Chicken is a staple food in households around the world.

It’s an excellent and important source of animal protein, as well as a good source of B vitamins, iron, potassium, and selenium (1).

According to the National Chicken Council, almost 10 billion pounds of chicken were bred and raised for meat production in the United States in 2020 (2).

Chicken meat is quite versatile, and you can prepare it in many ways. However, when it comes to its health benefits, all cooking methods for chicken aren’t created equal.

For example, dry cooking at high temperatures of up to 482oF (250oC), longer cooking durations, and even the doneness of the chicken may lead to the production of harmful chemicals (3, 4, 5, 6).

These carcinogenic chemicals can include (3, 4, 5, 6, 7):

  • heterocyclic aromatic amines (HAAs) or heterocyclic amines (HCAs)
  • polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs)
  • advanced glycation end products (AGEs)

On the other hand, cooking methods that don’t brown the meat or produce smoke tend to be better for you. Most of these use water in some way or another.

Here 4 of the healthiest ways to cook chicken.

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Nadine Greeff/Stocksy United

Sous vide is a healthy cooking method that involves vacuum-sealing foods and seasonings in a food-grade plastic pouch and cooking them in a water bath. This cooks the chicken without direct heat, which should reduce the production of HAAs, PAHs, and AGEs (8).

Note that you may want to use bisphenol A (BPA)-free plastic bags, as it has been suggested that this chemical may transfer from plastic cooking bags into foods that have been cooked via this method (9).

You can cook seasoned chicken meat sous vide at 140oF (60oC) for 1 hour, or up to 3 hours if you want to enhance the flavor of the final product (8).

This slow cooked, low temperature method reduces nutrient losses and produces chicken that is tender with a high mineral content (8, 10).

You can opt to use special sous vide equipment, but a simple cooking thermometer and water bath are all you need.

Summary

Sous vide is a healthy cooking method in which you cook chicken in a food-grade plastic pouch in a water bath at 140oF (60oC) for 1 hour, or up to 3 hours as desired.

Steaming is another healthy and quick cooking method for chicken. For this method, you use a steaming basket and pot of hot water.

Alternatively, you can get the same results by cooking in a steam-assisted hybrid oven.

Steaming is a high temperature method with a short cooking time that has been shown to produce fewer HCAs compared with other high temperature cooking methods (11).

The steam prevents a crust from forming on the surface of the chicken, which reduces drying out of the meat to produce a moist and tender product.

The high temperatures also melt more of the fat on the chicken (11, 12).

Summary

Steaming is a high temperature cooking method with a short cooking time. It produces moist and tender chicken that’s unlikely to contain the carcinogenic HAA.

Like steaming, pressure cooking uses high temperatures for short durations and produces moist, tender, and flavorful chicken dishes.

Given that longer cooking times increase the production of HCAs, pressure cooking’s short cooking duration is likely to produce fewer HAAs, PAHs, or AGEs as well (4).

An older study found that pressure cooking reduced the oxidation of cholesterol in meat, while a recent study identified various cooking methods that either increased or decreased cholesterol oxides in chicken (13, 14).

Oxidized cholesterol is a risk factor for heart disease. This type of cholesterol is linked to a narrowing of the arteries that can occur due to atherosclerosis, a condition characterized by plaque buildup (14, 15, 16).

You can pressure cook in an electric multicooker or traditional pressure cooker with a weight valve.

Summary

Pressure cooking heats chicken to high temperatures for a short period. This cooking method retains vitamins, reduces cholesterol oxidation, and produces minimal or no HAAs, PAHs, or AGEs.

Microwaving meat is a common cooking method in commercial food processing and food service operations (16).

Not only is it a convenient cooking method, but 10 minutes of microwaving chicken in a typical 750-watt home microwave allows the core temperature of chicken to reach 167oF (75oC) (16).

This is above the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s minimum recommended internal temperature for cooking poultry, which is 165°F (73.9°C) (17).

Microwaving chicken does retain its protein content. However, this method may burn the surface and dry out the meat (16).

What’s more, one review article noted that HCAs, which can be produced when you heat various types of meat and fish, caused several different types of cancer in rodents and monkeys.

The authors suggested that using microwave ovens to cook food may reduce the production of HCAs and help people prevent these harmful effects (18).

Summary

Microwaving chicken is a common practice in commercial food processing and food service operations. This cooking method reduces the production of carcinogenic HAAs compared with some other cooking methods like baking and frying.

Several types of cooking methods may produce carcinogens, such as HCAs, PAHs, and AGEs, in meat. Cooking methods that produce these include (3, 4, 5, 6):

  • barbecuing
  • grilling
  • charring
  • cooking over an open flame
  • pan-searing
  • deep-frying
  • roasting
  • smoking

Various studies have found that rats and monkeys fed HAA developed several cancers, including breast, colon, and prostate cancers (5).

Likewise, human studies have found that exposure to HCAs and AGEs increases your risk of cancer (19, 20, 21).

Studies have also found that these chemicals are linked to inflammation and an increased risk of developing heart disease and type 2 diabetes (3).

Fortunately, you can reduce your exposure to these chemicals by choosing safer cooking methods and modifying high-risk cooking methods to reduce the production and accumulation of HAAs, PAHs, and AGEs in meat.

Limiting how often you prepare chicken with these high-risk cooking methods also reduces your exposure to carcinogenic and inflammatory compounds.

Summary

Several methods of cooking may produce carcinogens in chicken and other types of meat. These include frying, grilling, barbecuing, smoking, and roasting, among other methods, and they tend to involve dry heat and produce browning or smoke.

Chicken is an important and nutritious source of animal protein and essential minerals like iron and potassium.

However, many of the common cooking methods people use to cook it may cause more harm than good.

Certain cooking methods, including barbecuing, grilling, and braising, may increase the production of compounds associated with the development of cancer, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes.

Safer, healthier cooking methods for chicken include sous vide, steaming, pressure cooking, and microwaving.