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5 Ways to Cook Chicken Quickly

Chicken is inexpensive, versatile and quick to cook. See more easy weeknight meals pictures.
©iStockphoto.com/rudisill

In today's come-as-you-are culinary scene, you'll find omnivores, vegetarians, vegans, meat-eaters who don't eat beef, and "vegetarians" who eat fish; what you almost never find is someone who eats everything except chicken.

There's probably good reason for that. Versatile, mild, affordable, healthy and utterly available, chicken is something of a standby in modern cooking. It is, in fact, the most popular protein source in American homes, beating out beef for "most common meat on the dinner table."

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Chicken has another thing going for it, too, that may help further explain its popularity: You can cook it pretty quickly. Not all cooking methods will get it done in a jiffy, though. Here, five ways to get a chicken dinner on the table in 30 minutes or less, beginning with one you probably know quite well: oven-baking.

With a small tweak in the meat, baking can take less than 25 minutes ...

This most basic cooking method requires little effort on your part. About all it requires is pressing a few buttons and flipping halfway through, and if you minimize the prep time, you can have dinner on the table in about 30 minutes.

While a whole chicken or bone-in parts can actually take quite a while to bake, if you switch to boneless breasts, you'll find that time comes way down. In an oven heated to 375 degrees Fahrenheit, a boneless, skinless, split chicken breast can cook through in about 10 to 12 minutes per side. Add in 10 minutes to preheat and 1 minute for some simple seasonings, and you can not only whip up a quick meal but also get the veggies steamed and the rice all fluffy while the chicken cooks.

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For even quicker, more even cooking, lightly pound the breasts to a uniform thickness of about 1 inch -- and do it between two sheets of plastic wrap or wax paper to prevent the possible spread of any bacteria.

Try it tonight:

Next, still in the oven ...

While some people confuse broiling with baking, about the only similarity is the oven locale. Baking surrounds food with heated air to cook it, while broiling uses direct infrared radiation to cook food from above. It's kind of like reverse grilling.

On the downside, broiling can require some hard scrubbing after the fact, because drippings can really get crusted in. On the upside, broiling uses super-high heat, usually about 500 degrees Fahrenheit, which makes it a crazy-quick way to cook. Chicken breasts can be done in as little as 5 to 8 minutes per side. (Even bone-in chicken parts can cook quickly this way, although not as quickly as breasts). If you've got less than 20 minutes to get your chicken dinner on the table, broiling is an excellent way to go.

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Try it tonight:

Next, moving outside (or not) ...

For equally fast cooking and a possibly faster clean-up, try firing up the grill. Chicken breasts will cook in a similar amount of time as with broiling, about 5 to 8 minutes per side, and all you have to do is run the grill brush back and forth a few times once dinner is done.

One of the easiest ways to get a lot of flavor out of your grilled chicken is to marinate beforehand. It's fast: The night before, toss the breasts in a plastic bag and pour in some easy marinade. Sesame oil and soy sauce is quick. Bottled marinade is even quicker.

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If weather gets in the way of using your backyard barbecue, just pull out the electric, countertop version of the cooking appliance. While you won't get the delicious, smoky char you do on the grill, the chicken will cook just as fast, and you still get grill marks.

Try it tonight:

Next, pull out a pan ...

If speedy is what you're after, try tossing those chicken breasts in a pan (or a wok). Pan-frying, sautéing, and stir-frying all produce quick, tasty results in as little as 10 minutes -- that's total, not per side. It depends, of course, on the thickness of the chicken. A thicker breast may take up to 6 minutes per side; a pounded-thin breast might take about 4 to 5 minutes per side. Cut the chicken into bite-size pieces for the shortest cooking time of all.

This cooking method cuts down on total time in another way, too: You don't have to wait 10 minutes while the appliance preheats. It only takes about a minute to heat a pan to medium-high.

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For one of the fastest chicken dinners you can make, cube a couple of chicken breasts and toss them in a pan or a wok with a bag of pre-washed broccoli or snow peas or a can of baby corn (or all three). Add bottled stir-fry sauce for the last 5 minutes of cooking. While you're stir-frying, boil a bag of quick rice. Dinner's on the table in about 15 minutes.

More options:

Finally, a method you may not have thought of ...

Many people have never even considered cooking chicken (or any other meat) in a microwave, at least unless you're talking about leftovers. But if your recipe doesn't require that the chicken be browned, there's really no rule that says you can't utilize the speediest appliance in your kitchen.

In a microwave, you can cook two chicken breasts in 4 minutes. It doesn't get faster than that. The trick is keeping it moist, which is easy enough to do. Simply add a liquid (water, chicken broth, an olive-oil-lemon-juice mixture) to the microwave dish, cover, and nuke.

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Give it a shot:

Even if making a chicken dinner in the microwave feels odd to you, you can still use the appliance to cut the time for any other cooking method you choose. Before pan-frying, grilling, broiling or baking, pop the chicken in the microwave for a minute or two. That head-start will shave minutes off the cooking time when you move the chicken to the oven, stove or grill.

No matter how you cook your chicken, how long it takes or which recipe you use, always take an extra 10 seconds to stick a meat thermometer into the thickest part before you put it on the table. If it reads 165 degrees Fahrenheit or more, you're good to go. Those 10 seconds might end up saving you more time and energy than you know.

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More Great Links

Sources

  • Broiled, Butterflied Chicken. Food Network. (Oct. 25, 2011) http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/alton-brown/broiled-butterflied-chicken-recipe/index.html
  • Chicken. WH Foods. (Oct. 24, 2011) http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=116
  • Fact Sheets: Poultry Preparation. USDA. (Oct. 24, 2011) http://www.fsis.usda.gov/factsheets/Chicken_from_Farm_To_Table/index.asp
  • Food Dictionary. Epicurious. (Oct. 26, 2011) http://www.epicurious.com/tools/fooddictionary
  • Fried Chicken. Food Network. (Oct. 25, 2011) http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/alton-brown/fried-chicken-recipe/index.html
  • Grilling and Broiling Chicken. Recipe Tips. (Oct. 25, 2011) http://www.recipetips.com/kitchen-tips/t--322/grilling-and-broiling-chicken.asp
  • How to Sauté Chicken. Cooking Light. (Oct. 25, 2011) http://www.cookinglight.com/cooking-101/techniques/how-to-saute-chicken-00400000060407/
  • Perfect Fried Chicken. All Recipes. (Oct. 25, 2011) http://allrecipes.com/HowTo/perfect-fried-chicken/detail.aspx
  • Stir-Fried Chicken and Vegetables. Food Network. (Oct. 25, 2011) http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/robin-miller/stir-fried-chicken-and-vegetables-recipe/index.html

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