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Sunday, February 17, 2008

Chicken Cooking Basics

Chicken is a dinnertime favorite: it's highly versatile, family-friendly, and good for you.

Chicken is a great source of protein with the added bonus of being low in fat and calories, especially if you don't eat the skin. But like all fresh meats, it is perishable. Since raw poultry can transmit illness-causing bacteria such as Salmonella and Listeria, use care during handling and preparation.

Keep It Cold

Never leave raw or frozen chicken at room temperature. Raw chicken should be stored in the coldest part of your refrigerator and used within two days. Freeze any chicken that won't be used right away. You can freeze it in its store packaging, but if you plan on storing it for longer than two months in the freezer, you should unwrap the chicken and rewrap it in heavy duty aluminum foil and a plastic freezer bag.

* Frozen chicken can be stored in the freezer for up to one year without sacrificing quality.
* When thawing frozen chicken, do so slowly and safely. It will take from 24 hours up to two days to thaw a whole chicken in the refrigerator, and about 2 to 9 hours for cut-up chicken parts (less for boneless pieces).
* Other approved methods are thawing in a cold water bath or by using the defrost cycle of the microwave.

Keep It Clean

Rinse chicken with cold water, inside and out, and pat dry with paper towels before preparing. To prevent cross-contamination, thoroughly clean all surfaces, utensils, cutting boards, knives and hands with hot soapy water after handling raw poultry.

Get It Done

The only way to tell if a chicken is cooked properly is to use a meat thermometer--seeing if the juices run clear is not a reliable indicator of doneness. To test the internal temperature of a whole chicken, insert the thermometer into the thigh, taking care not to touch the bone. Chicken should reach 165 degrees F (74 degrees C). Remember that the meat will continue to cook once it's removed from the heat source, so you may pull it out of the oven or off the grill a few degrees below the target temperature--just keep the thermometer in place and check to be sure the temperature climbs to a safe heat.

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