Have you ever noticed white stuff coming out of chicken as it cooks and wondered, just exactly what is that substance? Is it normal, or is there something you can do to avoid it? Let’s find out.
White Stuff Coming Out of Chicken
Often, when cooking chicken, you’ll see a white substance seeping out of the meat. This is a mixture of soluble protein, fat, and water that’s being released from the muscle fibers. While it’s more common with fatty cuts like the thighs, it can happen when cooking any type of chicken—and other types of meat as well.
White Meat vs. Dark Meat: A Primer
Before we get started, let’s discuss the difference between white meat and dark meat on a chicken. This dichotomy will become more relevant as we go on.
The white meat can be found primarily in the breast region, but the wings are technically considered white meat as well. This meat is leaner and more tender than the dark meat because these muscles don’t have a lot to do.
Dark meat cuts like the thighs and drumsticks, meanwhile, get a decent workout when the bird is alive. When muscles get more exercise, they contain more myoglobin—the protein that transports oxygen. The extra myoglobin gives the meat a darker hue.
If you’ve ever taken a bite of a chicken breast and then compared it to thigh meat, you probably noticed that while the former has a more tender texture, the latter is more flavorful. That’s because the dark meat cuts are fattier than the breasts and wings.
Are white meat cuts preferable to dark meat cuts? Not necessarily. It all depends on what you’re making. We wouldn’t say that any cut is inferior to the others—only that they each have their own distinctive qualities.
What’s the White Stuff Coming Out of Chicken?
Regardless of which cut you’re dealing with, you might notice a white discharge coming out of the meat as it cooks. What’s going on? Did you do something wrong? Actually, no—this phenomenon is easily explained.
That white substance is a mixture of water, protein, and fat. These elements are contained within the chicken’s muscle fibers. When the meat is exposed to heat, the mixture is expelled in the form of the white discharge you’re seeing.
You probably know that chicken is an excellent source of protein. In fact, this particular protein is easy to digest, which may explain why chicken soup is such a popular sickbed offering.
The same properties that allow our bodies to digest the meat easily are contributing factors to the “white ooze” phenomenon. The chicken is full of soluble fat and water. When the meat is exposed to heat, it denatures rapidly, causing these elements to leak out.
Sometimes, you’ll cook a whole batch of chicken thighs or breasts and not notice any of the white stuff coming out. But other times, the substance will be impossible to miss. It all depends on the specific cut, as well as a few other factors we’ll get into later.
Does This Happen With All Chicken Cuts?
Does the white stuff come out of any and all of the chicken parts, or is it more likely to seep out of the thighs and drumsticks?
The truth is, it can happen no matter what cut of chicken you’re cooking. But you’re more likely to notice the oozing when preparing fattier cuts like the thighs.
Is It Safe?
Although it might look a tad unappetizing, the white stuff is nothing to worry about. It’s made up of compounds that are present in all fresh meat products. As long as the chicken hasn’t gone bad and you’ve cooked it to a safe temperature, it’s perfectly safe.
In fact, when the chicken is spoiled, it’s less likely to release the white substance. So if you’re noticing a great deal of white discharge coming out of the chicken, there’s a good chance you’re dealing with nice fresh meat.
On the other hand, if there’s any white stuff coming out of the meat before you start cooking, then it’s probably gone bad. To find out more about the common signs of spoilage, see How To Tell When Chicken is Bad, below.
Is There Any Way To Prevent It?
You can attempt to circumvent the “white stuff coming out of chicken” phenomenon by cooking white meat instead of dark meat. The more fat there is in the cut, the more likely it is to dispel the white substance during cooking.
Boiling the chicken will make the white ooze more noticeable as well, especially if the pieces are large. If you’ve ever parboiled chicken before grilling it, you probably noticed a white foam on the surface of the water. That’s the same stuff.
Cooking the chicken from a frozen state can also contribute to the issue. When chicken is frozen, the soluble protein, water, and fat will expand, causing the cells around it to burst. That means the mixture isn’t restrained by cell walls when it’s exposed to heat.
This is one of the reasons why it’s preferable to thaw chicken and other meat products before you cook them. While it’s safe to cook them from frozen, it can result in a drier product.
In addition to proper thawing, you can cut down on the amount of white stuff coming out of chicken by bringing it to room temperature before you start cooking. This allows the protein mixture to stabilize. Just be sure not to leave it out for longer than an hour or two.
Finally, try to avoid chicken products that have been brined in a saltwater solution before packaging. The excess moisture will blend with the meat’s proteins, thereby creating more of the white stuff.
Does This Happen To Other Types of Meat?
Indeed it does. Since all meat contains fat, protein, and water, it stands to reason that this phenomenon could occur with other types as well.
When you cook a piece of salmon, it’s common to see white discharge coming out of the pink flesh. It’s noticeable on cuts of pork, too, especially if you’re grilling or pan-searing them quickly over high heat.
The same thing happens to beef, only the discharge will usually be red or pink instead of white. That’s because beef is red meat, which means it contains more myoglobin than white meat like poultry.
How To Tell if Chicken is Cooked
Chicken meat turns opaque and either white or brown as it approaches doneness. Many home chefs are tempted to go by appearance alone when judging whether the meat is fully cooked or not. Although these guidelines are helpful, though, they aren’t enough to go by.
Test the internal temperature of the chicken using an instant-read thermometer. Chicken breast is done when it cooks to 165 degrees. Try to take it off the heat at 160 degrees, though—it will continue to cook as it rests.
Thighs and drumsticks need to cook a little while longer in order to achieve a rich, succulent texture. You can cook these to 180 degrees before removing them from the heat and setting them aside to rest.
There may still be a hint of pink when you cut into the chicken, especially near the bone. This, too, is normal—it usually means that a bit of bone marrow has seeped into the surrounding meat. It’s especially common with younger birds.
Smoked chicken might appear pink directly below the skin. This isn’t anything to worry about either. When the smoke reacts with the myoglobin in the meat, it creates this rosy color, which is known as a smoke ring, around the perimeter.
How To Tell When Chicken is Bad
You should always check to make sure the chicken is still fresh before you start to cook it. Fortunately, it’s usually easy to tell.
Give the meat a good sniff. Do you detect a hint of rotten eggs or an otherwise sour smell? If so, you should discard the chicken. When it’s fresh, raw meat shouldn’t have much of an odor on its own—you’ll only notice the aroma once it starts cooking.
The texture is another factor to consider. Run your finger along the chicken to see if it feels sticky or overly slimy. A bit of dampness is fine, but a slimy texture indicates that bacteria have already begun feasting on the meat.
Check for discolored patches, too. Obviously, any patches of white or blue mold are signs of spoilage. Likewise, if you notice a gray or greenish hue, there’s a good chance that the meat has outlasted its freshness and needs to be thrown out.
The Bottom Line
Unless you suspect that the chicken has gone bad, you can safely ignore the white stuff that comes out of chicken as it cooks. It might look unseemly for a while, but it won’t derail your meal. Your goal is to focus on cooking the meat to a safe temperature.
Best of luck, and happy grilling!