When cooking chicken in a convection oven, the biggest things to pay attention to are time and temperature. Both of these factors will influence the quality of the final product, whether it is a whole bird or just a pan of wings. Cooking chicken in a convection oven has many advantages over using a regular oven, at least where baking and roasting are concerned. Convection ovens usually require less time and lower temperatures, making meal preparation faster and more energy efficient. Following a few basic tips and paying attention to all aspects of the process can make the experience stress-free and easy.
Cooking chicken well in a convection oven usually starts with a basic understanding of how the convection system works. Traditional ovens tend to have one or two main heating elements that power the entire chamber. This means that different parts of the oven can and often do have slightly different temperatures at any given time. Things are different in a convection situation. Here, a centralized fan constantly distributes the heat, ensuring even cooking at the top, bottom, or center.
Most recipes are designed for conventional ovens. One of the first things a chef must do when cooking chicken in a convection oven is to alter the timing and possibly also the temperature in order to adjust for the difference in heat distribution. Most experts recommend one of three options. Chefs can cook a recipe at the same temperature but for less time; they can cook it for the same time but at a reduced temperature; or they can cook it for slightly less time at a slightly lower temperature. Figuring out exactly how much lower things should go largely depends on the dish being made.
Cooking a whole chicken in a convection oven can be a great way to give it a golden, crispy exterior while maintaining a tender and juicy center. In general, whole chickens should be cooked for about 15 minutes per pound (about 0.45 kg) in a convection oven heated to 375°F (190°C). Depending on the size of the bird, it may make sense to use a roasting pan, which allows the heat to penetrate all sides at once. Turning the meat regularly in a regular pan can simulate this effect.
It is usually a good idea to closely monitor the cooking as it progresses to make sure that the meat is not getting too brown. If it looks like the outside is cooking faster than the inside, it may make sense to tent the bird in foil or baste it with a broth or water solution. In either event, cooks should minimize the amount of time that the oven door is open, as the introduction of outside air can alter the effectiveness of the convection fan system. Watching from behind the oven door is usually the best thing to do. When the meat needs tending, it is best to be as quick as possible. Lowering the temperature part way through may also make sense, but this tactic may mean that the meat will take longer to finish cooking.
Wings and Thighs
Roasting chicken wings and thighs in a convection oven usually depends more on time than weight. Specific temperatures vary depending on recipe and preparation — wings coated in buffalo sauce may require different times and temperatures than thighs braised in wine and baked into a casserole, for instance — but in general, cooking at about 350°F (176°C) for between 35 and 45 minutes should be sufficient. Depending on how they are prepared, wings may need to be rotated a few times to prevent burning. This is particularly true of pieces that are simply set on baking sheets. The convection oven will help make sure that the heat is distributed evenly, but it won’t prevent the meat from sticking to the bottom of the pan.
Starting breasts at 350°F (176°C) is usually also recommended, though this is very flexible. It is usually a good idea to look at what the recipe for a particular dish says first — some preparations, particularly those with heavy sauces or that are accompanied by vegetables, may need higher temperatures, while those that feature bare breasts may do better in a slightly cooler oven.
As a general rule, thicker chicken pieces will need to cook a little longer, particularly if they are bone-in. Boneless, skinless breasts will often be done far faster than some of their counterpart pieces, which is also something to think about. The main things to watch for are brownness on the top and juices that run clear. If the breasts are submerged in any sort of sauce or marinade, this should be bubbling.
General Flavor and Preparation Tips
There are many different ways to prepare chicken for baking in a convection oven, though the best results usually take a bit of pre-planning, at least where flavorings and marinades are concerned. Rubbing meat in spices — or even just salt and pepper — can help it stay moist during cooking. Leaving it to set overnight in a savory broth or liquid can also improve the flavor. Adding different sauces, vegetables, and seasonings to the pan before putting it in the oven can also add something special to the completed dish. There is always a lot of room for creativity.
Convection baking is a good way to promote even cooking, but no methods are absolutely fool-proof. It is always a good idea to check chicken’s internal temperature before removing it from the oven, and certainly before serving it. Most food safety experts agree that chicken and other poultry should have an internal temperature of at least 165°F (74°C). This is something to particularly watch for if the chicken started out frozen or partially frozen. Though the outside may look crisp and delicious, if the interior is underdone the meal might cause serious illness or stomach upset.