The Chicken Dinner Playbook: 5 Techniques to Memorize for Quick Weeknight Meals

updated May 1, 2019
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(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

One of the most priceless lessons I took away from culinary school was the value of really learning and understanding cooking techniques over recipes. There was no emphasis on learning a long list of specific recipes. I’ve carried this into my own kitchen, and it has changed me as a home cook and how I think about getting meals on the table for my family.

The way I see it is, when you start with a recipe you get a single meal. But learn the basics of a specific cooking technique and add a little inspiration, and you’ll see that you can turn that into so many different variations. A perfect example of this is the beloved weeknight chicken dinner. From a sheet pan supper to a sweet and tangy stir-fry, these five weeknight meals build on basic cooking techniques for quick and easy chicken dinners.

5 Cooking Techniques to Master for Easy Chicken Dinners

We want to help you approach dinner from a different angle by thinking of the cooking technique before the recipe. So to start, we want to teach you the very best way to turn everyone’s favorite weeknight protein — chicken — into a complete meal, whether you’re starting with lean breasts or juicy thighs.

To start, get to know these five techniques. They give you the most variety, take well to improvisation, and cook quickly. In our cooking lessons for each, we teach you the the most important information around each and show you how to turn them into a tasty dinner with the recipes that put them to use.

Cooking chicken on a sheet pan alongside veggies is about prep and easy cleanup. Everything gets added to the sheet pan, seasoned, and cooked until done — nothing extra required. The chicken (we’re big fans of thighs for this technique) ends up crispy, and the roasted veggies come out tender and crisp.

Recipe to try: This Greek-inspired chicken dinner, with flavors reminiscent of souvlaki, gives skin-on chicken thighs a lemony-herb coating and partners them with crispy potatoes and tender bell peppers using the sheet pan chicken + veggies method. Leftovers are an obvious win for lunch tomorrow.

(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

Chicken and vegetable stir-fry should be a staple of every home cook’s weekly meal plan. It’s quick-cooking, flavorful, and, best of all, seriously versatile. Start with a pack of chicken (we like boneless, skinless breasts for stir-frying), grab whatever veggies you have in the fridge, and whisk together a quick sauce and you’re on your way. Once you have the basic technique for a chicken stir-fry down, you’ll see that you can swap in any sauce and an array of veggies.

Recipe to try: This flavor-packed twist on our basic stir-fry method features lean strips of chicken breast that get a quick sear from the wok before getting tossed with a mess of tender veggies and a savory sauce accented by honey and garlic.

Reminiscent of the Shake’N Bake you loved as a kid, our version of this easy weeknight chicken supper leans on panko breadcrumbs for an even bigger crunch and a mixture of eggs and mayo for seriously juicy meat.

Recipe to try: This recipe starts with our basic technique for baked chicken, then turns it up a notch with an ultra-crispy, flavored-packed coating of nutty Parmesan and panko. Leftovers are the perfect addition to tomorrow’s lunch salad.

(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

Simple pan-seared chicken breast cooked in a little oil with salt and pepper is a timeless technique that’s always worth keeping in the dinner roster. It’s an easy, quick-cooking method that reliably delivers a golden-crisp exterior with a still-juicy interior. It’s just as welcome served with steamed vegetables as it is atop creamy Alfredo pasta.

Recipe to try: This weeknight recipe starts with the basic technique for seared chicken breast, then takes inspiration from one of my favorite appetizers, bruschetta, for a whole lot of pizzazz.

(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

Poaching is an essential (yet totally underutilized) cooking technique that delivers seriously juicy chicken every time. Flavor the poaching liquid very simply (garlic, salt and pepper, a bay leaf) so you can use the chicken in any number of recipes over the week, like chicken salad or soup.

Recipe to try: This loaded taco soup, packed with hearty ingredients and bold flavors, hits the table in just 30 minutes. It takes the lead from our method for poaching chicken and cooks the boneless, skinless breasts right in the soup as it simmers. It infuses even more spiced flavor into the meat, keeps it moist, and means no extra dishes to wash.