There are certain labor-intensive recipe phrases that can make the most diligent cook roll her eyes. "Do I really have to do that?" we wonder. Leave your Do I Really Have To Do That? questions in the comments and they shall be answered, saving us all a lot of needless trouble.
My mom taught me how to roast a chicken when I moved into my first apartment as the cornerstone of a weekly meal plan. First step: rinse and pat it dry. Cleanliness is next to godliness, right?
Watch: How to make an easy roast chicken
Pull that chicken out from under the faucet. This might come as a shock, but the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), a division of the USDA, advises against washing raw poultry, beef, pork, lamb or veal before cooking. Why? Some bacteria on the chicken can be dislodged with a little water and will splash all over your sink, counters, and nearby dish rack as you rinse. This is called cross-contamination, and it freaks the FSIS out for good reason; it's a great way to get food poisoning.
Let's transition from kitchen to bathroom for a gross yet illustrative example. Think of the toilet. Every time you flush with the lid open, a fine mist of bacteria rises from the bowl. This is why your toothbrush should be kept a safe distance away. "The same is true of the kitchen sink," explained Kemp Minifie, senior editor at Epicurious. "When you wash off the chicken, the chicken juices get sprayed everywhere," That nearby dish rack with clean spoons you eat yogurt with in the morning? They're your toothbrush in this metaphor. "Yum, eh?"
Other bacteria on the chicken is so firmly attached, no amount of water can dislodge it, rendering washing your chicken not only potentially dangerous, but useless. "People think they are washing off bacteria but they really aren't," Brian Buckley, chef instructor at the Institute of Culinary Education told us. "[There's] no need to wash."
Here's your new and improved poultry plan of attack:
"The trick is to get your poultry onto the baking pan with the minimum amount of human contact," advised Minifie.
2. Wash up (but not the bird)
Anything that's come into contact with the chicken needs to be cleaned. That includes your hands, cutting boards, and utensils. While your chicken is cooking, "wipe down your counters with hot soapy water. Better yet, follow the cleaning with a sanitizing solution of 1 tablespoon plain, old-fashioned liquid bleach in 1 gallon of water," suggested Minifie.
3. Use a thermometer
This is the secret to squashing bacteria on raw chicken and other meats, and the only effective way to remove food-borne pathogens. "Anything yucky on the poultry will be killed if you cook it to the proper temperature, 165 degrees Fahrenheit," advised Buckley.
Final verdict: No, you really don't have to wash your chicken, in fact, you shouldn't. Instead, move your chicken directly onto the baking pan, wash your counters, and use a thermometer to make sure it's reached a safe internal temperature. Then safely feast!