Friday, March 24, 2006

How Do You Know When the Chicken is Done?

If you're anything like my daughter S, you'll always worry about whether or not your chicken is cooked. So sometimes you leave it in waaaay too long and it gets dried out. I have a couple of tips for you.

My biggest tip - Get an oven thermometer!!!
The oven thermometer, or meat thermometer as it’s also called, provides an accurate assessment as to when your roasts or chickens are cooked. No guess work is required – no twisting of limbs, or stabbing with fork, or burning yourself while trying to press on the meat to test for “rebound”. That’s the way some chefs test for doneness. ..if it feels like the fleshy part at the base of your thumb – it’s very rare; if it’s like the back of your hand – it’s very well done. Anyway, I don’t suggest you go that route.

Here are just two important things to know about thermometers:
• Get an instant read one with large enough print to actually be able to read it
• Always place the tip in the thickest part of the meat at the center not the ends, and never touch bone.

Here's a guide to what the temperature should be for all your roasting needs.

Bottom line, though, for chicken, the juices should be clear and the breast meat should be white - no pink visible - dark meat is harder to tell, but it should also lose it's pinkness (Is that a word, but I hope you know what I mean)

If you're cooking a whole chicken/capon/turkey, place the thermometer into the thickest part of the breast and make sure it doesn't touch bone.

My grandmother and mother used to use the "twist test" - you grab the leg and at the ankle - well I don't think chickens really have ankles, but you get the picture - and twist. The bone should turn very easily under the meat. They also would stick the tip of a knife in the meaty part of the chicken breast and look for clear running juice...no pink tinges. If you do this too many times, the juices will run out and your chicken will be dry.

Please email me any of your questions, and if I don't have the answer, I'll certainly try find it for you.

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23 comments:

Entry Level Blogger said...

I know this is an old post, but I came upon it having the same anxieties. Your daughter and I have something in common.

I just cooked some chicken and found that, to the teeth, it was not what I had experienced cooked chicken to feel like, but completely white on the inside. All I can say is no diseases yet, so I must have done something right.

I should heed your advice though: get a thermometer. To tell the truth, I'm rather afraid to cook chicken... today was a big step for me.

Ruth Daniels said...

I am glad you took the first step and actually cooked chicken.

And I'm certainly glad you didn't get sick.

As for the teeth factor...it sounds like the chicken was a little over cooked. It will get rubbery if overdone.

Good luck with the next try! It does get easier on the psyche the more often you cook it!

Jennifer said...

I am so afraid to cook chicken! I have never gotten sick from it but the whole process of cooking the chicken makes me very anxious! I clean the counters at least 5 times. I also make my chicken very dry. I have a meat therm so that helps! Thanks for your help! I'm going to try cooking it more now. I have another question? Fish. Halibut, how do you know its done? Thanks!

Ruth Daniels said...

Jennifer, glad to know the tip helped you be more confident with chicken. I also find roasting chicken breast side down keeps it juicier during the cooking.

As for fish...everyone has a different opinion as to when it's done. Sushi after all is served raw, but then it should be very very fresh.

And how do you tell when fish is fresh? Smell it at the store. When it's fresh it will have NO smell at all. If it smells "fishy" it's not fresh and should be left at the store.

As to cooked fish, the safest for a novice/nervous cook is when the center of the fish turns from translucent to white (or in the case of salmon or salmon trout, a lighter shade of pink). Fillets don't take very long to cook. Check out some of my fish recipes here for specifics and good luck.

http://onceuponafeast.blogspot.com/2006/01/fish-seafood.html

models said...

thank you, thank you!

great post!

:)

Chris said...

Thanks Ruth for this great article. It's very informative and the chart very helpful.

Chris - Editor of Chicken Recipes

Mina=] said...

your daughter is definitely not the only one with that issue. chicken is all i ever make at home but every time it makes me uneasy and i second guess myself after dinner is all done. i too found it safer to just overcook the chicken without caring if it was tough or rubbery.

tonight i did what i usually would do to chicken breast: i flattened it with a mallet til it was about half an inch in thickness maybe slightly thicker. sauteed it and golden-browned it on both sides and then diced it to 1/2in x 1/2in aprx. and then threw it in this tomatoe/veggie juicy mixture i concocted and left it then for about 10min.

now, i did look at the chicken when i was dicing it, but the invitable happened: i looked at it for too long and i wasnt sure if it was white.

my chicken insecurities give and me small anxieties after eating and i get stomach aches.

i definitely have a problem.

