Is there any way to salvage overcooked chicken? And how can you avoid falling into this trap in the first place? Our ultimate guide has all the answers you’re looking for.
Chicken breast is considered overcooked if the internal temperature exceeds 165 degrees. The dark meat can cook longer, but if it goes past the 195-degree mark, it will be tough and chewy. By choosing the right cooking temperature and testing the internal temp at the estimated halfway point, you should wind up with perfectly cooked meat.
What’s The Ideal Internal Temperature for Chicken?
You might be surprised to learn that the answer to this question changes, depending on whether you’re dealing with white or dark meat.
Chicken breast, with its lean, tender texture, is considered white meat. The wings consist of white meat as well, but as they don’t have much of it, this detail is easy to overlook.
The dark meat can be found on the chicken’s drumsticks and thighs. It’s more flavorful than the white meat, owing to the higher fat content. Though it has a stringier texture than the tender breast meat, dark meat can be rich and succulent when it’s prepared correctly.
Because the breast is so lean, it overcooks quickly. It’s best not to cook the breast meat past 160 degrees, or it may dry out. During the resting period, it should come up to the ideal serving temperature of 165.
The dark meat needs more time on the heat. An internal temperature of 185 degrees is preferable, though it can cook a bit longer and still survive. Aim to take thighs and drumsticks off the heat when they’ve cooked to 180.
We should point out that it’s safe to eat the dark meat at 165 degrees. At this point, all the bacteria that can cause food poisoning due to undercooking will be wiped out. But the extra cooking time will improve the texture immeasurably.
Is Overcooked Chicken Safe to Eat?
While we’re on the subject of food safety, we should point out that eating overcooked chicken doesn’t pose any particular health risks.
While overcooked chicken can be rubbery or stringy, it isn’t harmful. The meat just isn’t as delicious when it’s overdone.
One thing to bear in mind is that charred meat may contain carcinogenic compounds. They’re known as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbones (PAHs), and they can form when the fat burns on the exterior of the meat.
The good news? Chicken is fairly lean, so the risk is less prevalent than it would be if you were dealing with burnt steak. Unless you consume blackened meat on a regular basis, this shouldn’t be a major concern.
How To Tell if Chicken Is Overcooked
Is there an easy way to tell when you’re dealing with overcooked chicken? Yes. All you need to do is test the internal temperature.
Chicken breast is overcooked if the internal temperature creeps past the 165-degree mark. After it’s cooked to 170 degrees, it will have a dry consistency reminiscent of sawdust.
As we pointed out, the thighs and drumsticks can handle higher temperatures without ill effect. But if you allow them to cook past 195 degrees or so, the chicken will begin to toughen up, making the silken strands of meat unpleasantly chewy.
What Does Overcooked Chicken Taste Like?
Overcooking chicken doesn’t have much effect on the flavor, unless it’s been charred past the point of recognition. But it won’t be as much fun to eat, regardless.
Overcooked chicken has been robbed of its moisture. All meat loses fluid as it cooks—that’s a natural part of the process. But when it goes past a certain point, it will bear more of a resemblance to old shoe leather than to anything you’d like to eat.
When you bite into a piece of chicken that’s been overcooked, your mouth will have to work overtime to produce more saliva in order to compensate for the lack of moisture. Dinner shouldn’t be such a chore.
Mistakes to Avoid
Why does chicken overcook? Most of the time, it’s either because you left it on the heat for too long, or because the cooking temperature was too high to begin with. It could also be a combination of these two things.
To avoid overcooking your chicken, test the internal temperature when you suspect that the total cooking time is approaching the halfway point. This should give you a rough idea of how much longer the meat needs to cook.
Don’t be tempted to judge whether the chicken is done based on appearance. Sometimes, the meat will still be pink in some places even when it’s cooked through. If you wait for it to turn white throughout, it might be too late by the time you take it off the heat.
You should also be sure not to use a cooking temperature that’s too high for the cut you’re using. Chicken tenderloin, for example, is so lean that it can overcook after just a few minutes of exposure to high heat.
