Spiced and herbed, marinated or sauced, cut in pieces or stuffed and roasted whole, baked chicken is the quintessential Sunday dinner. The mild flavor pairs well with flavors from many different cuisine styles, and nearly every region of the world features classic baked chicken dishes. Despite the differences in regional flavors, however, most baked chicken recipes call for similar cooking techniques. Once you master those basics, you'll be able to conquer nearly any roasted or baked chicken dinner recipe.
Handle Chicken Safely
Chicken can carry salmonella, listeria, E. coli and other bacteria. The USDA recommends washing your hands after handling raw chicken and before handling other foods, as well as washing and disinfecting all utensils and surfaces that come into contact with raw chicken, immediately. Keep chicken refrigerated until you're ready to cook it, and thaw frozen chicken in the refrigerator or in the microwave, or under cold, running water. While many cookbooks and older recipes suggest washing chicken before cooking it, the USDA now recommends against it to avoid spreading bacteria around your work area.
Choose Chicken Wisely
Baking cooks food with hot, dry air, which can dry meat out. You can avoid serving dry, tough baked chicken by starting with a young, tender bird. Broiler/fryers are 7-week-old chickens that weigh between 2 1/2 and 4 1/2 pounds. Roasters are 8 to 12 weeks old and weigh 5 pounds or more. Capons are neutered male chickens from 16 weeks to 10 months old. All three are suitable for baking, either whole or in pieces.
Stuff a Whole Chicken
If you're going to cook dressing inside the bird, stuff it immediately before putting it in the oven. Fill the front and rear cavities with stuffing mixture, then pull the skin together over it. Some cooks sew the skin together with a poultry needle or use skewers and string to pull the skin together before baking the chicken. With smaller birds, cross the ends of the legs and tie them together. Alternatives to stuffing the chicken with dressing include filling the cavities with onions, garlic, celery, carrots and aromatic herbs.
Flavor From the Outside In
Glazes, herbs and spice rubs are another way to punch up chicken's mild flavor. Experiment with combinations of thyme, tarragon, sage, basil and rosemary. Rub the chicken inside and out with salt, pepper and dried or fresh herbs before baking, or insert herbs and garlic cloves between the skin and meat. Glazes help crisp and flavor skin as well as flavoring the meat. Lemon, ginger, honey, soy sauce, pepper, salt and brown sugar are common ingredients for glazes.
Bake Chicken in Pieces
Cut-up chicken will bake best if you cook pieces of uniform size. If you're cooking different-size pieces together, place thicker, larger pieces -- or the thicker end of individual pieces -- toward the outside of the roasting pan and the thinner pieces in the middle. Try marinating chicken parts, brushing them with sauce or coating them with breadcrumbs before baking them for tasty variety.
Timing Your Chicken
The USDA recommends baking chicken at 350 degrees Fahrenheit until the interior temperature reaches 165 F. Michelle Tam, author of best-selling cookbook "Nom Nom Paleo," offers a simple formula to help you time your baked chicken: 45 minutes plus 7 minutes per pound. Alternatively, you can start your chicken at 400 F for the first 15 minutes to crisp the skin, then lower the temperature and bake at 350 F for the remaining time. For moister chicken, baste the skin with melted butter and pan juices every 15 to 20 minutes.