Learn how to boil a whole chicken, a basic recipe that will make meal prep easy. You can use the sliced or shredded chicken to make countless other dishes, from simple sandwiches to soups, salads, and so on.
Boiling a whole chicken is super easy and can save dinner many times. Learning how to boil a whole chicken the right way is worth it! It’s easier and takes less time than you might think, it’s budget-friendly, and it allows you to use the flavorful meat in so many different ways that dinner never gets boring.
Table of contents
Why should you do it?
- Meal prep: Boil one chicken at the weekend, and you can prepare several meals the following week.
- Cheap: One chicken, a few vegetables (even veggie scraps), and water. Yet several different chicken dishes you can cook for the entire family. Try this Boiled Rice and Chicken recipe.
- Broth: Not only will you have the juicy, tender meat, but you can use the homemade chicken broth to make the most delicious soups or stew.
- Easy: Not much work involved. Place the ingredients in a large pot, cover with water and cook.
- Fast: Boiling a medium-sized whole chicken takes one hour at the most.
- Whole chicken of medium size, fresh or frozen, and defrosted. You can cook a chicken of any size; you must adjust the cooking time accordingly.
- Fresh vegetables: Celery stick or one large piece of celeriac (about the size of your fist), carrots, onion, and garlic cloves. Some parsley stalks, if you happen to have them.
- Spices: Coarse sea salt, black peppercorns, or about 1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper.
- Additional spices (optional): You can add 2-3 bay leaves, 5-6 juniper berries, 5 cloves, and 1 teaspoon of fennel seeds. They are not mandatory but improve the flavor of the broth.
- Defrost the chicken if it’s frozen. A medium chicken (3-4 lbs/1.3-1.8 kg) will need at least 24 hours in the fridge, so you must plan ahead.
- Remove the giblets from inside the chicken. You can also cook them in the broth; just remember that the liver will not need very long, remove it from the pot in time. Or even better, fry it in a pan.
- Fill pot:
- Place the bird in a large stockpot that has a lid.
- Add roughly chopped vegetables and spices.
- Cover with water, about 1 inch/ 2 ½ cm above the bird (1), and place the lid on top.
- Bring to a gentle boil on medium-high heat but don’t let the water come to a rolling boil.
- Remove the foam over the surface of the broth with a spoon or a skimmer.
- Simmer, uncovered, on low heat until cooked through but not overcooked (2).
- Remove the bird from the broth using a slotted spoon and another large spoon or tongs (3).
- Strain the poaching liquid and fill it into jars to use for other recipes (4).
- Remove the skin and the bones of the bird.
- Shred or slice the meat and use it as needed.
How long to boil a whole chicken?
It depends on the size of the chicken. Always check if the meat is cooked through, preferably with a digital meat thermometer (Amazon affiliate link).
- Medium-sized (3-3 ½ lbs/1.3-1 ½ kg): about 45 minutes.
- More than 3 ½ and up to 4 ½ lbs/1 ½ - 2 kg: about 60 minutes.
- Small: (under 2.5 lbs/1.2 kg) might already be done after 35-40 minutes.
- Large (weighing more than 4 ½ lbs/ 2 kg) will need a bit longer.
- Always use COLD water to start cooking any broth or stock. Already warm or hot water will extract more protein from the meat, making the chicken stock cloudy. Cold water and simmering (not boiling) of the stock keep it clearer. You will not notice any difference in taste, so don’t stress if the broth is cloudy.
- Salt: If using fine salt, start with less (1 teaspoon) and only add more, if necessary, once the broth is ready.
- Don’t overcook the bird. It’s better to start checking early than to cook it for too long just to be sure.
- Stock: To make a more flavorful stock, remove the bones of the cooked chicken and return the bones to the pot. Continue to cook them for at least another hour.
You should never wash chicken before cooking; washing it will not destroy or remove much of the bacteria; it will only spread some of it on your kitchen sink. The bacteria will only be destroyed by high heat during the cooking process.
The best and safest way to check is with a digital meat thermometer; the internal temperature should be 165 degrees Fahrenheit/ 74 degrees Celsius.
