Boneless chicken makes for faster meal preparation with its shorter cooking time, while bone-in chicken is easier to bake to juicy perfection without losing valuable moisture. Reaching for boneless or bone-in chicken at the grocery store is typically a matter of personal preference, but both can have a place in your kitchen when prepared properly.
Chicken Baking Basics
Chicken is typically baked in a 350-degree Fahrenheit oven to promote even cooking and browning. Depending on the cut of meat, cooking times will vary greatly with boneless being the quickest and bone-in cuts taking longer. For the best flavor, season the chicken with salt, pepper and spices before cooking. For the lowest fat, choose boneless chicken breasts, as these are sold without skin, greatly reducing the fat content; boneless chicken is also less expensive in most cases compared to bone-in chicken. After cooking, always allow 10 minutes of standing time for bone-in chicken and five minutes for boneless chicken before serving.
Boneless chicken cooks faster than bone-in cuts, though requires more work to ensure a juicy and tender piece of meat when finished. When using boneless chicken breasts, flatten them to an even thickness before cooking using a kitchen mallet or the handle of a knife. This step ensure even cooking and helps to eliminate dried out breasts; for boneless thighs this is not necessary, as the higher fat content keeps the meat juicy throughout cooking. Season the boneless chicken well, and dredge in flour, egg and breadcrumbs if desired to lock in some moisture during the baking process. Brining and basting boneless chicken before and during the cooking process are also helpful to keeping boneless chicken moist during the baking process.
Bone-in chicken does take longer to cook, but having a bone keeps the meat juicier for longer and can create a better finished product when done correctly. Cook bone-in chicken covered with aluminum foil for one-half of the cooking time before removing the foil and allowing the chicken to brown during the second half of cooking. To lower the fat content of bone-in chicken, remove the skin before cooking. Brine bone-in chicken in your refrigerator for up to two days in advance to ensure even juicier meat when baked.
Chicken Baking Tips
The easiest way to avoid dried out chicken when baking is to use a meat thermometer to ensure you do not overcook the chicken. Cook all chicken cuts until the thickest part registers at 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Do not measure the temperature next to a bone. When cooking bone-in chicken, there is less risk for creating dry meat and therefore different cuts of chicken or even a whole cut-up chicken can all be cooked together in the same dish. With boneless chicken, ensure all cuts of meat are of even size so that some do not get overly dried out while waiting for others to cook through.