How to Bake Juicy Chicken in Just 2 Simple Steps
Learn how to bake chicken, and you'll always have something simple and satisfying to bring to the table or add to any recipe. Whether you wish to bake chicken breasts, thighs, drumsticks, or the whole darn bird, we've got all the know-how you need.
Don't you just love the sense of accomplishment you feel serving up tender, juicy chicken for dinner? It sure beats biting into overcooked, dry chicken and needing to quickly grab for a glass of water to help it go down. To ensure you never suffer dry chicken again (at least, not when you're in charge of the cooking), we compiled our Test Kitchen learnings on how long to bake chicken at what temperature for each cut so every attempt you make at baking chicken is a success. The timings and temperatures here are based on fresh or already-thawed chicken. So while we love stocking up on chicken when it's on sale to fill our freezers, be sure to allow for thawing time if you want to use chicken you've frozen.
How to Bake Chicken Pieces
Most nights of the week you just need to know how long to bake chicken breasts, thighs, or drumsticks, not necessarily a whole bird. Prep and bake for a hands-free entrée, and while it's baking, whip up a veggie side dish.
Step 1: Prepare the Chicken Pieces
Arrange chicken pieces, bone sides down (if using bone-in cuts), in a single layer in a 15x10x1-inch baking pan ($10.99, Target) or shallow roasting pan. Brush chicken pieces with oil and season to taste with salt and pepper. If desired, you can also sprinkle the pieces with crushed dried herbs, such as thyme, oregano, Italian seasoning, or herbes de Provence.
Step 2: Bake Chicken Breast, Legs, and Thighs at 375°F
For meaty chicken pieces such as breast halves, drumsticks, and thighs, preheat the oven to 375°F. Bake the chicken pieces, uncovered, for 45 to 55 minutes or until internal temperature tested with a meat thermometer ($14.99, Target) reaches these temperatures:
- Bone-in drumsticks and thighs 175°F
- Skinless, boneless thighs 170°F
- Bone-in chicken breasts 170°F
- Skinless, boneless chicken breasts 165°F
Use the 45- to 55-minute guideline for all your chicken pieces, but check the internal temp to stop baking before they get overcooked. How long you'll bake a chicken breast at 375°F will vary depending on if it's bone-in or boneless, so use the thermometer for the final say.
Serve baked chicken immediately and refrigerate leftovers within 2 hours.
Test Kitchen Tip: We've found that the best temperature to bake chicken breast, leg, and thigh portions is 375°F. However, if you're in a hurry, here's how long to bake chicken at 400°F: Follow Step 1, above, then bake the chicken pieces, uncovered, in the 400°F oven 25 to 30 minutes, until no longer pink or until chicken is done (using baked chicken temperatures above).
How to Store Baked Chicken
If you have leftover baked chicken or were just getting a headstart on future cooking, you can store it for later. Store cooked chicken in an airtight container in the refrigerator up to 3 days. Freeze it if you'll be using it later than that.
To freeze baked chicken, wrap chicken pieces individually in waxed paper. Divide wrapped chicken between two large freezer bags, removing as much air as possible from bags. Label and freeze up to 4 months.
How to Bake a Whole Chicken
With its crisp and irresistibly golden-brown skin and moist, succulent meat, a whole baked chicken never fails to impress. Conveniently, it's one of the easiest entrées you can bring to the table. Note that a whole baked chicken generously serves four.
Step 1: Prepare the Chicken
Before you bake a whole chicken, remove the gizzards or other internal organs if there are any. Discard the organs or save for another use. Place the chicken, breast side up, on a rack in a shallow roasting pan ($49.99, Bed Bath & Beyond). Brush the chicken with olive oil or butter and season with salt, pepper, and any herbs and spices you want to add.
Step 2: Bake the Chicken
Put the chicken in the roasting pan into an oven preheated to 375°F. Bake chicken uncovered. Cooking times vary by weight and by recipe, but in general, follow these guidelines on how long to bake a whole chicken:
- 2½- to 3-pound chicken: Roast 1 to 1¼ hours
- 3½- to 4-pound chicken: Roast 1¼ to 1½ hours
- 4½- to 5-pound chicken: Roast 1¾ to 2 hours
There are a few clues that tell when your baked whole chicken is done. When it's done, the juices run clear, the chicken is no longer pink, and the drumsticks move easily in their sockets. However, don't rely on those tests alone. Always test the doneness by inserting a meat thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh (the thermometer should not touch bone). The thermometer should reach 175°F. Additionally, the temperature of the chicken breast should be 170°F.
Step 3: Let Chicken Stand, Then Carve
When the safe internal temperature is reached, cover the bird and let it stand 15 minutes. This will help the juices redistribute throughout for moist, tender meat. Carve and serve.
Baking chicken at home, whether as pieces or a whole bird, is really as easy as prep and bake. You never have to worry about covering chicken while baking, as it's fine to bake it uncovered, and once your chicken is in the oven, it's hands-free until you need to check the temperature. So you can whip up a no-cook appetizer, side dish, or dessert if you're feeling ambitious.