There’s an incredible number of chicken recipes for any occasion. Chicken is one of the most popular types of meats to grill, so knowing the safe chicken internal temperature is a must if you want to keep your family healthy.
Unlike other types of meat that can be served medium rare or even rare, chicken needs to be cooked thoroughly to avoid any sickness or health concerns.
Keep reading to learn more about the correct internal temperature for chicken and the difference between cooking white and dark meat.
What Is The Recommended Chicken Internal Temperature?
When you’re cooking chicken, there’s always a concern about ending up with it being under or over cooked. Most people purposefully overcook chicken to avoid food-borne illnesses.
Unfortunately, this means that your meat will either be too dry, rough, rubbery or chewy. Blech!
But, that’s really not needed.
Raw chicken contains Salmonella and Campylobacter bacteria, and the only way to get rid of these microorganisms is to use high heat for an extended time.
According to the USDA, it’s recommended to cook chicken until the temperature reaches 165°F.
This temperature is high enough to kill Salmonella and other bacteria, and still keep the meat juicy.
This temperature is suitable for cooking chicken breasts, ground poultry, and stuffing.
Other parts like the legs, thighs, and giblets will need a bit more time to get to that temp.
Measuring the Temperature
Overcooking chicken is more common than undercooking it because people are always scared of bacteria.
This happens because they rely on just looking at the chicken or cutting it open to check the doneness level.
Unfortunately, these methods don’t tell you the exact internal temperature and really aren’t reliable. This is why using a thermometer and knowing how to use it is the only way you can accurately measure the temp.
A thermometer can be used to monitor the heat in the thickest part of the meat, so you know exactly when to stop cooking.
For larger birds, I recommend butterflying the chicken. This is a simple technique where you can remove the spine and lay the bird flat on the grill. This greatly accelerates the cooking process (not to mention that it tastes amazing!).
White vs. Dark Meat?
Many people think that dark meat is chewy and rubbery, but this only happens when you don’t cook chicken at a high enough temperature.
Cooking dark meat needs to be treated a little different than white meat. It has more connective tissue and can be chewy without taking a few precautionary steps.
It needs to be cooked to a higher internal temperature for the best results. As the temperature increases, it breaks the connective tissues and makes it extremely tender and tasty.
Internal Temperature Of Dark Meat
The connective tissues of dark meat start to break down nicely at 175°F. This is almost 10 degrees higher than the internal temperature required for cooking chicken breasts to perfection.
Plan accordingly so the darker meat portions of the chicken are towards the hot spots on the grill. That way they’ll reach the higher temperature as the white meat reaches 165°F.
Internal Temperature of Wings
If you’re cooking wings, you actually have less meat to transfer the heat from the outermost layer to the innermost layer. This is why you should cook wings at a higher temperature.
Wings cook perfectly when the internal temperature reaches 175°F.
Increasing the temperature while cooking dark meat and wings won’t dry the meat because the connective tissues break down and release the juices. Additionally, the higher grill temp means the chicken will be on the grill for a bit less time.
These liquids replace the moisture lost when you cook the chicken, so the proteins break down, and the meat stays juicy and tender.
Internal Temperature Of Stuffed Chicken
A whole pre-stuffed and uncooked chicken is highly perishable and is prone to accumulating bacteria.
In order to avoid food poisoning, you should ideally cook the stuffing and any other raw ingredients before stuffing the bird. If you prepare the filling in advance, you can keep it in the fridge until used.
Once the chicken is stuffed, you should set the oven or grill to 350°F to cook the chicken to reach the safe internal temperature of 165°F.
Cooking Chicken In The Microwave
The microwave is a fast cooking method that works for many recipes if you’re in a hurry, but it’s not the best way to cook your chicken.
If you want to cook your chicken to achieve the recommended internal temperature, you should follow these tips.
- Keep the chicken in an oven bag, or a covered microwave-safe dish, as this will help retain the juices to prevent the chicken from drying.
- If you are microwaving different parts of chicken in a dish, arrange them so the thicker parts are outside and the thinner parts are in the center.
- Set the microwave to medium-high or 70% of the power.
