. Don’t be afraid to use fresh herbs, onions, lemon slices, or butter under the skin either!

  3. Flipping the Bird Too Much

    Allowing your poultry enough time to cook on each side helps it to get a nice brown crust. Don’t flip it until it stops sticking to the pan.

  4. Removing Skin and Bone

    You might think it’s more convenient to go boneless or skinless, but you’re missing out. Leaving the skin on while you cook your chicken seals in moisture and flavor. You get a juicy piece of bird with crispy skin. The bone aids in an even heat transmission during cooking.

    Try it and say buh-bye to dry, bland chicken. An added bonus? Bone-in pieces are cheaper at the market!

  5. Skipping the Thermometer

    Being on the safe side in the kitchen should not be underestimated. Exterior looks can be deceiving so it’s essential to make sure poultry is cooked all the way through to avoid food poisoning. Poke a thermometer in that bird, checking to see if it’s done internally at 165° F. A thermometer can also help you prevent overcooking, leaving your meat dry and rubbery.

Remember to clean up any liquid the chicken was packaged with in your prep area to avoid cross contamination from bacteria. After you finish priming your chicken, have fun experimenting with recipes!

What’s your favorite part of the chicken? What’s your preferred thawing method? Do you prefer bone-in or boneless chicken?