There are a lot of myths surrounding the proper way to prepare food. Through improper cooking, or misinformation, your poor chicken breasts have been overcooked and dried out. Knowing the safe temperature for chicken will help ensure that it doesn’t get overcooked, making it dry and unpalatable. However, there are at least four other things you need to stop believing about cooking chicken too.
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Myth #1 - Washing Raw Chicken
While the safe finished temperature of cooked chicken is very important, I think we should start with preparation. Many people believe that you should wash meat before cooking, especially chicken! This is dangerous and you shouldn’t do it. Washing raw meat spreads germs! Onto your hands, into the sink where you clean your dishes! There’s splashback to think about too. As soon as you have finished washing your chicken you have to sanitize your sink, whatever dishes are nearby, the countertop, and your hands, not to mention any surface that you work with the chicken while you prep it for the grill. So please, your chicken isn’t dirty. It does not need to be washed. Washing any raw meat is unnecessary unless you dropped it on the ground.
Myth #2 - Clear Juices and/or White Meat Means Cooked Chicken
It’s long been stated that when the juices run clear or the meat is white, your chicken is done. This isn’t the case, and there are several reasons why. I once cooked a roast chicken dinner for my family. The thermometer read that the bird was done, a safe temperature for eating, however when I started to slice, the meat was pinkish and so were the juices. I used two different thermometers and they said that the meat was at a safe temperature to serve, but – keeping with the old school teaching that pink anything + chicken = BAD – I continued to cook the birds. It was an embarrassing event with family members milling about the kitchen as I tried not to panic.
After that I vowed to get to the bottom of safe chicken. No you should not make yourself chicken-medium rare, however, it is actually safe to eat chicken that has reached an internal temperature of 150°F and kept there without fluctuation for 5 minutes. The universal – no fail – safe temperature for chicken is 165°F, but you have to remember to remove the bird from the grill (or oven, or skillet) shortly after that temperature is reached, or you will wind up with dry and stringy meat.
Further to the clear juices, white meat thing, well, sometimes that just doesn’t happen. And what do you do then? I’m sure that you have cooked bone in chicken, wings, thighs, or even a whole roasting bird, and when you cut in, there was a little bit of pinky juice, and a purple-ish staining on and around the bones. Don’t try to cook it into submission. This staining (unless the chicken is seriously undercooked) comes from chickens that are very young. It’s caused by a lack of calcium on the bones. The marrow is leaching pigment into the still porous bones and meat. Check internal temperature with an instant read thermometer like this one. If it says that the meat is done, then you are safe. Just remember to carefully insert the probe and not touch bone, skewer, or rotisserie spit.
Myth #3 - You BBQ Chicken Just Like a Burger
Seems easy enough. Get the grill piping hot, and you just grill the chicken over direct heat, flip a couple of times until the juice is clear and meat is white. If you do this, you are likely also the person who puts the chicken in the oven for an hour at 375°F. In other words you likely eat dry and burnt chicken on a regular basis. The best way to prevent dry chicken is to use the reverse sear method of grilling. (You can also do this indoors; the principals are the same.)
How to reverse sear chicken
- Preheat the grill (or oven) to between 300° and 350°F.
- Season the chicken with your favorite rubs or marinades.
- Cook the chicken using indirect heat, until an instant read thermometer reads an internal temperature of around 145° to 150°F.
- Turn up the heat on the “ON” side of the grill, or use the Infrared SIZZLE ZONE™, or heat up a cast iron skillet to searing temperatures.
- Sear the chicken on all sides over direct heat for 3 minutes per side. Double check the temperature with an instant read thermometer. If it’s over 150°F, you are good to go.
- Add BBQ sauce if you are using, and give it another quick sear on all sides to caramelize the sauce a little.
- Rest your chicken for about 5 minutes before serving.
Myth #4 - Boneless Skinless is the Best (Health Wise)
Although lower in fat and calories, boneless and skinless chicken breasts are just one of those things you have always bought at the grocer. Honestly, keeping the skin on will only add about 50 calories to your meal, negligible unless you are on a very restrictive diet. Yes, chicken skin contains negative, saturated fats, but only about 2.5 grams. Chicken skin is also loaded with Omega-6, which is good for supporting bone health. So while a medium fries from your favorite fast food joint has similar amounts of saturated fat, chicken skin has a little more to offer than just the negative stuff. Remember not to go overboard.
If you still aren’t convinced, there is also the added benefit of the added protection that chicken skin will offer when you’re cooking. It insulates and holds any juices that are coming out of the chicken breast against the meat. Even if you don’t want to eat it, at least cook with the skin on to ensure a delightful dinner.
The iron found in meat like chicken thighs is actually easier to absorb than the iron found in plant based foods like spinach and broccoli.
Myth #5 - Salting or Brining Makes Chicken Dry
If you haven’t read my article on meat myths surrounding beef or the science of brining, then you should. In it I explain how salt will help reduce surface moisture on meat for a better sear or in the case of brining, draws moisture into the meat. Either way, salt is a great way to add flavor and aid in the cooking of your meal.
It’s easy to prevent dry chicken, or any other poultry for that matter, by following the simple steps above, and now you know about the safe temperature for chicken. Hopefully this article will help you prepare your next poultry meal without problems. What have you learned about chicken that you didn’t know before?