- Cook a whole chicken for 10 minutes per pound. Bone-in parts take less time, so they can cook for eight or nine minutes per pound, while chicken breasts can cook between six and eight minutes per pound.
- Don’t microwave stuffed chicken because the stuffing can cook unevenly. This means that it won’t reach a safe internal temperature, and you risk issues with undercooked poultry.
- Boneless breasts can dry out while you’re microwaving them. To avoid a chewy and rubbery texture, you can add a ¼ or ½ cup of chicken stock and cover the microwavable dish with plastic wrap.
- Let the chicken rest after cooking it in the microwave, allowing the heat to be distributed more evenly. Boneless chicken should sit for at least 5 minutes, while bone-in pieces can sit for up to 10 minutes.
- Make sure that your chicken is evenly cooked by checking the internal temperature using a food thermometer.
What Happens If You Eat Chicken Before It Reaches The Safe Internal Temperature?
Eating undercooked or raw chicken can lead to several issues. These symptoms can be mild or severe, depending on how undercooked and contaminated the chicken is.
- You’re likely to experience some fatigue and discomfort. This happens because digesting the undercooked proteins takes more time and energy, so you generally feel unwell.
- Having an upset stomach is common after eating undercooked chicken. This pain can start a day or two after eating.
- You might suffer from diarrhea or have a loose bowel movement. If it happens several times a day, this may lead to dehydration, which can be extremely dangerous, especially for kids and older people.
- Vomiting is common as well, as your body tries to purge itself. If the vomiting doesn’t stop, you should consult a doctor.
- Having a fever indicates that your body is dealing with a serious infection or inflammation. This happens because of the harmful bacteria and shows that your immune system is trying to combat the infection.
What Is The Best Way To Measure?
As we already discussed, a cooking or meat thermometer is the way to go when you’re measuring the chicken’s internal temperature.
Knowing how to use is critical to guarantee accurate results.
You need to push the thermometer’s tip into the thickest part of the chicken. The idea is that the thickest portion will be the coolest since the heat will have to travel farther to reach it. So, if the coolest part of the chicken is done, then it is safe to assume that the entire chicken is done as well.
The thermometer shouldn’t hit a bone or pass through an air pocket, or the reading won’t be accurate.
If you push the thermometer and pull it by a quarter of an inch and the temperature doesn’t change, then you’ve picked a good spot to get an accurate measurement.
Chicken cooks from the outside, so the outermost layer will be hotter than further in.
Measuring The Temperature Of Chicken Breast
Following the right steps while measuring the internal temperature of your chicken breasts guarantees that you’ll get an accurate reading.
Here are the steps to follow.
- Push the thermometer’s tip more than halfway through the thickest part of the chicken breast. If you have a bone-in breast, try going from the top to reach the thickest part without hitting a bone.
- Wait until the temperature stabilizes.
- Slowly pull the thermometer back until it reaches the chicken’s center and read the lowest temperature. The numbers will tell you if the chicken is ready or it needs to cook more.
Measuring The Temperature Of Chicken Thighs
Chicken thighs are different from breasts because there’s a bone that runs through the meat and the meat is darker.
Here are the steps to get an accurate reading of the internal temperature.
- Push the tip of the thermometer through the thickest part of the thigh.
- If you happen to hit the smallest bone in the meat’s center, adjust the thermometer and push it back until the temperature stabilizes.
- Read the lowest temperature on the thermometer. Remember that chicken thighs are done at a higher temperature than chicken breasts.
Measuring The Temperature Of Whole Roast Chicken
Measuring the internal temperature of a whole roast chicken is a bit tricky.
You need to get the internal temperature of both the thighs and the breasts to make sure that the whole chicken has reached the safe internal temperature.
Here are the steps to follow.
- You’ll have to use your thermometer twice to measure the internal temperature.
- Start with the chicken breast and push the probe through the thickest part, avoiding any bones.
- Pull the thermometer out until it reaches the center of the breast to get the lowest reading.
- Push the thermometer’s tip through the thigh and then pull it back to get the lowest temperature.
For smoking, the cooking time will be longer so you can simply read the internal temperature of the thickest part of the breast like we did for our smoked dry brined chicken.
Measuring The Internal Temperature of Wings and Drumsticks
Your goal is to push the thermometer without hitting any bones.
