Cooking chicken can take a long time, especially if you are cooking a whole chicken or chicken breasts. The average baked chicken breast takes 40-50 minutes to cook through at 350°F. But there are tips and tricks you can use to significantly cut down the cooking time while still ending up with juicy, flavorful chicken.
Why Does Chicken Take So Long to Cook?
Chicken takes a while to cook because you need to cook the inside to a safe minimum internal temperature without drying out the outside. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), chicken needs to reach an internal temperature of 165°F to be safe to eat. If the outer surfaces get overcooked and dry before the inside reaches 165°F, you’ll end up with very tough, stringy chicken.
A whole chicken or thick chicken breast might take 30-50 minutes to cook through because heat transfers slowly from the outside to the inside. It takes time for each millimeter layer to get hot enough to kill bacteria. So cooking chicken requires finding the right balance between thoroughly cooking the inside and avoiding overcooking the outside.
Tips for Cooking Chicken Faster
Here are some tips you can use to reduce the cooking time for chicken while still ending up with safe, delicious chicken:
1. Cut the Chicken into Smaller Pieces
Cutting chicken breasts, thighs, legs, etc. into smaller pieces exposes more surface area. This allows heat to penetrate faster into the meat, significantly reducing cook time. You can cook bone-in chicken pieces in 20-30 minutes compared to 40-50 minutes for a whole breast.
Some ideas for cutting chicken into smaller pieces include:
- Cut breast halves into thinner cutlets
- Cut bone-in thighs into strips
- Separate drumsticks into drumsticks and thighs
- Cut wings into drumettes and flats
2. Pound the Chicken
Pounding chicken breasts, thighs, cutlets, etc. with a meat mallet thins out the meat so it cooks faster. The increased surface area and smaller thickness means less time for heat to transfer through to cook the inside.
Place chicken pieces between two sheets of plastic wrap or put it in a resealable bag. Pound gently with the meat mallet until the chicken is 1⁄2 to 1⁄4 inch thick. Be careful not to tear the chicken.
3. Use Higher Heat
Increasing the oven temperature from the standard 350°F to 375-400°F will significantly decrease cook time. The higher heat transfers more quickly into the chicken to cook the inside faster.
Keep in mind you may need to monitor thinner chicken more closely at higher heats to avoid overcooking. Brushing with oil or basting with liquid as it cooks will help keep the exterior from drying out.
4. Cut Near the Bone
Cutting chicken breasts attached to the rib bones or chicken thighs attached to back bones allows the bones to act as heat conductors. The bones transfer heat fast into the thicker areas of meat, cooking the inside quicker.
5. Use a Meat Thermometer
Using an instant-read meat thermometer allows you to check for doneness as the chicken cooks. You can pull it out of the oven as soon as it reaches 165°F internally rather than overcooking it to be sure it is done.
A meat thermometer takes the guesswork out of determining doneness. Chicken breasts may only need 10-15 minutes if you monitor with a thermometer and don’t overcook them.
6. Grill It
Grilling chicken gets very high heat from the grill grates cooking the surface fast. This transfers heat quickly inside, reducing overall cook time. Boneless chicken breasts may only need 8-12 minutes per side on a hot grill.
Smaller bone-in chicken pieces like wings and thighs also cook fast on the grill. Cook over direct high heat turning halfway through. Basting with barbecue sauce adds flavor.
7. Fry It
Pan frying in just 1⁄4 inch of oil gets pieces of chicken deliciously browned and cooked through in minutes. It brings oil heat to the entire surface area speeding up cook time.
Fry bone-in chicken pieces skin-side down first. Flip halfway through frying until crispy and golden brown and the inside hits 165°F on a thermometer, about 12-15 minutes total.
8. Broil It
Broiling chicken in the oven under direct top heat from the broiler element also cooks chicken fast. Place the chicken on a rimmed baking sheet 6 inches under the broiler. Broil for several minutes until browned, then flip and broil on the other side until fully cooked.
9. Microwave It
The microwave is a convenient option for cooking chicken breasts faster. Microwaves cook from edge to edge, rapidly bringing the inside up to temperature in just a few minutes.
