There’s a fine line between perfectly cooked chicken and dry meat. That’s one of the many reasons why a meat thermometer is an invaluable grilling tool. What’s the recommended internal temperature, and is 145 degrees safe for chicken?
Is 145 Degrees Safe For Chicken?
At 145 degrees Fahrenheit, salmonella bacteria is killed off within 9 minutes. If you’re sure that the chicken has held at or above this temperature for that long, then the meat should be safe to eat. Since the bacteria die off faster at higher temperatures, most recipes suggest cooking chicken until the thermometer registers 165 degrees.
Understanding The Risks
The reason you should never eat undercooked chicken is because the meat may contain salmonella bacteria.
Salmonella is a tenacious bacteria that thrives in the temperature range between 35 and 117 degrees Fahrenheit. CDC reports show that up to 1 in 6 Americans are infected with foodborne illnesses every year. Over 1 million of those cases can be traced to salmonella poisoning, which underscores the severity of the risk.
When you cook meat past a certain temperature, the salmonella bacteria are destroyed. That’s true no matter what kind of meat you’re grilling.
However, since the flesh of chickens is less dense than the flesh of cows and pigs, the bacteria can penetrate deep beneath the surface. Therefore, you have to cook chicken thoroughly to ensure that all of the dangerous bacteria are killed off.
Is 145 Degrees Safe For Chicken, Or Should It Cook Longer?
The rule of thumb is to cook chicken to at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit. I would recommend this myself, at least as far as chicken breasts are concerned. The thighs can cook a bit longer as we’ll discuss later. But is it safe to remove chicken from the heat if it’s only cooked to 145 degrees?
The truth is, time is as important as temperature when it comes to cooking chicken. At 145 degrees, the threatening bacteria will still be destroyed—it will just take longer. If the temperature holds at 145 for at least 9 minutes, then the chicken should be safe to eat.
In fact, salmonella dies off at temperatures as low as 136 degrees. The catch is that it needs to be held at that temperature for over an hour before it’s safe to eat. Since that would require a longer wait than just cooking the meat to a higher temperature, it’s not a common practice.
Why, then, do so many chefs recommend waiting until 165? Because at this temperature, the salmonella is killed off in a matter of seconds. There’s no need to set a timer and keep an eye on the thermometer the entire time. You can just set the chicken aside to rest and serve it when you’re ready.
We should also note that it’s crucial to cook chicken to a safe temperature if you’re serving children, the elderly, pregnant women, or anyone with a compromised immune system. These individuals are more likely to contract an infection from undercooked meat.
Breaking Down The Cooking Process
What exactly is going on inside the chicken as it cooks? It’s a fascinating process, and not hard to understand. Here’s the breakdown, step by step.
At temperatures below 120 degrees Fahrenheit, the muscle cells resemble long strands. When you cut into raw chicken, these cells are clearly visible. You might have heard them referred to as the “grain” of the meat.
When the meat reaches 120 degrees, proteins in the meat start to coagulate and force out liquid. As the temperature climbs to 140, the rest of the proteins are coagulated, giving the chicken its white, opaque appearance.
At 150 degrees, moisture begins to seep out of the breast meat as the proteins contract. That’s why chicken breasts become so dry if they’re overcooked.
160 degrees is the temperature at which collagen starts to transform into gelatin. Since the dark meat of the legs and thighs contains a lot of collagen, it remains juicy and tender even when it’s cooked to 180 or 190.
When you’re grill-roasting a whole chicken, it’s best to pull the bird from the heat when the breast meat has reached the optimum temperature. You can carve the breasts away and allow them to rest while you return the rest of the bird to the grill. That way, your breast meat will remain moist and the thighs and legs can reach the proper consistency.
Of course, you can also remove the whole bird from the grill at 165 degrees. The dark meat will still be safe to eat at this temperature. The problem is that it might be chewy or gummy if the collagen hasn’t had a chance to break down yet.
Should I Truss The Chicken Before Cooking It?
Some recipes recommend taking this step, as it gives the bird a more streamlined appearance. In fact, it does more harm than good. Here’s why.
When you truss a chicken or a turkey, you’re blocking the inner thighs from the heat. Since the thighs cook more slowly than the breasts anyway, this will prolong the entire process and make your job more difficult than it needs to be. For best results, leave the legs untied.
Raw Chicken Safety Tips
- Keep chicken refrigerated until you’re ready to start cooking.
- Don’t rinse the chicken before cooking. This will send contaminated water into your sink and onto your countertops. Instead, pat the chicken dry using paper towels.
- Wash your hands before handling raw poultry, and again immediately afterward. Run them under hot water for at least 20 seconds, scrubbing well with plenty of soap.
- Always use separate utensils for raw and cooked chicken. Don’t cross-contaminate by turning cooked chicken with the same tongs you used to place it on the grill.
- Use an instant-read thermometer to gauge the temperature of the chicken. It’s the only way to be sure it’s fully cooked. This is especially important if you’re planning to pull the meat off the grill at 145 degrees.
The Bottom Line
Although we prefer to wait until chicken has achieved an internal temperature of 165 degrees, it’s possible to pull it from the heat at 145. The trick is to keep an eye on both the clock and the thermometer to ensure that it stays at 145 for at least 9 minutes. It’s up to you to decide whether the results are worth the extra step.