If you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a thousand times: you don’t want to mess around with undercooked chicken. Cook it to at least 165° F to kill harmful bacteria, including salmonella.
But if you don’t have a thermometer handy, can’t you just look for juice that runs clear?
Let’s talk about how to know when chicken is cooked and debunk a few myths while we’re at it.
How to Check the Temperature of Cooked Chicken
You know what’s not a myth? Checking the internal temperature of chicken. Period. Here’s how to do it properly.
- Use an instant-read digital thermometer. Check out our favorite digital thermometers here: Editors’ Picks: Instant-Read Digital Thermometers
- Insert the thermometer into the thickest part of the meat (click here for photos) and make sure the probe isn’t touching any bones, which can throw off the temperature. This applies to all cuts of chicken.
- Leave the probe in the meat until the temperature holds steady. Some thermometers take a little longer to register a temperature than others. If you have a Thermapen MK4, you’ll get a near-instant readout.
- Wash the thermometer with hot, soapy water after every use. Re-inserting a dirty thermometer can cross-contaminate chicken.
- Recalibrate your thermometer occasionally. Over time, some thermometers get out of whack. Check your thermometer’s accuracy by testing it in ice water using these instructions.. Some instant-read thermometers can easily be re-calibrated; refer to the manual or do an internet search for information on your model.
Should I Cook Dark Meat Above 165° F?
This is a culinary measure more than a safety one.
It’s not dangerous to eat dark meat (thighs, drumsticks, and wings) that’s only been cooked to 165° F. But these parts can be rubbery at that temperature.
Dark meat is juicer and more tender when cooked to 175-180° F. In that range the connective tissue melts into gelatin.
It’s up to you to figure out how you like it done (I prefer 180° F for dark meat, myself). As long as it’s at least 165° F, it’s safe.
Can I Skip the Thermometer If the Chicken Juice Runs Clear?
Despite what you may have read, clear juice does not mean chicken is done.
It would be cool if that were true, but juice can run red at 170° F and run clear at 155° F.
To be extra safe, use a thermometer. Just get one and use it! It’s totally worth the money to save yourself a miserable night chained to the toilet.
Does the Chicken Temperature Change Depending on the Cooking Method?
This one’s easy! No. Whether you are roasting, frying, boiling, poaching, baking, grilling, or sautéing chicken, the temperature for cooked chicken is still 165° F.
This includes ground chicken, which should also be cooked to 165°F.
What about Cooking Chicken Sous Vide?
There’s always an exception, right? Sous vide chicken has a workaround to the 165° rule.
The USDA’s temperatures are for conventional methods, like roasting. However, cooking chicken at lower temperatures longer kills pathogens just as effectively.
You don’t need to overthink this. Just follow the temperatures and cooking times in sous vide recipes from trustworthy sources and you’ll be 100% fine.