Ruth Daniels said...

Poor Mina, I guess my first piece of advice is...don't examine the chicken! If you flatten the breast meat to 1/2" it will probably be cooked through in 3 minutes per side. If you want to have diced chicken in whatever sauce, another 2-3 minutes is all you need. And that is really just to let the chicken absorb the flavors of the sauce.

Good luck! And thanks for dropping by.

Anonymous said...

For those that have apprehension cooking chicken, good! I've have had food poisoning twice from undercooked chicken. Once from Salmonella and the other from Shigella and it was absolute hell! I couldn't even hold down a tablespoon of water I was so ill. Please be careful when preparing and cooking chicken. Oh and YES the thermometer is easy and provides peace of mind.

Anonymous said...

We stopped buying mass-produced, processed chicken from the store. We now buy natural free-range whole chickens from the local farmers market and no longer have any fear of bacterial contamination, and as a result, no longer overcook our meat. Some people seem to act as if the dangerous bacteria is somehow naturally occurring in the meat. This is false. It comes from the overcrowding and mass processing of the chickens. I suggest you all stop buying from supermarkets and find a local farm or farmers market that sells all natural happy free-range chickens! No growth hormones, fillers or other garbage.

Ruth Daniels said...

Anon, while I do agree that natural free range local chickens are preferred, for ethical and taste factors. It isn't always an economical option.

Anonymous said...

Hi,
I hope you get a chance to read this and can help me out!

I am soooo frustrated and confused! I have been trying to cook tasty juicy chicken for years and have yet to get it right!

I have tried the grill, burnt to a crisp or looks lovely and cut it and it's raw as if I just picked up the chicken from the market!

I have baked it on a cookie sheet and again dry and tastless!

My sister introduced me to cooking on skillet with water. Takes over an hour to cook 3 pounds and again doesn't taste so good and pretty dry in the inside.

Tonight I used the brining method, cooked them on a cookie sheet wrapped in tin foil but left the sides open. Kinda like a tent. Cooked for 15 mins at 425 which is what some web directions said. The flavor seemed to be there but it seemed to have a weird consistancy to me. I used the therma and it said 160 but It had like a clear rubbery looking film around the outside. I chose not to eat more than a few bites but my daughters liked it. I'm crossing my fingers and praying no one gets sick!

Can someone PLEASE PLEASE help me figure out what I am doing wrong or what the chicken should be like when done. I know it may sound really stupid but I'm so desperate to get it right.

I also just read your chart and it said 190? I could the meat to 160....is that really wrong? Does that mean I just got my whole family sick??????????

I really am almost to the point of not cooking chicken because when I over cook it to make sure it's cooked it just taste awful. :0(

Anonymous said...

I am soooo frustrated and confused! I have been trying to cook tasty juicy chicken for years and have yet to get it right!

I have tried the grill, burnt to a crisp or looks lovely and cut it and it's raw as if I just picked up the chicken from the market!

I have baked it on a cookie sheet and again dry and tastless!

My sister introduced me to cooking on skillet with water. Takes over an hour to cook 3 pounds and again doesn't taste so good and pretty dry in the inside.

Tonight I used the brining method, cooked them on a cookie sheet wrapped in tin foil but left the sides open. Kinda like a tent. Cooked for 15 mins at 425 which is what some web directions said. The flavor seemed to be there but it seemed to have a weird consistancy to me. I used the therma and it said 160 but It had like a clear rubbery looking film around the outside. I chose not to eat more than a few bites but my daughters liked it. I'm crossing my fingers and praying no one gets sick!

Can someone PLEASE PLEASE help me figure out what I am doing wrong or what the chicken should be like when done. I know it may sound really stupid but I'm so desperate to get it right.

Ruth Daniels said...

Where to start. First I just read http://www.ochef.com/1053.htm “the greatest risk of eating is getting run over on the way to buy your food, not from the food itself.”

As to the internal temperature... the chart I added is from an old book, but I usually cook a whole chicken to 170F when tested at the thigh and leave it tented for 5 minutes or so before carving.

For boneless chicken breasts, I first place the chicken between two sheets of waxed or parchment paper and using a heavy skillet or flat side of a mallet, I pound the chicken so the thick side matches the thin. That way, the chicken cooks evenly. I grill it for 5 minutes per side over medium high heat and test it after 3-4 minutes once I've flipped it.