If you don’t have a meat thermometer, remove one leg and check it near the bone, the meat should be completely white, with no traces of pink.
Simmer the bird, don’t let it boil too hard.
Don’t forget to add the salt from the beginning; it helps tenderize the meat.
Don’t overcook the bird; start checking early enough.
Let the chicken cool. It will come to room temperature faster if you take it apart as soon as it is cool enough to handle. Don't leave it at room temperature for more than 2 hours. If the weather is hot, refrigerate it as soon as possible.
Refrigerate in an airtight container for 3-4 days.
Freeze the meat in an airtight container or freezer bag for about 3 months.
Strain the cooking liquid through a fine-mesh sieve to remove any impurities. Pour it into jars, let it cool, and refrigerate for 4-5 days.
Or freeze it; it will keep for at least 6 months.
What to do with boiled chicken?
So many things!
- Soups: You can use the flavorful homemade broth to make any soup you like. Try some of our favorite soups: Asparagus Chicken Soup or Irish Potato Soup.
- Stews or sauces: Try the Spanish Chicken and Chorizo Stew or the Moroccan Stew with Olives.
- Sandwiches, wraps, and tortillas with cooked meat.
- Salads: How about this delicious Romanian Boeuf Salad (which is actually made with chicken and not with beef), a Chicken Salad with Cranberries, or Salade Russe.
- Make fricassee, chili, Chicken and Rice, or Chicken and Peas.
- Try a rice or pasta bake or make a pie. How about our Chicken, Leek and Mushroom Pie or the classic British Chicken and Ham Pie?
Basic chicken recipes
How to Boil a Whole Chicken
- One large pot with a lid.
- Slotted spoon
- 1 whole chicken medium 3-3 ½ lbs/1.3-1 ½ kg, Note 1
- 2 celery sticks or 1 piece of peeled celeriac
- 2 carrots medium
- 1 onion unpeeled
- 5 garlic cloves unpeeled
- 2 teaspoons coarse sea salt Note 2
- 10 peppercorns Note 3
- 1 small bunch of parsley stalks optional
- Preparations: Remove the giblets from inside the chicken (Note 4). Place the bird in a large pot that has a lid.
- Prepare vegetables: Roughly chop the celery and the carrots and halve the unpeeled onion. Add them and the unpeeled garlic cloves to the pot.
- Fill pot: Add salt, peppercorns, parsley stalks, and all the spices you want to use. Cover everything with cold water, about 1 inch/ 2.4 cm above the chicken, and place the lid on top.
- Bring to a boil on medium-high heat but don’t let the water come to a rolling boil.
- Skim the foam over the surface of the broth with a spoon or a skimmer.
- Simmer: Once it starts to boil gently, turn down the heat, remove the lid, and simmer the chicken until cooked but not overcooked. The internal temperature should reach 165°F/74°C (Note 5 - Cooking times). Always check that the chicken is cooked through!
- Remove the chicken from the pot using a slotted spoon and another large spoon or tongs.
- Strain the broth and fill it into jars to use for other recipes.
- Remove the skin and the bones of the bird. Shred or slice the meat and use it as needed.
- If frozen, defrost in the fridge. A medium-sized chicken will need at least 24 hours, probably longer.
- If using fine salt, start with only ¾ to 1 teaspoon and add more at the end of the cooking process to taste.
- You can add other spices to improve the flavor. I always add 3-4 bay leaves, 5-6 juniper berries, 5 cloves, and 1 teaspoon of fennel seeds.
- You can cook them in the broth as well. The liver will not need very long; remove it from the pot in time. Or even better, fry it in a pan.
- Cooking times:
- Small - under 2.5 lbs (1.2 kg): 35-40 minutes.
- Medium 3-3 ½ lbs (1.3-1 ½ kg): about 45 minutes.
- Medium to large 3 ½ and up to 4 ½ lbs (1 ½ - 2 kg): about 60 minutes.
- Large - more than 4 ½ lbs (2 kg) 65-80 minutes.