It’s important to follow food safety guidelines in any case, but when you’re dealing with poultry, you need to take extra care. Can you recook undercooked chicken and still consume it without getting sick? Our guide will provide you with an in-depth response.
Can You Recook Undercooked Chicken?
It’s safe to recook underdone chicken as long as you do so immediately. If the chicken was off the heat for longer than 2 hours, it may have attracted dangerous bacteria. At this point, cooking the meat won’t be sufficient to remove the toxins, so you’ll have to discard it.
Why It’s Important
Consuming undercooked chicken can lead to food poisoning. Most people are aware of this. But do you know what causes these illnesses?
The fact is that the raw chicken might be housing bacteria such as salmonella, staphylococcus aureus, and E. coli, to name a few. Cooking the meat is the only way to eradicate these bacteria and ensure food safety.
These bacteria can generally be found on the surface of the meat. That’s true of red meat like beef and pork as well. However, it’s crucial to cook white meat thoroughly because the flesh is less dense. This means the bacteria can penetrate deeper below the surface.
That’s why you should always cook ground meat thoroughly, even if it’s red meat. Any bacteria on the surface will be mixed in with the rest of it once the meat is fed through the grinder. As always, it’s better to be safe than sorry.
Recommended Temperatures for Chicken
Poultry products, including chicken, are considered safe to consume when they’ve cooked to 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Because the internal temperature of the meat will continue to rise during the resting period, it should be fine to take it off the heat at 160 degrees.
We find that 165 degrees is ideal for chicken breast. The white meat will dry out if it cooks too far past this point. If that happens, it’s difficult to salvage the results.
The dark meat on the thighs and drumsticks, meanwhile, can handle temps up to 185 degrees without ill effect. In fact, we think the meat is even more tender and succulent when it reaches this point.
Try to take chicken breast off the heat at 160 degrees, and let legs and thighs cook to 180. This can be tricky when cooking a whole chicken, but by positioning the bird with the breast side facing up, you may be able to pull it off.
How To Tell When Chicken is Done
Since you’ll need to ensure that the chicken has cooked to at least 160 degrees, a reliable meat thermometer is your best bet.
Insert the thermometer probe into the thickest portion of the chicken, taking care not to touch any bone. Hold it steady for a few seconds, until the readout stabilizes. If the temperature is still too low, let the meat continue to cook until it hits the target temp.
When smoking a whole chicken, you’ll want to test the temperature of both the breast and the thigh. Remember that the dark meat will benefit from cooking to a higher temperature, so it might be necessary to carve off the breast portion toward the end of the smoke.
Can Chicken Be Pink in the Middle?
As chicken cooks, it changes from translucent and pale peach-pink to firm, white, and opaque. We’re therefore accustomed to thinking that cooked chicken must be white throughout.
However, sometimes the meat will retain a pinkish tinge even when it’s been cooked to perfection. The bone marrow might seep out into the surrounding meat. This is especially true when it comes to younger chickens, as their bones are thin and hollow.
Freezing the chicken can create a similar phenomenon. The freezing process may cause myoglobin to leak out of the bones. When this protein is exposed to heat, it can range in color from pink to brown, giving the chicken an underdone appearance.
Are you making smoked chicken? If so, there might be a rosy hue beneath the surface no matter how long the meat stays on the smoker. This is known as the “smoke ring,” and it comes about when the gases in the smoke interact with the meat’s natural pigmentation.
Can You Recook Undercooked Chicken?
Let’s say that you’ve taken the chicken off the heat believing it to be done, only to find that the temperature is still hovering below the 160-degree threshold. Is it safe to recook it at this point?
The answer to that depends on how long the chicken has been off the heat. If you notice the issue right away, by all means, return the meat to the grill or smoker to finish cooking. As long as you do so within an hour or two, there shouldn’t be a problem.
If you’re pressed for time, try cutting the chicken into smaller pieces before putting it back on the heat. Chances are, you already cut into it anyway, so there’s no harm in doing so again.
Here’s where you might run into an issue. If you didn’t notice that the chicken was undercooked until the following day—say, if you had a few pieces left over and they’re clearly still raw in the middle—it’s too late to save it, even if it was promptly refrigerated.
The reasoning behind this relates to the “danger zone” at which hazardous bacteria can multiply at a rapid pace. If meat is held at temperatures between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit for longer than 2 hours, it’s no longer considered safe to consume.
This means that if the chicken didn’t cook to a safe temperature and you put it in the fridge overnight, any potential bacteria will still be present in the meat. At this point, further cooking won’t be enough to eradicate the toxins.
A Word About Safe Defrosting
On a similar note, if you use the microwave to defrost chicken, you need to start cooking it right away. The microwave may have already taken the meat into the danger zone, so the only way to be safe is to bring it to 165 degrees within a reasonable time frame.
Check to see if your microwave has a defrost setting. If it doesn’t, adjust the settings so that the unit is running at 30 to 50 percent power. That’s essentially what the defrost setting does—reduce the power so that the meat will thaw without cooking through.
Remove any packaging from the chicken and place it in a microwave-safe container. Defrost for 2 minutes at a time until the meat is thawed but still raw and cool to the touch. Season and cook as desired.
If you can wait a while to cook the chicken after taking it out of the freezer, it’s preferable to use a different method. The microwave can work in a pinch, but it can lead to uneven thawing.
To have the chicken ready within an hour or so (depending on size), keep the meat wrapped and submerge it in cold water. It should thaw at a rate of about 30 minutes for each pound of chicken. As with the microwave technique, you’ll need to cook it right away.
Our favorite way to thaw meat is to keep it in the fridge overnight, or 4 to 5 hours per pound. Set it on a lower shelf, contained by a sheet pan or platter to catch any juices, and try to keep it toward the rear of the unit so that it stays nice and cold.
The Bottom Line
The best way to avoid food poisoning is to cook your meat thoroughly on the first attempt. If this doesn’t work out, you’ll need to bring it to a safe temperature within an hour or two, or all your hard work will be for naught.
Best of luck, and happy grilling!