A lot of folks rely on the color and appearance of meat to determine whether it’s done. The method is especially prevalent when it comes to chicken, since the raw meat is pink in color and turns opaque and white as it cooks.
If chicken is white is it cooked? Or is this just a rule of thumb and not a true test?
If Chicken is White is it Cooked?
It’s true that chicken breasts turn white as they cook, but color alone is not a reliable test. For one thing, if you’re dealing with dark meat, it won’t turn white at all, but rather a beige or brown color. Also, chicken can remain pink and still be fully cooked, or turn completely white and not be done yet.
Why It’s Important
Unlike red meat such as steak and pork, poultry needs to cook to at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit before it’s considered safe to consume. It’s fine to take it off the heat at 160 degrees, but the internal temp should hit 165 for at least a few seconds.
Why? In short, it’s because the bacteria that cause food poisoning—salmonella being the most prevalent—die off when exposed to high temperatures. It’s possible to eradicate them by cooking the meat to a lower temp, but it will take longer.
By contrast, heating the meat to 165 ensures that the bacteria will be killed off immediately. Not every piece of chicken will be contaminated with bacteria—it’s just better to be safe than sorry.
Poultry plays by a different set of rules than red meat because the flesh is less dense. That means the potential bacteria could burrow beneath the surface. This is why you can cook a steak to medium rare, but it’s not safe to do so with chicken.
If Chicken is White is it Cooked?
Not necessarily. Although chicken breasts lose their translucent peach-pink color and turn firm and opaque as they cook, color alone does not indicate whether the meat is fully cooked.
For one thing, it’s only the white meat—the breasts and wings—that turns white after cooking. The dark meat of the thighs and drumsticks doesn’t turn white—it can range from tan to dark brown to pink, depending on a number of factors.
On the other end of the spectrum, the meat can sometimes turn white even at lower temperatures. You could consume undercooked chicken without realizing it. So it’s not a good idea to rely on the color alone.
How To Tell When Chicken is Cooked
There are a few ways to tell when chicken is approaching doneness. The only way to be certain, however, is to test the internal temperature.
Test the Temperature
If you don’t already have one, invest in a reliable instant-read meat thermometer. When you insert it into the chicken, it should display a readout of at least 160 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s when you’ll know it’s safe to remove the chicken from the heat.
As the meat rests, the internal temperature should rise by a few degrees. This is known as “carryover cooking,” and it will ensure that the chicken attains a safe temperature while still retaining plenty of moisture.
Check the Color
As I pointed out, this shouldn’t be your only method. But you can guess when it might be time to test the temperature by gauging the appearance of the chicken.
When the meat is undercooked, it will have a gelatinous, translucent appearance. As it cooks, it will firm up and the muscle fibers will become more visible.
The color will undergo a transformation as well. White meat will indeed turn from pink to white, perhaps with some browning on the exterior (depending on your cooking method). Dark meat turns from purplish-pink to brown.
I should also note that if the meat is still red in places, especially near the bone, it’s nothing to be alarmed about. This phenomenon is due to pigment leaking out of the bone marrow, and it’s safe as long as the chicken is cooked to the proper temperature.
One more thing: All smoked meat, including chicken, may have a pink or red hue just beneath the surface. This is called the smoke ring, which is the result of a chemical reaction involving the nitrogen dioxide in the smoke.
Mind the Texture
Undercooked chicken has a rubbery texture that will be immediately obvious if you’re unfortunate enough to bite into it. Chicken that’s cooked through should be tender to the bite. If you notice a snap when you take a bite, it’s possible the meat is underdone.
You can also try pressing your finger against the meat. It should be firm to the touch, not soft or mushy. A squishy texture usually indicates that the chicken is still raw in the center.
Gauge the Size
Like all meat, the chicken will shrink down as it cooks. This doesn’t affect lean meat like chicken breasts as much as fatty cuts like beef brisket, but it’s still a factor.
When the chicken is finished cooking, it should be noticeably smaller than it was when you started. Use your judgment to determine whether it might be time to start testing the internal temperature.
A uniform white color doesn’t mean that chicken is cooked. However, it can be a good place to start. When the chicken begins to turn white and opaque, it’s the perfect time to start testing the internal temperature.
Hi there! I’m Darren Wayland, your BBQHost. My love of great barbecue inspired me to curate this site as a resource for all my like-minded fellow pitmasters out there. When I’m not researching and learning all I can about the latest tips and techniques, you can find me at the grill—that is, if you can spot me at all through the clouds of sweet-smelling smoke. And since you asked, yes, that probably is barbecue sauce on my face. Welcome to the party!