Anyone who has ever cooked chicken knows that it can be tricky to cook it perfectly. When cooked too long, the meat becomes tough and dry; when cooked too little, the chicken can still be raw inside and give you food poisoning.
Checking if the chicken is thoroughly cooked with a food thermometer is easy. Just insert it into the thickest part of the meat, such as chicken breast, for 30 seconds. For a whole chicken, the thermometer must read a minimum of 180°F (82°C), and for chicken cuts, 165°F (74°C) to make sure it is fully cooked and safe to eat.
When it becomes a bit tricky is if you don’t have a food thermometer. But don’t worry; in this article, I will cover some simple yet effective techniques for how to tell when chicken is done without a thermometer.
How To Check If Chicken Is Cooked Without Thermometer?
Cutting into the meat is the best way to check if the chicken is fully cooked. The chicken is thoroughly cooked and safe to eat if the juices run clear and the meat is white throughout without any pink or peachy tones.
So, let’s look more closely into the science behind this method and some other ones that will help determine the doneness of cooked poultry.
Did You Know? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), undercooked chicken is one of the most common causes of food poisoning in the United States.
1. Check The Color Of The Meat
The color of the raw chicken varies from bright pink to yellow, with some fatty white parts and a slightly slimy, glossy tone. Once fully cooked, the breast meat changes color from pink to white, and the thighs cook slightly darker and become pinkish-brown but without the shiny, gelatinous quality that indicates the raw state.
Did You Know? According to Solveig Langsrud, a well-known Norwegian Institute of Food scientist, some pink spots near the bone should not concern you. Those are hemoglobin caused and will be there no matter how much you cook the chicken meat.
2. Check The Texture Of The Meat
The texture is an essential factor when it comes to determining whether your chicken is fully cooked or not. However, unless you are Gordon Ramsay, relying solely on touch to decide if the chicken is thoroughly cooked is pretty challenging.
To master this method, you certainly need a lot of practice by touching a lot of poultry meat, from raw to fully cooked, and anything in between.
To give you an idea of what to look for, raw chicken is rubbery with an elastic, soft texture, while cooked chicken meat is firmer and not stretchy.
Also, if your chicken is chewy, that is a tell-tale sign that it is undercooked and potentially raw. So, if you bite into a chewy piece of chicken leg, stop immediately, as you might be eating raw chicken.
3. Perform A Finger Test
The finger or hand test method is quick and easy to check if meat is done. It is supposed to be quite accurate and could be used to check your chicken breast and work on other cuts of meat like a stake. Chefs claim to have been using this method for years.
Essentially, the finger test gets its name because it involves using your finger to touch the meat first, then touching a specific part of your hand to compare its firmness—kind of like a cheat sheet.
Here is how to perform the finger test on chicken breast:
To check how the raw meat feels, open the palm of your hand and touch the fleshy part under the thumb with the index finger of your other hand.
- To feel medium-rare meat, press the tip of your thumb together with the tip of your index finger. And again, touch the fleshy part under the thumb with the index finger of your other hand.
- To feel medium-cooked meat, push the thumb and the middle finger together and touch the fleshy part under the thumb with the index finger of your other hand.
- To get a feeling of well-done meat, Gently press the tip of your thumb to the end of your pinky finger and touch the fleshy part under the thumb with the index finger of your other hand.
If that is your first time using a finger test, I would also suggest using other methods in this article to ensure that the meat is cooked the way it is supposed to be.
4. Perform A Joint Test
Have you ever tried removing the chicken from the roasting pan, which falls apart when you lift it? You may not have an aesthetically pleasing bird to put on the dinner table, but at least you can be sure it is thoroughly cooked.
This is also known as the joint test; you can tell if the chicken is cooked fully if the leg separates effortlessly from the body when pulled.
5. Check The Juice Of The Meat
Another effective test for checking whether your poultry is thoroughly cooked is to check if the juices run clear.
Here is how to do it. Insert a fork or a sharp knife into the thickest part of the bird; if the juices that flow out are clear, then the chicken is cooked; if any pinkness remains, place it back in the oven for another 5-10 minutes before checking again.
This method applies to cooking a whole chicken or just cuts.
Just make sure to pierce the thickest point of the meat. Otherwise, you may be tricked by the clear juices on the surface and still have pink juices deeper in the meat.
The best place to check the doneness of the poultry is near the breast, where the meat is the thickest or the inner thigh area.
3 Best Ways To Cook Chicken To Perfection
If done correctly, all the cooking methods will produce perfectly cooked, juicy, and tender chicken. However, some cooking methods are more of a balancing act than others because you need to be spot on with your timing not to overcook the meat, nor you don’t want to leave it raw.
If eating or serving raw chicken is your main concern, these three cooking techniques below are a foolproof way to cook your chicken to perfection without overcooking it.
Read Also: 5 Ways To Cook Chicken Soaked In Buttermilk (Most Tender And Succulent).
1. Use A Slow Cooker
A slow cooker, also known as a crockpot, is the most forgiving when it comes to cooking time. This set-and-forget method will give you thoroughly cooked chicken to the point where the meat would fall off the bone.
Prepare the medium-sized bird as you would when roasting it in the oven, then place it in the large-size slow cooker. Cover and cook on the “Low” setting for 6 to 8 hours or the “High” setting for 4 to 5 hours.
Once done, check the doneness by using the method discussed above.
Read Also: Is It Safe To Leave Slow Cooker On Overnight?
2. Cook Chicken With The Sous Vide Method
Sous vide cooking technique (“under vacuum” in French) is a slow, long and gentle way to perfectly cook your chicken every time. This is the perfect balance between undercooked and overcooked meat.
Using this method, you will need sous vide appliance, a large container for water in which the food is placed in a sealed plastic bag, and then cook it in hot water at a very precise temperature.
To sous vide a medium-sized whole chicken, season it to your taste as you would when roasting it in the oven. Then place it in the large vacuum-sealed cooking bag. Preheat the sous vide machine to (148°F (64°C) and cook for 6 hours in hot water.
Once cooked, remove the chicken from the bag, place it on the oven tray and brush it with melted butter. Put it on the top rack of your oven and broil it on High for 4-10 minutes for a golden brown finish.
3. Spatchcock or Butterfly Your Chicken
Although the above techniques will give you a perfectly cooked chicken without much worry, you do need a lot of extra equipment to accomplish these. So if you don’t want to buy a Sous vide thermal immersion circulator machine, a vacuum sealer, or a slow cooker, don’t worry.
For this cooking technique, you will only need kitchen shears, your oven, and some elbow grease.
To butterfly or spatchcock your chicken means removing the backbone, cutting it half horizontally but not all the way, and then opening it like a book, laying it flat in the roasting tray. Doing so will allow the poultry to cook more quickly and more evenly.
To cook medium-sized butterflied chicken, preheat the oven to (400°F (205°C) and season to your taste. Roast the chicken in the preheated oven for about 40-50 minutes until the juices run clear, and the meat has a white and cooked texture, as described above.
Butterflying or spatchcocking is also recommended for Sous Vide cooking technique I described previously.
Read Also: How To Poach Chicken For Chicken Salad (Succulently Tasty).
If you don’t have a food thermometer, you can tell if the chicken is done by its juices, the texture, and the color of the meat. You can also use the finger method or the joint test. To ensure that your poultry gets perfectly cooked every time use a slow cooker or sous-vide cooking method.