A golden crispy exterior with those iconic grill marks and a juicy interior – who doesn’t like grilled chicken? We all do! However, there are many people who are not really comfortable with the process of grilling chicken because they can’t tell when it’s done.
A lot of people ask me ‘how to tell when grilled chicken is done’, so I decided to create a post to explain this to all those who are curious about this. I would say that the safest way to tell this is by putting a thermometer into the deepest part of the meat. Ideally, the thermometer should read 165° Fahrenheit for the chicken to be done.
To get the right internal temperature, we suggest that you insert the thermometer either in the thigh or in the breast, away from the bone. The same also works for Turkey. If the temperature is below 165° Fahrenheit, then you should let the meat cook for some more time.
As we all know, looks can be quite deceiving. Oftentimes a piece of grilled chicken that looks done may actually be undercooked when you serve it to family and friends. If it’s still pink inside, this is a clear sign that you took the meat off the grill before it was done.
Telltale Signs of Perfectly Cooked Grilled Chicken
Even though the outside may look cooked, the food is not ready to eat until the interior is well done. You will need to put it back into the grill, and then it can end up overcooked.
Despite that, the appearance of the meat can tell you a lot about whether or not it is cooked properly. Here are a few telltale signs that are worth looking out for when grilling chicken:
Flip It and Use a Thermometer
After the meat has been on the grill grate for quite some time and you start seeing some brown marks over it, try flipping the chicken. If it’s not fully cooked, then the outer skin will stick to the grates.
Insert the thermometer like this to the interior part of the meat and you will probably see that the temperature reads somewhere around 90° Fahrenheit. When the chicken is well cooked, you should be able to flip it over on the grill easily without the meat sticking to the grates.
Another test is to use a knife to cut into the chicken breast to see what the inside looks like. If the meat is still very pink in the middle then it indicates that the meat is raw. Not only will it taste bad, but it also won’t be fit for consumption.
Check again after some time and repeat the above tests. If you are able to flip over the chicken pieces easily without them sticking and if the meat inside also looks white and juicy without any traces of pink, then the meat is almost done.
There is one more test you need to undertake after looking at the appearance, and that is the thermometer test. Insert the thermometer to check the internal temperature, and if it reads less than 165 degrees, then the meat is still undercooked and you need to wait a little more.
Fully cooked grilled chicken will have a nice, golden exterior with lovely grill marks. When you cut open the meat, it should be soft, tender, juicy, and white inside without any dryness. If you put a thermometer inside, the internal temperature should read close to 165°F.
So, while checking the appearance of the meat is a good way to tell whether it is done or not, it can still be deceiving. Investing in a nice thermometer is a sure-fire way to ensure that the meat is not undercooked or overcooked.
If you don’t already have a good meat thermometer, then you should get one quickly. This will not only ensure that you grill chicken perfectly every time, but will also prevent any risk of food poisoning from bacteria such as Salmonella, E. coli, Yersinia, and Campylobacter.
Feel the Meat
If you don’t have a thermometer or simply don’t have it to hand, then you can simply do the finger-test that some meat-cooking aficionados swear by. There are a few ways of doing this, but if you are not a pro at grilling, then we would not recommend that you do this.
The touch-and-feel technique requires a lot of practice and experience. If you have been grilling for a long time, then you will be able to tell whether or not the meat is done by simply feeling the texture of the meat with your fingers.
To tell whether or not the meat is properly cooked, you will need to poke it with your finger or some sharp object. If you think the chicken is cooked well, cut it into pieces to see that the juices run out clear. If the juices appear to have a reddish or pinkish shade, then you need to cook the chicken a little longer.
Experts advocate against cutting the meat to check the interiors, because the juices run out and the meat becomes dry. They recommend that the juices stay within the meat in order to keep the chicken pieces tender and moist.
Size of the Meat
As mentioned above, you may be deceived by the outer appearance of the grilled chicken breast. It may look golden and brown on the outside with nice grill marks but still be undercooked and cold inside. So, one more thing you will need to consider is the size of the meat.
If the meat looks done from the outside but the size of the meat is still unchanged, then you need to grill it some more. When the meat is fully done, the size will be comparatively smaller than when you started. However, make sure you do not overdo this, or else it may become overcooked.
5 Tips to Get Perfectly Grilled Chicken Every time
Inconsistencies in the texture, taste, and flavor of grilled chicken are one of the biggest challenges for home cooks. We dread spoiling it when there’s an important get-together or if we have friends looking forward to a great gourmet evening. So, here are a few tips that will help you stay spot-on every time.
Select the best on-the-bone and skin-on pieces
If you ask grilling experts which pieces of chicken are the best, they would tell you it’s the thighs, as they are the meatiest, moistest portions of the chicken. Other popular pieces include the breasts, wings, and legs, but only when the bones and skin are left intact.
Leaving the bones and skin intact helps in insulating the meat and reduces the risk of overcooking. It also enhances the overall taste of the food. Further to this, pasture-raised chicken from heritage breeds is also more flavorful and tastier than factory-farmed birds.
Preheat the grill to medium-high heat
Unlike other types of meat that can sustain high temperatures, chicken can get charred on the outside, so you should always stick to medium-high heat, preferably between 350° F and 400° F. Also, remember to preheat the grill before putting the chicken pieces onto it.
To test the temperature on a charcoal or gas grill, we suggest that you place your palm about 5 inches above the grate. If it’s already very hot, you can hold your palm over it for about 5 seconds to make sure you are in the perfect range. If there are flare-ups, you should immediately remove the chicken pieces or transfer them to a cooler area of the grill to prevent charring.
Season the pieces with salt and save marinades for later
Don’t skimp on the seasoning. This is one of the biggest mistakes that first-time grillers commit, resulting in bland and tasteless chicken. Use the best quality sea salt or kosher salt to sprinkle on the chicken pieces thoroughly and let it sit for some time for the seasonings to infuse the meat.
Many people skip the seasoning and slather the pieces with sauces instead. While marinated chicken is delicious, keep in mind that overdoing it on the barbeque sauce will only result in more complex grilling, and a lack of seasoning will cause your efforts to be wasted.
Cook chicken pieces skin-down
For best results, always grill the chicken pieces skin side down first and leave them there for at least 20 minutes or more, until the meat is at least halfway cooked. This will give you crispy, nicely browned exterior skin, and the meat will also be cooked evenly to the core.
In general, it takes about 30 minutes to evenly cook on-the-bone chicken, so you should keep the pieces skin-down for at least three quarters of the total cooking time. After 20-35 minutes, you can flip the chicken and finish off the other side too.
Use your grill like an oven
After you put the chicken pieces on the grate, close the lid. This will allow the hot grill to radiate the heat above as well as below to cook the meat much faster. This is what you need to do to get the chicken pieces cooked to the bone.
The closed lid controls the airflow within the cooking area and also keeps the flames constant over the charcoal. Any dripping fat will most likely cause flare-ups, so it is important to move the chicken pieces away from the flames.
What happens if you eat slightly raw or undercooked chicken?
Eating raw or undercooked chicken can be harmful to your health and can make life unpleasant for you. About 66% of tested chicken meat is known to carry bacteria like salmonella and campylobacter. These bacteria can easily make you sick if ingested, which is why it’s so important to thoroughly cook the meat before consumption.
How long does it take to grill chicken breasts?
Cooking chicken breasts will take roughly 10-15 minutes. Flip the pieces halfway to get nice grill marks on both sides. If you are grilling thigh pieces, it may take up to 25-30 minutes to cook completely through. The time will vary depending on the size of the chicken, the temperature, whether it’s on the bone, and so on.
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