When wings and drumsticks are done, the meat shrinks, revealing more bone than what you could see when the chicken was raw.
High Grilling Temperature vs Low
Maintaining a lower grill temperature while cooking chicken for an extended period leads to better cooking results. We used lower temps to smoke chicken thighs. This low-and-slow technique works wonderfully, but recognize that it does take a lot longer.
Use the probe thermometer to check the internal temperature of the chicken at all times to make sure that it’s cooked perfectly.
Does Chicken Stop Cooking After Removing It From Heat?
The chicken will continue cooking even after you take it off the heat. This happens because the heat in the center takes a few minutes to cool off.
This is actually good news because even if you’re worried that you’ve removed the chicken from the heat too early, the carryover cooking will help to keep your meat safe.
There are several factors that affect the success of this method. The most important one is the cooking method.
If you cook the chicken at a higher temperature, there will be more heat energy in the outermost layer that travels gradually to the center, raising its temperature.
I try to take the chicken off the grill around 160°F to 163°F, bring it inside and tent it with foil to keep the heat trapped for another few minutes as the chicken rests. The final temperature will end up reaching 165°F.
How Can You Tell If Your Chicken Is Undercooked Without A Thermometer?
Although a meat or cooking thermometer is the most reliable way to tell that your chicken is properly cooked, it’s not the only one.
If there’s no thermometer, there are a few signs to tell you that you still need to cook your chicken.
Looking at the chicken’s color can tell you if it’s done or still undercooked. Undercooked chicken will look light pink, while cooked chicken will be white.
If you’re cooking dark meat, it will be a bit harder to tell when it is no longer pink. To see the color of the chicken, you need to cut through the thickest part.
The skin of the baked chicken will be dark golden brown when it’s done.
Fried chicken should be done when it turns a bright golden color.
Nevertheless, make sure that you’re cooking it on low heat for an extended period so the internal part of the chicken is done, and not just the skin. If you cook it at too high of a temperature, the outside will be fully cooked, but the inside won’t be.
It’s best to validate that it is fully cooked using a thermometer.
The meat shrinks when it’s done because it loses moisture. So, you can tell that your chicken is done when it shrinks in size.
You can look at the parts where the meat covers the bones. If the meat reveals more bone, then your chicken is done.
This is another effective way to determine that your chicken is done. However, the texture of the chicken depends on how it’s cooked. So, your cooked chicken can be firm or tender, depending on the cooking method.
In general, undercooked chicken is soft and slippery compared to cooked chicken. As the moisture leaves the tissues, the meat becomes firmer, showing that the chicken is done.
When you bake or roast chicken in the oven, the skin firms up, and can become crispy.
Favorite Grilled Chicken Recipes
Now that you know the safe internal temperature for chicken and all its different parts, and how to read it using a meat thermometer, it’s time to put all that knowledge to good use!
And what better way to enjoy chicken than with a nice grill? Here are some of our family’s favorite chicken recipes.
I’m sure your guests and loved ones will enjoy them too!
Grilling a whole chicken is totally doable but if you’re feeling intimidated start with this grilled half chicken.
Grilled chicken wings also need to be mentioned, since these are such a versatile snack. For hot summer days, these pineapple mango chicken wings offer a wonderful tropical flavor.
Another super flavorful version of wings are the grilled parmesan chicken wings, which are the perfect appetizer for Game Day or any other get-together.
In order to make sure that it’s safe, chicken breasts should be cooked until the internal temperature is equal to 165°F. Dark meat needs to reach a temperature of at least 175°F.
The best way to determine that your chicken has reached the desired temperature is to use a thermometer.
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Ginny Collins is a passionate foodie and recipe creator of Savor and Savvy and Kitchenlaughter. Indoors she focuses on easy, quick recipes for busy families and kitchen basics. Outdoors, she focuses on backyard grilling and smoking to bring family and friends together. She is a lifelong learner who is always taking cooking classes on her travels overseas and stateside. Her work has been featured on MSN, Parade, Fox News, Yahoo, Cosmopolitan, Elle, and many local news outlets. She lives in Florida where you will find her outside on the water in her kayak, riding her bike on trails, and planning her next overseas adventure.