I also like to marinate my chicken breasts so they are really flavorful.

Most important advice... don't worry, unless the meat looks opaque, it's fine. A little bit of pink does not mean it's not cooked.

Any bacteria, is killed by the time the temperature reaches 150F.

So don't worry and just enjoy.

Ashley said...

It makes me feel better knowing I'm not the only person out there that has issues cooking chicken. My oh-so-wonderful husband is colorblind and can't help me one bit to determine if the chicken is white or pink, and sometimes it's hard to tell.

Right now I have chicken legs in the oven and brought them out too early and they were very very pink, so I threw them back in the oven. I'm hoping they will continue to cook. All I wanted was to marinate some chicken legs in western dressing but man cooking chicken is a big pain!

I'm only 25, and I rarely cook. I am so scared to try new things and to experiment. Any advice? And if you don't have a meat thermometer how long would you cook chicken legs for and at what temp? My mom said 350 degrees for 35 minutes but that's what I did and it wasn't even close to done.

Do you know that on those boxes of shake and bake it says to cook boneless chicken breasts for 20 minutes? 20 minutes doesn't even come close to cooking a chicken breast. I always leave it in until almost 40 minutes and it's usually perfect.

Ok. I'm sorry this is rambling on too much about chicken. Love your post Ruth and am always looking for easy recipes or any help I can get cooking! :)

Ruth Daniels said...

One important thing to remember when cooking chicken thighs or legs... they NEVER turn white and they DO take longer to cook than chicken breasts.

As for boneless chicken breasts:
1. you need to get both sides of the breast an even thickness. To do that place the boneles breast between two sheets of waxed or parchment paper and pound until the thick side is even with the thin.
2. especially if you're a chicken worrier... marinate your chicken for at least 30 minutes, overnight is even better.
3. take a deep breath, exhale slowly and follow this recipe for a simple chicken picata a la Barefoot Contessa- http://recipesfrom4everykitchen.blogspot.com/2006/12/chicken-piccata.html
4. and stop inspecting! I promise you that even if you see a small pink spot somewhere, if your chicken breast is mostly white, the juices you see are exactly as they should be.

sajan_rai said...

What when the chicken is slightly pink... Just a bit... But the texture was kinda slimy & rubbery. Is it under cooked? And the taste and smell was kinda uncooked too... Oh boy.... Please let there be Nothing bad!
How much of under cooked is considerable?
I'm having a bad feeling right now, I just ate my dinner and the chicken curry felt kinda raw... The gravy seemed fine but I'm having doubts on chicken... The chicken pieces were larger than usual... Maybe it shouldve been in the pan longer!

Ruth Daniels said...

Sajan, it does sound like the chicken was undercooked. The slightly pink in spots close to the joints is not a bad thing, but slimy and rubbery is not right.

I'm sure you'll be fine, but next time cook the chicken a little longer. When making a curry, I usually saute the chicken pieces for a few minutes (4-5) before adding to the curry or stew gravy and then slowly cook for the rest of the time. That keeps the chicken moist but not rubbery. Hope that helps.

Anonymous said...

Hi there!

The other week, I ate a chicken curry. I have had it many times before, but this time, I had a slight pain in my stomach after eating it.

After a painful sleep, I woke up at about midnight and was sick until morning.

Why did this happen? Was it the chicken, or a tummy bug?

Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Hi there!
The other week, I ate a chicken curry. I have had it many times before, but this time, I had a slight pain in my stomach after eating it.

After a painful sleep, I woke up at about midnight and was sick until morning.

Why did this happen? Was it the chicken, or a tummy bug?

Thank you.

Ruth Daniels said...

I do wish I had a definitive answer for you. One thing is for sure, if the symptoms persist, you should see your doctor.

Malin Grant said...

okay here goes im 23 and sick of wasting my money on expensive fast food. but i love fast food lol. so i have been finding recipies to cook like the restaurants from my kitchen.
long story short i cooked fried chicken and i have this problem often, the meat was white with no pink but it was tender, too tender. like it was under cooked. it tasted very good just like chic filet but is the tenderness wrong or am i just paranoid?

Ruth Daniels said...

Malin... are you sure your name isn't Sharron - my paranoid daughter? The chicken is fine. The reason you think it's undercooked is that your paranoia makes you seriously overcook chicken. Enjoy the lovely tender, juiciness.