Cooking chicken to the correct internal temperature is crucial for food safety and to ensure a delicious meal. As chefs, we have a responsibility to protect the health of our diners. Serving undercooked chicken can be particularly dangerous for vulnerable populations. So, what is the ideal temperature to cook chicken?
Getting the Temperature Right
According to the USDA, a minimum internal temperature of 165°F (75°C) ensures that harmful bacteria like salmonella and E. coli are destroyed. However, some recipes and store-bought packages suggest higher temperatures, such as 175°F (80°C) or even 185°F (85°C). The truth is, the ideal temperature depends on the type of chicken you’re cooking.
The Best Way to Measure Internal Temperature
To accurately measure the internal temperature of chicken, use an instant-read thermometer. Insert the thermometer into the thickest part of the meat, ensuring it doesn’t touch bone, air, or fat pockets. Here are the recommended temperatures for different cuts of chicken:
For boneless chicken breasts, insert the thermometer into the thickest part of the meat, avoiding the bone if present. You can go in through the top or side, depending on which part is thickest. Once the reading stabilizes, slowly pull the probe back to the center. If the temperature reaches at least 165°F (75°C), your chicken is done.
When cooking chicken thighs, insert the thermometer into the thickest part of the meat, avoiding the bone running through the center. Similar to chicken breasts, check the temperature stability and slowly pull the probe back. A reading of at least 175°F (80°C) indicates that the chicken is cooked, but you can continue cooking to reach 190°F (88°C) for optimal tenderness.
For whole roast chicken, it’s important to check the temperature in both the thighs and the breasts. Use the same method as above and continue cooking until both locations reach the appropriate temperature.
Chicken Wings and Drumsticks
Checking the temperature of wings and drumsticks can be challenging due to their bone structures. The goal is to insert the thermometer into the thickest part of the meat without touching bone. If you can’t get an accurate reading, you can rely on visual cues. The meat on the skinny side of the leg should shrink, exposing more bone, indicating that they are fully cooked.
Cooking White Meat Chicken
White meat chicken, found in chicken breasts and thighs, should reach an internal temperature of 165°F (75°C) and maintain that temperature for at least 30 seconds. Cooking white meat at higher temperatures can result in dry and chewy chicken. It’s recommended to cook chicken breasts in a hot oven at around 450°F (232°C) for juicier results compared to lower temperatures.
Cooking Dark Meat Chicken
Dark meat chicken, found in drumsticks and thighs, is technically safe to eat at 165°F (75°C). However, for optimal tenderness, it’s better to reach a minimum internal temperature of 175°F (80°C) or higher. Dark meat contains more connective tissue, which requires higher temperatures to break down effectively. To achieve the best results, use lower and slower cooking methods like roasting at 300°F (149°C), braising in flavorful liquids, or cooking over indirect heat on the grill.
How can I tell if chicken is cooked without a thermometer?
While an instant-read thermometer is the best way to determine if chicken is cooked, you can also visually assess its doneness. Cooked chicken should be firm, white, and opaque. When you cut into the meat, the juices should run clear.
What meat thermometer should I use?
Look for a digital meat thermometer with a thin probe and quick reading speeds. This type of thermometer minimizes juice loss when checking the temperature. A recommended option is the speedy Thermapen, which provides accurate readings in less than a second.
Does the cooking method affect the chicken’s internal temperature?
No matter the cooking method—whether it’s roasting, pan-frying, deep-frying, grilling, or smoking—the internal temperatures remain the same. White meat should reach 165°F (75°C), and dark meat should reach 175°F (80°C). Even in leftover chicken recipes, the internal temperature should reach a minimum of 165°F (75°C).
Is 145°F (63°C) safe for chicken?
According to ThermoWorks, the pasteurization of chicken can be achieved by holding it at 145°F (63°C) for 8-1/2 minutes or by reaching 165°F (75°C) directly. Both methods effectively kill harmful bacteria like salmonella and E. coli. However, if you have any concerns about food safety or are serving at-risk populations, it’s best to follow the USDA’s recommended minimum temperature of 165°F (75°C).
Can I eat chicken that’s a little pink?
When your chicken has reached a safe internal temperature, it’s still possible for the meat to have a slight pink hue or for the juices to appear slightly cloudy. This is generally safe to eat. Other factors, such as the chicken’s feed, previous freezing, or bone marrow pigment, can contribute to its coloring. Using a thermometer is the most reliable way to ensure the chicken’s safety.
Remember, the next time you cook chicken, use an instant-read thermometer to ensure it’s both safely prepared and delicious. For more cooking tips and recipes, visit Ekilove.