Is grey chicken meat a normal phenomenon, or does it mean the meat has gone bad? Read this guide before you cook off—or bite into—that grey chicken meat.
Grey Chicken Meat
Raw chicken should never have any grey patches. If you notice any, discard the meat immediately. On the other hand, roasted chicken can sometimes take on a grey color, especially if it’s afflicted with the phenomenon known as “woody breast.” The key is to make sure the chicken is fresh before you start to cook.
What Color is Chicken?
When it’s raw, fresh chicken ranges in color from pale peach to dark pinkish purple. There may also be streaks of creamy white or pale yellow fat running through it, depending on which cut you’re talking about.
Chicken is poultry, which means it’s classified as white meat. The distinction lies in the amount of myoglobin that can be found in the flesh.
Myoglobin is a protein that delivers oxygen to the muscles. When the muscles get a lot of exercise, they require more oxygen. Therefore, the muscles that see more action will contain higher levels of myoglobin. This gives the meat a darker hue.
Unlike most animals, chicken consists of both light and dark meat. The light meat is found in the breast and wings, while the thighs and drumsticks consist of dark meat. This is because the legs get more of a workout when the bird is alive.
Red Meat vs. White Meat
There’s another important distinction between red and white meat, and it involves safe cooking practices.
Red meat, such as beef or pork, is denser than the flesh of chickens and turkeys. That means that any potential bacteria will remain close to the surface.
Since poultry isn’t as dense, the bacteria that cause food poisoning can penetrate further beneath the flesh. This is why it’s imperative to cook poultry thoroughly, whereas beef and pork can be consumed at medium rare.
Interestingly, you need to cook all ground meat products to 165 degrees, including red meat. When the meat is ground, the surface bacteria can be spread throughout the mixture. Cooking it thoroughly is the only way to ensure safety.
Why Does My Chicken Turn Grey When I Roast It?
Have you ever noticed that chicken breasts and thighs sometimes turn an unappetizing grey color when you roast them? Even if you’ve tested the internal temperature to reassure yourself that the meat has cooked to 160 degrees, this can be disconcerting.
As long as you’re sure that the meat is fresh (see sections below for more details on this), the grey color shouldn’t alarm you. It could be due to a condition known as “woody breast,” which gives the meat a tough and slightly stringy texture.
Poultry processors are aware of the woody breast phenomenon, but they haven’t yet come up with a workable solution. Although it’s more prevalent in the breast portion—hence the name—it can affect the muscles in the thighs and legs as well.
Often, the processors and retailers will remove any parts of the bird that appear to be afflicted with woody breast. But the meat still finds its way to the shelves. It’s generally characterized by white strips running throughout the muscle.
You’re bound to notice the grey color more when roasting the meat, because sauteing and grilling create a brown crust on the exterior. However, it’s still nothing to be concerned about.
Woody chicken might have an unappealing texture, but the flavor is affected only slightly. If the grey color bothers you, consider using a different cooking application next time—the external browning should cover it up.
Raw Grey Chicken Meat
Now, if the chicken turns grey before it’s cooked, you have a problem.
As we pointed out, fresh raw chicken should be peach, pink, or somewhat purple. If it’s turning grey or green, it’s no longer fresh and should be discarded.
How To Tell if Chicken is Bad
In addition to discoloration, spoiled chicken has several telltale signs. They might not all be present in every case—if you notice even one of them, you’ll need to throw the meat out.
First of all, chicken that’s gone bad will usually have a foul odor. Fresh chicken doesn’t smell like anything until it’s been seasoned or marinated. You should notice a pleasant aroma while it’s cooking, but that scent isn’t discernible when the meat is raw.
Sniff the chicken when you take it out of the package. If you notice a sour or “off” smell, like rotten eggs, discard the meat. Likewise, if it has a suspiciously sweet odor.
The texture may be able to tell you whether the meat is still good, too. The surface of the chicken should be slightly damp, but not slimy or sticky to the touch. These signs indicate that bacteria have already set up camp and have begun to feed on the flesh.
Even if the chicken isn’t grey or green, inspect it for signs of mold. This can appear as white or blue spots on the meat. This shouldn’t be an issue unless the chicken has been in the fridge for an extended period of time, but it’s still a good idea to check.
How Long Does Chicken Keep in the Fridge?
While we’re on the subject of storage, let’s talk about how long you can expect the meat to stay fresh in the first place.
Raw chicken doesn’t have a very impressive shelf life. By the time it’s made it through the processing plant and onto the shelves of the grocery store, it’s already been around for a while. Once you take it home, you should only expect it to keep for 1 to 2 days.
Sometimes, raw chicken will retain its freshness for up to 4 days after the date of purchase. But that’s a rarity, and one you shouldn’t rely on.
Don’t be tempted to go by the sell-by date, either. These dates are there to let the retailers know how long the meat has been on the shelf, and they don’t necessarily indicate freshness or quality.
If you’re buying your chicken directly from a local farmer, it will keep longer. Depending on how fresh it was when you purchased it, the meat might stay fresh for up to a week.
In any event, we would suggest that you buy chicken either the day you plan to cook it, or the day before. Bringing it home the day before might be preferable, depending on whether you plan on using a brine or marinade.
What about cooked chicken? You’ll have a bit more leeway in that case. After the meat is cooked, it should retain its quality for 3 to 4 days. After that, it might start to display some of the worrisome signs we mentioned earlier.
Keep all meat products refrigerated at 33 to 38 degrees, whether they’re cooked or raw. It’s preferable to store them on the bottom shelf of the fridge, toward the back. That way, they won’t be blasted with warm air every time you open the door.
If your plans change and you won’t be able to cook the chicken within the next couple of days, put it in the freezer. Once it’s frozen, it will keep indefinitely, but it’s still best to thaw and cook it within a few months.
The same rules apply if you’re not going to consume the cooked leftovers before they start to deteriorate. Cooked chicken can be stored in the freezer for up to 3 months. After that, it will still be edible, but the texture will be on the dry side.
Cooked grey chicken meat might look unappetizing, but as long as you’re sure the meat is fresh, it isn’t a serious problem. You can help to alleviate it by pan-searing or grilling the chicken instead of roasting it.
If you notice any grey patches on the meat before it’s cooked, though, that’s a major red flag. Toss the chicken in the garbage, and don’t be tempted to taste it just to make sure—that’s a recipe for disaster as well.