Arrange two chicken breasts in a microwave-safe dish and add some broth or water. Cover with a lid or vented plastic wrap. Microwave on High for 4-7 minutes, flipping halfway through. Check temperature before removing.
10. Poach It
Gently poaching chicken breasts in simmering liquid cooks them incredibly fast and tender. The hot poaching liquid transfers heat evenly into the meat.
Place chicken breasts between 140-160°F poaching liquid like broth, wine, etc. Cook for 15-20 minutes until chicken reaches 165°F internally. The gentler heat results in very tender, juicy chicken.
11. Preheat Your Cookware
Preheating pans, baking sheets, grates, etc. before cooking also reduces chicken cook times. The hot surface sears the chicken immediately to lock in juices and gives heat a head start penetrating inward.
For oven recipes, place the cookware in the oven during preheating. For stovetop, preheat over medium heat before adding oil and chicken.
12. Velvet It
Velveting chicken is a Chinese cooking technique that tenderizes chicken and allows it to cook super fast. It involves marinating briefly in oil, egg whites, cornstarch, and flavorings.
The egg whites and cornstarch turn the chicken velvety smooth. After velveting, chicken can be pan-fried, deep-fried, or stir-fried in just a couple minutes until cooked through.
13. Use a Pressure Cooker
Pressure cookers are amazing for cooking chicken breasts, legs, thighs, wings, etc. incredibly fast. The pressurized environment brings the temperature above boiling so chicken cooks in 1/3 of the normal time.
Chicken breasts take only 5-10 minutes at high pressure to become fall-off-the-bone tender. Smaller chicken pieces cook in under 5 minutes. The results are moist, delicious chicken in a fraction of the time!
Chicken Cooking Times
Here is a table summarizing approximate cooking times for different chicken pieces using various quick cooking methods:
|Chicken Cut||Grilled||Fried||Broiled||Microwaved||Poached||Pressure Cooked|
|Chicken Breast (boneless)||8-12 mins||6-10 mins||10-15 mins||4-7 mins||15-20 mins||5-10 mins|
|Chicken Thighs (bone-in)||18-22 mins||12-16 mins||15-20 mins||7-10 mins||20-25 mins||5-8 mins|
|Chicken Drumsticks||12-15 mins||8-12 mins||10-14 mins||5-7 mins||15-20 mins||4-6 mins|
|Chicken Wings||10-14 mins||6-10 mins||8-12 mins||5-7 mins||12-15 mins||3-5 mins|
In addition to cooking chicken faster, there are some tips you can use to make chicken even more tender and juicy:
Soaking chicken in an acidic marinade for 30 minutes up to overnight will help tenderize and add moisture. Try marinades with ingredients like lemon juice, vinegar, yogurt, wine, or fruit juices.
Submerging chicken in a saltwater brine before cooking infuses it with extra moisture and seasoning. Dissolve 1/4 to 1/2 cup salt per quart of water. Soak 30 minutes to a few hours.
Sous Vide It
Cooking chicken sous vide involves vacuum sealing it and cooking in a precisely temperature controlled water bath. It cooks the chicken at the lowest temperature possible, allowing the inside to come up to temperature without overcooking the outside.
Try cooking chicken breasts sous vide at 145°F for 1-2 hours for the juiciest results before searing.
Cook to Proper Temperature
Avoid overcooking chicken past 165°F internally, as going above this temp dries out the meat. Use a meat thermometer for perfectly cooked, moist chicken.
Let It Rest
Allowing chicken to rest for 5-10 minutes after cooking gives the juices time to redistribute throughout the meat. Skipping this leads to drier chicken.
Cooking chicken faster while keeping it tender and juicy is easy with the right techniques. Cutting chicken into smaller pieces, pounding to an even thickness, increasing the heat, and monitoring temperature are all reliable tricks to slash cook times. Methods like grilling, broiling, frying, and using a pressure cooker also cook chicken incredibly fast.
Additionally, brining, marinating, sous vide cooking, and not overcooking will produce the most tender and moist results. Master these tips for enjoying delicious chicken on the dinner table in record time.