Whether you’re baking a Cornish Hen, a Chicken, or even a Duck, these five tips will make sure that you end up with a perfect bird every time.
Get a Meat Thermometer
Meat Thermometers are your best friends. That being said, I would recommend shying away from traditional ones. I know, blasphemy! But hear me out.
Most Traditional Meat Thermometers are a metal rod attached to a domed circle. Inside the circle is the dial and a piece of paper (or similar item) with the temperature gauge printed on top. Seems fairly simply, right? Unfortunately it has been my experience that condensation likes to build up inside the dome during baking- and washing, and simply sitting in your drawer. Over time this can lead to it not only being hard for you to read, but also messing up both the reading and the printing.
Instead, I suggest investing in a good digital meat thermometer. They often have an on / off button, a way to replace the battery if it goes bad, and buttons that let you cycle between Celsius and Fahrenheit temperatures. Some of the really good ones even have the ability to allow you to select the type of meat that you are cooking- and will let you know what the correct cooking temperature is, and when the internal temperature is at the right spot for that type of meat.
Be careful, however, because unlike some traditional styles these cannot be left in the meat while it is in the oven. Instead they are a “pull it out, insert, wait for temp to level, take out, put meat back in oven” type of thermometer. Furthermore a lot of them are not safe to fully submerge in water to clean. They have their downs for sure, but they’re still the best you can get in my opinion, and it’s worth the investment in a good one.
Breast down- not the other way around
This is one of the first tips I learned from my Mother when I was old enough to start helping with Thanksgiving preparations. And I can promise that it makes all of the difference.
When most people bake whole fowl, they have a habit of cooking them with the legs down. But while you might get away with it for smaller birds, this is one of the biggest mistakes you can probably make with medium to large sized fowl.
See, when you cook a bird the traditional way (legs down)? The juice runs from the breast to the bottom of the pan- effectively leading to drier meat in the area that has… Well… The most meat. This is especially true with any bird that you have to cook for longer than 3 hours. However, cooking it legs up with the breast in the bottom of the pan will keep the juices to the breast area, leading to an all around juicier bird.
Pretend you’re in a horror movie
It may seem counterintuitive to stab your bird like you’re in the real life equivalent of a slasher flick considering the more holes you put in it the more juices will escape. But basting, a common practice in baking fowl like this, has two purposes: To create a crisp exterior texture, and remoisten meat that may be going dry. Unfortunately basting a bird with the skin attached isn’t going to do you much good if you don’t give the basting liquids a way to get in to the meat in the first place.
This doesn’t mean that you really must hack and slash the bird, though. But adding a few well placed slits into the meet with a smaller knife goes a long way. I also recommend scouring the skin in a diamond grid pattern. Great instructions for the process can be found here; even though this is for a duck specifically and includes all the roasting instructions, I highly suggest this for all whole medium-large oven roasted fowl. A word of warning, though? Be careful not to break through the final layer and into the meat itself. If you go overboard with cutting into the meat it can certainly be a disaster.
Pitch a Tent
When you bake anything, heat of the baking process released the moisture in the food. Eventually that moisture evaporates and, if cooked too long, you wind up with something dry. Fowl really is no different in this regard. You can get around this, however, by placing a foil tent over the baking pan in order to trap that moisture in with the bird you’re baking.
Keep in mind, however, that a Tin Foil tent doesn’t just keep the moisture in… It also keeps the heat out to some regard. As a result, it might take longer to cook than it would if you didn’t tent it. Likewise, the Tin Foil will usually prevent the bird from getting that nice, crispy skin that we all love. If you want to avoid that, take the Tin Foil off about 30 minutes to an hour before it’s done baking depending on the size of the bird and your oven.
Slow Roasted is Better
I could sing sweet melodies about the virtues of slow, oven roasted fowl all year- and that melody would be true. Sure, it takes a lot longer to cook, but slow roasted just tastes better. Additionally, there’s a much smaller chance of overcooking or drying out your meat, as it cooks so slowly that it’s easier to find that done-ness that’s just right. (Hint: It’s usually when the meat is starting to fall off the bone with very little pressure from a fork of knife).
So set your oven to 200 °F, pop it in, sit back, and relax for 2-8 hours depending on your fowl of choice. Your efforts will be paid off in full when you’re consuming pure bliss.
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