How To Save Overcooked Chicken
Let’s assume that you’ve taken the chicken off the grill, and it’s gone beyond the recommended serving temperature. Is there anything you can do at this point to salvage it?
While you can’t dial back the temperature, there are ways to cover up the mistake. Since overcooked chicken is so dry, the best way to approach the issue is to introduce more moisture.
Try basting the chicken with barbecue sauce or another thick glaze before serving. Depending on how overcooked the meat is, you might even want to shred it before tossing it in the sauce.
If this isn’t an option, consider mixing the chicken with a little bit of lemon juice and olive oil, then using it to top a salad. The oil, coupled with the acidity from the lemon juice, should be sufficient to mask the drier texture.
You can also add the chicken to a soup, stew, or casserole. Though it’s already overcooked, you won’t notice it as much when it’s drowning in a sauce or broth.
What’s The Best Cooking Temp for Chicken?
Again, this depends on what cut of chicken you’re dealing with. There may also be more than one answer for each cut, since chicken is versatile enough to be prepared in a number of ways. For your convenience, we’ve broken it down in the sections below.
When it comes to whole chickens, you have a bit of leeway in terms of cooking temperature. The cut is so large, it’s difficult to overcook it—provided you’re paying attention.
You can roast or smoke chicken at any temperature between 225 and 450. Any lower, and it will take a prohibitively long time to reach the ideal serving temp. If you attempt to cook the bird at a higher temperature, the outside might become charred before it’s done.
One option might be to start at a high temperature, then reduce the heat for the duration of the cook. Setting the oven to 425 for the first 15 minutes and then lowering it to 350 will give the chicken a crispy, golden exterior and meat that’s moist and tender.
If you use this technique, the chicken should cook at a rate of 20 minutes per pound. Use this number as a guideline, and check the internal temp of the breast and thigh meat at the estimated halfway point. It’s better to err on the side of caution than to wind up with overcooked meat.
Bone-in Chicken Breast
When cooking this type of chicken breast, you can follow similar guidelines. The key is to take the chicken out of the oven or smoker when it’s cooked to 160 degrees.
Set the cooking temperature to 350 degrees and roast the meat for 15 to 20 minutes per pound. Once again, you’ll want to test the internal temperature long before you expect the chicken to be done, just to be on the safe side.
Boneless Skinless Chicken Breast
There’s no hard and fast rule when it comes to cooking boneless and skinless chicken breast. This versatile cut is used in plenty of recipes. Moreover, the cooking time and temp both depend largely on how thick the cut is.
Thicker breasts can be roasted in a 400 degree oven for 20 to 25 minutes, or until they’ve cooked to 160 degrees. When grilling thinner cuts, use medium-high heat and aim for a total cooking time of 9 to 10 minutes, flipping them halfway through.
Bone-in Chicken Thigh
We like to cook bone-in thighs at a relatively high temperature to allow the skin to crisp up. At 400 degrees, they should cook to 180 degrees in 40 to 45 minutes. Setting the temp to 425 should shave 5 to 10 minutes off this estimate.
Boneless Skinless Chicken Thigh
Baking boneless and skinless chicken thighs in the oven should take just 30 minutes when you set the temperature to 400 degrees. When grilling, use medium-high heat and cook over the cooler portion of the unit until the last few minutes of cooking.
Since drumsticks aren’t as meaty as thighs, they’re more prone to overcooking. Use a temperature of 375 degrees for this cut, and plan on about 1-1/2 hours of cooking time.
This bar-menu staple is often deep-fried, but if you’re baking or smoking them at home, set the cooking temp to 350 degrees. Cook, turning once to ensure even browning, for a total of 15-20 minutes. Remember that wings are done when they’ve cooked to 165 degrees.
It’s no fun dealing with overcooked chicken, but keeping a reliable meat thermometer on hand can help you avoid this fate. If all else fails, there are methods you can rely on to salvage the meal.