Chicken is an economical an ingredient as they come. As with any meat, there are premium cuts that cost more—with chicken, that’s almost always going to be the lean breast meat—but even so, you can usually find chicken on sale somewhere. And if you can’t, no worries. These days, your local grocery store almost definitely carries a few inexpensive cuts of chicken that, with the right recipe, can go from 0 to 60 on the dinner scale, and for pennies a pound. Here are five cuts of chicken we love, a few tips to extract maximum flavor from each, a video of how to debone a whole chicken, and a chicken recipe for each one.
- Chicken Breast: The meatiest and leanest cut of chicken, chicken breasts are readily available bone-in or boneless, skinless or skin-on and can be baked, grilled, poached, steamed, roasted, or simmered in a slow cooker for high-impact flavor. A whole breast will grill beautifully in 8 to 10 minutes or poach perfectly in 15 minutes or so. To test doneness—and always for safety—check with a meat thermometer in the thickest part of the breast. Chicken should cook to at least 165°.
- Chicken Wings: Dainty chicken wings are a beloved appetizer by football fans the world over, but they’re also great for making a rich chicken stock for soups and stews. Toss a couple of pounds of wings in a deep stock pot for a nice long simmer along with some carrots, onions, thyme, celery, a bay leaf, kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper. Strain and use for risotto, soups, stews, or poaching other ingredients.
- Chicken Thighs: Boneless thighs are the hottest thing to hit grocery store meat departments since filet mignon. Unlike such expensive cuts of meat, though, boneless thighs are el cheapo, but equally delicioso. And for quick and easy dishes, there’s nothing better—flavor-rich chicken thighs braise in five minutes flat and deliver a tender, succulent dish every time.
- Leg Quarters: Leg quarters are almost always available at bargain-basement prices, and they’re perfect for cooking in a crock-pot or roasting. To inject extra richness, cook with the skin on (which can be removed before eating); and stuff ingredients between skin and meat, like feta and spinach, then top with a boldly flavored glaze.
- Chicken Legs: When it comes to perfect fried or barbecued chicken, legs are tasty choices. The meat is rich and moist, they cook evenly and quickly and, they’re just easier to hold and eat. For extra-moist fried chicken legs, brine them for a few hours (or ideally overnight) in buttermilk or a mixture of water, kosher salt, honey and thyme.