How To Tell If Chicken Is Done: A Foolproof Guide

Raw beef steak is excellent? 

Raw chicken?

Not so much. In fact, if the chicken is not cooked fully through it can cause a serious food poisoning

Just the other day we had a family dinner at a restaurant, and we ordered roast chicken. A superficial glance at my son's plate, while he was cutting the meat, was enough to see the meat has a pinkish color and jiggly texture. 

For a second there I turned into an action movie hero, screamed one long “Noooo” and pushed the fork out of his hand. I called for a waiter and asked for a different (and of course complementary) dish.

Knowing how to cook good chicken isn’t meant only for restaurant chefs. Anyone who prepares chicken at home should know how to tell if chicken is done.

Fortunately, when you have the right insights, this isn’t difficult. Read on, for Barbara’s foolproof guide about properly cooked chicken.

1. Do you have a food thermometer? Use it.

Obviously, the easiest reason to determine if the chicken is done is to use a food thermometer.

This handy little device will not only minimize, but it will completely abolish the risk of uncooked chicken. The trick is to stab the thermometer into the thickest part of the poultry. The temperature you are looking for is 165 degrees Fahrenheit. 

If you are roasting a whole chicken, the ideal temperature is between 180 and 185 degrees Fahrenheit. If the chicken is stuffed that temperature should be about 170 degrees, and in this case, you should stick the thermometer into the center of the body cavity.

For roasted chicken breasts the thermometer should register 170 degrees.

However, even if you don't have a food thermometer (or if you misplace it and can't find it anywhere, which, believe it or not, happens a lot to me), you can determine the doneness of the poultry based on some other indicators.

Learn To Find The Best Oven Thermometer With Barbara

2. Reducio!

If you don’t understand the word from the subtitle, you probably don’t have kids who grew up in the time of the Harry Potter craze.

Reducio is a shrinking charm that enables a wizard to decrease the physical size of an object or person. That's why I like to joke about my boys about casting a spell on chicken, but the older they get, the cheesier this joke becomes.

Enough with the mommy complaints, and back to the chicken… As you might have guessed, the chicken gets smaller when it is fully cooked. So, if you notice it looks the same size as when you’ve started cooking it, it probably isn’t done yet.

3. Pink it's like done, but not quite

Unlike in the song of Aerosmith, pink is not a good color when it comes to chicken.

Cut through the chicken piece in half. If you try to squeeze the juices, the color you see will let you know if the chicken is done.

Pink is a big no-no, and it means you need to cook it more. If the juices are clear or white, it is good to go.

Now, note that this works for chicken only, and it is not something to rely on when you are checking other meats.

4. Get surgical

The previous method requires cutting apart the chicken, but for many dishes that aren't the best option since you want to preserve the shape of the meat for plating. 

Fortunately, that doesn't stop me from using my binge-watching knowledge of Grey’s Anatomy and make a surgical incision somewhere in the thickest area of the poultry.

This allows me to pull apart the sides with fork and knife and see the color of the meat all the way through.

If you are going to use this method, make sure the lighting is good so that you don’t miss out sneaky little pink hues in the white meat which mean that you need to cook it just a bit longer.

5. Feel the texture

The restaurant chicken dish I mentioned at the beginning of this article had a rubbery jiggly texture.

This is obviously a sign of undercooked meat. Poultry that is cooked properly should have a firm texture. However, be wary of a common poultry trap – overcooking the meat. 

Overcooked meat has too tight texture, and it is unappealing to eat or even look at. The key is to find the right balance between undercooking and overcooking.


What about the bone-in pieces?

Bone-in chicken pieces are tricky because they can look well cooked on the outside and in the middle, but they can still remain pink near the bone.

So, let me throw you a bone here (all pun intended), the safest way to check the doneness of a bone-in piece is to insert a fork into the meat, and if it goes in with ease and if the juices run clear, it is done. 

Still, with such meat pieces, there is always a chance for the meat to be slightly pinkish. Bummer, right?

Luckily, this doesn’t mean the chicken is underdone. In young, tender chicken, the flesh near the bone has hemoglobin, which cooks to a stable pink color.


Chicken cooking time

If you are still unsure about your assessment of the poultry being cooked, it can be useful to know the average cooking time for chicken.

Of course, this often depends on various factors, such as the size of the chicken (or thickness of the chicken piece) and the method of preparation. I’ll try to cover some essentials, just to make your life if just a bit easier.

  • Roasted chicken takes between 30 minutes and two hours to cook. The first time applies to ground chicken patties, while the latter one works for whole stuffed chicken. Bone-in legs roast about 50 minutes and boneless skinless thigh between 20 and 30 minutes.
  • Grilling the chicken takes between five (boneless skinless thigh) and sixteen (bone-in legs) minutes for each side.
  • Breaded chicken should be done in about twenty minutes (nuggets, tenders…) or 35 minutes (stuffed chicken breast).

Final word

Unlike the chicken, there is not much complication about knowing when the article is done – when I share all the useful tips I have with you.

With these methods, there is no way your guests or family will catch you blushing when you serve pink and slimy chicken. 

Trust me; they have never failed me. I just hope that the chef from the restaurant will read this because I really like that place.

And, if you have your method of checking the chicken doneness, feel free to share it with me, I'm always excited to learn new things. 🙂

Barbara Whitney
 

For the last 20 years, I’ve been cooking, preparing, researching, and gathering recipes, tools, and knowledge about food and the way we prepare it. Raising two lively boys and spoiling one great husband later, it’s safe to say that I’ve optimized my kitchen to deliver the best possible meal, no matter the occasion.

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