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How to Tell if Chicken is Done without a Thermometer

man holding plate of fried chicken

Have you ever cooked a chicken and excitedly shouted, “dinner’s ready!” only to discover that the chicken meat was still partially cooked, so you needed to cook it for at least a few more minutes?

But wait! It doesn’t end there. The worst thing that could happen is actually chewing a slice of overcooked–or worse, undercooked–chicken meat. Disappointing, isn’t it? So, the real question here is, how to tell if and when a chicken is done?

Most people would suggest using a meat thermometer, but what if you don’t have one? Is it still possible to tell if the chicken is done without it?

The answer is a big YES!

Learning how to cook a chicken without a thermometer is possible. Once you know how to do so, you will realize how easy it is, and you’ll be able to consistently achieve a fully cooked chicken that your family will surely love and enjoy. We will discuss these techniques in this article. So, buckle up and learn how to tell if a chicken is done without a thermometer.

Finding the Best Chicken

We recommend these three easy tips in finding the best chicken at the grocery store or at the market.

First, make it a habit to check the “best by” date. Always choose the chicken that can still be cooked days after you plan to cook it.

Second, choose a chicken with a “pinkish” hue. This color indicates the freshness of the chicken.  The pinker the chicken, the fresher its meat is.

Lastly, if you are unsure, you can speak with the butchers or meat cutters at the supermarket for their recommendation. They work with meats, so they know the best ones. Ask the right questions, and you’ll surely find the correct answers.

Preparing the Chicken

Preparing the chicken before cooking is essential in achieving a perfect, tasty, and fully-cooked chicken.

Yes, first things first! NEVER wash raw chicken before cooking it.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture strongly recommends NOT doing this, as doing so can increase the possibility of food poisoning.

Tap water is not enough to eliminate bacteria. The only way to kill bacteria in raw chicken is through cooking it at the correct temperature.

The next thing you need to ask yourself is: “to brine or not to brine?”

Brining is the process of soaking chicken in salted water to absorb water through “osmosis” and achieve moister meat. While some may prefer brining their chicken, others love to focus on the flavor and choose to marinate theirs, instead.

Marinating is the process of soaking chicken in a seasoned liquid for a more flavorful and flawless texture.

The truth is, you can do both! Choosing whether to marinate or brine (or both!) depends on what you (and your family) personally prefer.

cooked chicken breast on white plate with rosemary sprig
Cook chicken to perfection even without a meat thermometer following our tips and tricks.

How to Check if Chicken is Done without a Thermometer

If you are cooking chicken without a thermometer, you are actually making an educated guess with the following factors to consider: cooking temperature, meat size, and cooking time. These three will serve as your guide to a fully and perfectly cooked chicken without using a thermometer.

One vital piece of information you need to be mindful of is the minimum heat requirement for cooking chicken, which is 165 degrees Fahrenheit, as recommended by the FDA.

One great way to ensure that chicken is fully cooked at the minimum temperature is following a recipe from a trusted source that specifically spells out the cooking time needed for that dish.

Check the Juices of the Chicken

When the chicken is fully cooked, the chicken’s juices will look clear or white. However, if the chicken’s juice looks a bit pinkish, you need to cook the chicken longer. (This trick only works for chicken and does not apply to other meat.)

Check the Color of the Chicken

To ensure that the chicken is done, you can check the color of the chicken meat. You need to cut a small portion of the meat to check the color inside. You can use a knife or fork for this.

Once you see the meat is all white, then it is done. But, if pink hues are still visible in the meat, you need to wait longer to ensure it is fully cooked.

Check the Texture of the Chicken

If the chicken is undercooked, the meat usually feels jiggly and dense. It is also shiny-looking.

If it is overcooked, its texture is hard and unappealing.

A perfectly-cooked chicken has a juicy, melty, and firm texture, which you’ll learn to spot as you learn more about cooking chicken without a thermometer.

Check with Your Local Butcher

If you want to learn more, then you can ask the “meat experts.” You can directly speak with the butcher at meat counters and ask for tips. Ask this professional both the desired temperature and the cooking time for a fully-cooked chicken.

Asking for their insights can help you gain more knowledge, resulting in cooking better chicken.

Conclusion

When it comes to cooking chicken, it is essential to cook it just right—not undercooked nor overcooked.

Don’t have a meat thermometer?  Don’t panic.  You can easily check to make sure your chicken is done without one by checking its juice, color, and texture.

Frequently Asked Questions:

Can chicken be slightly pink?

Yes, only if it is raw and if it is slow-cooked. Raw chicken should be slightly pink or “pinkish.” It indicates that the chicken meat is fresh. However, once a raw chicken is cooked, its color changes. 

Is slightly undercooked chicken OK?

No, it is not. It is completely unsafe to eat raw or undercooked chicken because of its possible bacteria presence, including Salmonella and Campylobacter. For chicken to be fully-cooked, it needs to be exposed to the required heat temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit.

Is slow-cooked chicken pink?

Not always, but it sometimes happens. Even when the chicken is slow-cooked at the required minimum heat temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit, chicken meat may still look pink, but it is still considered cooked.  Also, some meat near the bone remains a bit pink after cooking, which is totally normal.

Additional Resources:

Kitchen Professor author

Rhonda grew up with parents who gardened, hunted, fished, canned, and preserved food. Her mother was a professional cook and Rhonda credits her teaching everything from how to make homemade biscuits and gravy to what kind of meals to serve for different occasions. In the kitchen, Rhonda uses a mix of old-fashioned country cooking and up-to-date fads in the kitchen, often experimenting with replacing higher-calorie or fat ingredients with healthier options that still retain the delicious flavors of the originals.

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