Eating undercooked or raw chicken can lead to serious foodborne illness. Chicken harbors harmful bacteria such as Salmonella and Campylobacter that can quickly multiply if poultry is not fully cooked to the proper internal temperature.This guide will cover how to tell if chicken is undercooked. We will discuss tools for assessing doneness, visual and textural signs of undercooked chicken, recommended cooking times and temperatures, strategies for salvaging undercooked chicken.
Essential Tools for Assessing Doneness
A meat thermometer is arguably the most important tool for guaranteeing chicken is fully cooked. Visually assessing chicken can be unreliable, but a thermometer provides an objective reading of the internal temperature. There are several types of thermometers suitable for testing chicken doneness:
- Instant-read thermometer – This thin probe thermometer gives a quick temperature reading within 10-15 seconds. It should be inserted into the thickest part of the chicken, away from any bones.
- Oven-safe thermometer – Leave this thermometer in the chicken while it bakes or roasts in the oven. Look for a thermometer with an easy-to-read display outside the oven.
- Digital thermometer with probe – The probe stays in the chicken during cooking and connects to a digital screen with a food-safe cable. This lets you monitor the temperature constantly without opening the oven.
Regardless of type, the thermometer should be inserted into the thickest section of the chicken to ensure the coolest part reaches the minimum safe internal temperature. For chicken pieces, aim for the fattest area; for whole chickens or turkey, insert the thermometer into the innermost section of the thigh. Make sure the thermometer probe is not touching any bones, which can provide a false high reading.
For accurate results, thermometers should be calibrated according to manufacturer instructions. Using an unreliable thermometer can lead to consuming undercooked chicken if the temperature registers higher than the actual internal temperature. Investing in a high-quality, properly calibrated thermometer helps eliminate this risk when cooking chicken.
Recognizing Undercooked Chicken: Visual and Textural Cues
While thermometers are the best option for assessing doneness, visual and textural signs can also indicate if chicken is undercooked:
|Firm, springs back from touch
|Poke thick spot without bone
|Expected Result (Cooked)
|Firm, doesn’t feel dense, no “snap” when bitten
|Expected Result (Undercooked)
|Dense, “snaps” when bitten
|Indicator of Undercooked
|Pink or red meat, pink/bloody juices
|Chicken Juices (Cooked)
|Clear or white-ish
|Chicken Juices (Undercooked)
|Pink or red
|Chicken Color (Cooked)
|White or very light pink
|Chicken Color (Undercooked)
|Pink or red
Cooking Time and Temperature Guide
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) provides recommended cooking times and temperatures to ensure chicken reaches a safe internal temperature that kills bacteria:
|Minimum Internal Temperature
These cooking temperatures apply to both white and dark meat chicken. The FDA recommends cooking turkey to the same minimum internal temperatures as chicken.
It is critical to use a food thermometer to verify the internal temperature, as appearance alone cannot determine safety and required cook time can vary. Factors like the size and shape of chicken cuts, the cooking method, and oven inconsistencies mean judging by cooking time provides only a rough guideline.
Always factor in carryover cooking and an adequate resting time as well. The internal temperature of chicken can rise anywhere from 5°F to 10°F after removed from the heat source. To account for carryover cooking, remove chicken from the oven or grill when it is 5°F to 10°F below the target temperature. Then, allow the chicken to rest for 10-15 minutes before carving and consuming for the temperature to evenly distribute.
How To Correct Undercooked Chicken?
If after checking the internal temperature, you find the chicken is still undercooked, resist the urge to simply return it to high heat to hurry along cooking. This runs the risk of drying out and overcooking the exterior before the inside reaches a safe temperature.
Instead, here are some steps to safely complete cooking without compromising texture and moisture:
- Return the chicken to the oven or grill at a lower temperature between 300-350°F. Higher temperatures promote quicker browning. The lower oven temperature gently brings the center up to temperature without burning the outside.
- For thicker cuts like a whole chicken or bone-in breasts, rotate positions in the oven so the cooler sections are moved closer to the heat source. You can also gently peel back any skin to expose undercooked meat directly to the heat.
