The Foolproof Way To Determine When It's Time To Flip Skillet Chicken

Pan-searing chicken may invoke a twinge of fear — hot pan, hot grease, open fire, and a piece of meat that you want to end up nowhere near raw. If you've ever set off your fire alarm with smoking oil, ended up with a dry outer breast that's still pink on the inside, or left a layer of charred pieces of stringy meat stuck to your pan after you attempted a midway flip (or probably all three if we're being real), you're familiar with the joys of perfecting a stovetop chicken dinner. While perfecting timing and temperature takes a bit of finesse and practice, there is a foolproof way to ensure no meat gets left behind in the skillet when you flip the bird.

The key to a seamless flip of that seared chicken piece is to play the waiting game. After laying the chicken in the hot pan, you must resist any urge to touch or move it. Let the heat, metal, and cooking fat do their thing for at least five minutes. You will know when it's time to flip the piece of chicken when it doesn't stick at all upon nudging it with your tongs or spatula. When the meat glides effortlessly across the surface of the pan is when it's ready for the other side.

Why the waiting game works

Time and heat are a friend of seared chicken and ensure a nice golden brown crust and easy turnover. Chicken is high in protein (and low in fat that creates a barrier with the pan), and protein loves to form a chemical bond with metal upon contact. But as the meat sits in the hot pan, the proteins will begin to break down and the bonds will be released. This is where that self-control and not moving the meat are of utmost importance. You want the bonds to be completely destroyed before you flip the chicken to ensure no sticking.

Once you've waited out those five-plus minutes and feel zero resistance when you give the chicken a poke, go ahead and flip it and then play the waiting game again on the second side — absolutely no touching. You should be left with a beautifully browned piece of meat and a pan surface not in need of a Brillo scrub. And fret not, if this technique seems a bit overwhelming or you can't get it down pat, you can always pop the pan in a preheated oven to finish cooking the chicken after searing but sans flip (just make sure the pan doesn't have a plastic handle).