- For thinner cuts, stir or turn chicken frequently to distribute heat evenly to the center with less risk of overcooking.
- Check the internal temperature every 5 minutes or so until it reaches above 165°F. Be sure to insert the thermometer into areas that were undercooked.
- Let the chicken rest for the full recommended time after reheating before serving. This allows the temperature to equilibrate.
- Keep cooking time as short as possible to prevent moisture loss. Brush chicken with oil or broth during reheating to keep it tender and juicy.
With some extra care and attention, you can still achieve properly cooked, safe chicken even if it is initially underdone. The key is bringing up the internal temperature gently without creating a tough, dry exterior.
Preventing Undercooked Chicken: Preparation and Cooking Best Practices
Proper preparation and cooking practices go a long way in preventing undercooked chicken from the start:
- Thaw safely – Thaw frozen chicken gradually in the refrigerator, not on the counter. Room temperature allows bacteria to multiply quickly. Or use the microwave or cold water method for faster thawing. Cook thawed chicken immediately.
- Marinate in the refrigerator – Marinades are flavorful, but can also harbor bacteria. Keep chicken immersed in marinade in the fridge, not on the counter. Discard used marinade instead of basting to avoid contaminating cooked chicken.
- Cook thoroughly – Use a food thermometer to confirm the minimum safe internal temperature is met, especially for large cuts of chicken and bone-in pieces where the center takes longer to cook through. If reheating cooked chicken, heat it to 165°F again.
- Adjust cook times – Extend cook times for frozen chicken, which requires extra time to thaw in the center as the exterior heats up. Also allow extra time if cooking at higher altitudes where water boils below 212°F.
- Rotate pans – For oven cooking, rotate pans halfway through for even browning and cooking since oven hot spots can lead to undercooked sections.
- Following recipe instructions and cook times alone does not guarantee safety if measurements and conditions vary. The internal temperature reading is what matters, so monitor chicken frequently when cooking.
Cross-Contamination: Safety Measures in the Kitchen
Raw chicken carries a high risk of cross-contamination in the kitchen if proper precautions are not taken:
- Wash hands and surfaces – Wash hands with warm, soapy water before and after handling raw chicken. Sanitize countertops, cutting boards, utensils, plates, and any other surfaces exposed to raw chicken using a bleach solution.
- Separate foods – Keep raw chicken away from ready-to-eat foods during preparation and storage. Use separate cutting boards and utensils for raw chicken versus vegetables or breads.
- Store properly – Wrap raw chicken securely and place on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator so juices cannot leak onto other foods. Frozen chicken should also be kept securely wrapped to prevent freezer burn.
- Use a meat thermometer – Use a clean thermometer when testing chicken doneness to avoid cross-contamination with bacteria from raw chicken. Do not reuse the same thermometer between raw and cooked chicken.
- Cook thoroughly – Cooking chicken to the proper internal temperature kills any bacteria present, preventing it from spreading. Take special care when cooking chicken in a microwave, as it can appear cooked when still underdone inside.
- Discard marinade – Never reuse a marinade used on raw chicken after cooking. The bacteria present in raw chicken will contaminate the marinade.
- Avoid washing chicken – Washing raw chicken under the sink can easily spread bacteria onto surrounding surfaces. Cooking to the proper temperature is all that is needed to kill bacteria present.
Practicing diligent cleaning habits and separating raw chicken from other ingredients is key to preventing foodborne illness. Be mindful of how germs can spread in the kitchen environment.
Storing and Handling Leftovers
Cooked chicken needs to be stored and handled carefully to prevent bacterial growth. Follow these tips for enjoying leftovers safely:
- Portion into shallow containers to allow for rapid cooling. Divide large portions or whole chickens into smaller containers.
- Refrigerate within 2 hours – Do not leave cooked chicken at room temperature for more than 2 hours total before storing in the fridge. The combination of warmth and moisture promotes bacteria growth.
- Store for 3-4 days maximum. Label leftovers with the date cooked. Discard any chicken stored beyond this timeframe.
- Reheat thoroughly to 165°F. Simply microwaving may create cold spots where bacteria can survive. Stir periodically and allow extra time for thorough reheating. Bring soups and stews back up to a full boil.
- Avoid reheating more than once if possible, as repeated cooling and reheating allows more opportunities for bacteria to multiply to dangerous levels. Cook fresh when possible.
- Freeze for long-term storage. Wrapped air-tight, frozen chicken will keep for 2-6 months in the freezer depending on type. Defrost in the refrigerator before reheating.
Following proper protocols when storing leftovers reduces the amount of bacterial growth that can occur after chicken is cooked.
Recognizing When to Discard Chicken
There are certain scenarios where chicken should be immediately discarded and not reheated or eaten:
- Chicken left at room temperature over 2 hours – Bacteria multiply exponentially when cooked chicken is left between 40°F and 140°F. Discard even if the chicken still looks and smells fine.
- Undercooked chicken not reheated in the next 2 hours – Any bacteria present continue multiplying, so chicken needs immediate, thorough reheating.
- Thawed chicken not cooked within 2 days – The freeze-thaw process encourages bacterial growth. Cook thawed chicken right away.
- Mishandled chicken – Discard chicken that has come into contact with raw meat juices, been improperly defrosted at room temperature, or marinated unsafely.
- Expired chicken – Raw chicken should be cooked within 1-2 days of purchasing, while cooked chicken has a 3-4 day fridge life. Toss any out-of-date chicken, even if frozen previously. Freshness dates indicate safety, not just quality.
- Chicken with an odd appearance or smell – Discoloration, sliminess, or off odors can signal spoilage and the presence of microbes. When in doubt, throw it out.
Trust your senses – if anything seems questionable about how the chicken was stored or handled, do not risk eating it. Food safety comes above frugality when dealing with perishable meat.
What To Do In Case of Food Poisoning?
If you suspect you are suffering food poisoning from undercooked chicken, take the following steps:
- Seek medical care for severe vomiting, diarrhea lasting over 3 days, high fever, blood in stool, dehydration, or muscle weakness. These are signs of a serious bacterial infection.
- Drink fluids like water, juice, broth, or electrolyte drinks to counteract dehydration from loss of fluids. Avoid caffeine and alcohol which can worsen dehydration.
- Take over-the-counter anti-diarrheal medication for temporary symptomatic relief if you do not have a fever. Avoid medication if symptoms are severe.
- Rest as much as possible to allow your body to direct energy towards fighting the infection. Food poisoning can leave you fatigued.
- Avoid certain foods until sickness subsides. Do not consume dairy, fatty, sugary or high-fiber foods which can exacerbate diarrhea. Stick to the BRAT diet – bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast.
- Wash hands frequently and sanitize kitchen surfaces to prevent spreading bacteria. Wash any towels, clothing, or sheets that may have been contaminated.
- Write down symptoms and foods eaten to help healthcare providers diagnose the cause and rule out other illnesses. Save any suspected food for testing.
Most mild cases of food poisoning resolve on their own within 1-3 days. Seek medical attention if symptoms do not improve or you experience severe side effects.
Conclusion: How To Tell If Chicken Is Undercooked
Foodborne pathogens in undercooked chicken remain an all too common source of illness. Being diligent about properly cooking chicken until it reaches 165°F internally as measured by a food thermometer is the best defense against illness. Take care in the kitchen to avoid cross-contamination and store leftovers safely. If you suspect you have become sick from undercooked chicken, seek medical care for severe symptoms. Follow the proper guidelines for handling, cooking, and storing chicken and you can protect yourself and others from the dangers of consuming chicken that is still raw or severely undercooked.
Bobby Kelly is a bartender at Molly Magees, an Irish pub in Mountain View. He’s been working there for two years and has developed a following among the regulars. Bobby is known for his friendly demeanor and great drink specials. He loves interacting with customers and making them feel welcome. When he’s not at work, Bobby enjoys spending time with his friends and family.