How to Tell If Your Chicken Is Cooked Just Right

When the juices run clear, it’s done. Or is it? Here’s everything you need to know when it comes to how done grilled chicken is.

Published Categorized as Articles
Michal Bednarek /Depositphotos

Have you ever yelled ‘dinner’s served!’ only to apologetically turn out and head back to put your partially cooked chicken on the grill again?

Don’t fret; we’ve all been there.

This is one of the most common complaints grillers have, especially newbies. They tend to have a hard time knowing whether or not their grilled chicken is ready to serve.

While it may seem like a big secret, it’s actually easy. Arm yourself with the right knowledge and technique, and you’re all set!

If you’re interested in finding out more, scroll down to our complete guide on how to tell if your grilled chicken is done.

Let’s get cooking.

Telling If Grilled Chicken Is Done

Making sure your grilled chicken is fully cooked is critical to your health (and that of the folks on the table).

For starters, it reduces the risk of foodborne illness, the kind you get when the chicken is undercooked and the harmful bacteria in it are still alive and kickin’.

In addition to that, it helps ensure that your chicken is juicy and delicious. Chicken that’s well done is chicken that doesn’t get left over; undercooked chicken is leathery and, as we established, gets you sick.

There are two ways to guarantee a fully cooked piece of chicken: with a thermometer and without.

A thermometer can help you check the temperature of the cooked chicken and make sure it’s right where it should be.

On the other hand, if you don’t have a thermometer, you’ll have to keep a close eye on the juices—and make sure they’re clear. It also helps if you can sneak a peek at the color of the meat within the chicken.

Try one method, try all—the important thing is that, in the end, you have grilled chicken that you’ve cooked to perfection.

Take a look.

With a Meat Thermometer

A meat thermometer can be a handy little tool in the kitchen.

It saves you a heap of hassle and takes the guesswork out of your cooking.

Unlike beef, chicken must always—without compromise— be cooked to well done. So, whether you’re braising, baking, or grilling it, chicken should always be cooked at no less than 165°F, lest it undercook, and no higher than 175°F, lest it overcook.

This temperature range ensures there are no hidden foodborne illnesses in the chicken, such as Salmonella or E.coli. It also means that the chicken doesn’t come out dry but rather tender and tasty.

We should mention that you shouldn’t overcook your chicken for fear of having uncooked meat. It is one of those areas in life where excess prudence doesn’t yield dividends.

Overcooking means turning on the temperature on high or leaving it on the grill until the outside is crispy and charred, while the insides become dry and hard to swallow.

So, this is how you can use a thermometer to tell if your grilled chicken is done:

  1. When you feel your chicken is nearly done, stick the thermometer in the thickest part of the bird.
  2. Make sure it goes only halfway to get a correct temperature reading of the middle part.
  3. If the thermometer reads 165°F down to the T, then it’s time to put it off the grill.
  4. You can let the chicken rest for 3 to 10 minutes.
  5. During this time, the chicken will soak in all those juices and flavors, making your dish even more moist and full of flavor.

Without a Thermometer

If you don’t have a food thermometer, there’s no need to sweat.

You can approximate whether your grilled chicken is done or not with just a few expert cooking tips and tricks.

Check them out. (Just do not forget that no method is as reliable and as accurate as a meat thermometer is; if you’re serious about grilling, you ought to get one.)

Method #1: Pierce the Chicken

This is the first step any check will recommend you use on your grilled chicken. It’s the least invasive and the most promising.

Here’s what you should do:

  1. First off, pierce the middle of the thickest section of the chicken with a sharp knife or a fork.
  2. Make sure the hole is small. A big gap in your chicken can dry it out and make it lose all its flavors.
  3. Put a bit of pressure near the pierced area.
  4. Next, take a look at the juices running from the chicken.
  5. If they’re clear, that means the chicken is right about done.
  6. If the juices are pinkish in color or have a grayish tint, this means the chicken needs to spend a bit more time on the grill.

Method #2: Make a Small Incision

Sometimes, clear running juices aren’t enough of an index to reassure you that the entire piece of chicken is fully cooked, especially if it’s a big part with the bones still intact.

So, what to do?

To make absolutely certain, you’ll need to make a small cut near the top part of the thickest part of the chicken. Then, run the incision towards the middle of the chicken piece.

You’re looking to see whether the meat in the middle area is white or not. Chicken should always have white meat in the center. It’s the best indicator that the chicken has fully cooked and is ready to serve.

The only problem with this trick is that it can speed up cooking time. In other words, the cut can dry out the chicken if you’re not careful. So, you’ll need to keep a close eye on the timer and flip over the chicken pieces often to avoid having dry chicken on your hands.

Method #3: Size It Up

While this method shouldn’t be your go-to way of telling if your grilled chicken is done, it does help to put things into perspective.

However, to do that, you’ll need to think back to high school chemistry and remember as much as you can about molecules. Luckily, we’re here to sum it all up for you and save you the hassle.

Chicken is made up of proteins—large, complex molecules that play many a critical role in the body. During the cooking process, these molecules break down and release water stored in the chicken.

As a result, chicken pieces tend to shrink a couple of sizes after being cooked.

So, what does this all mean for your grilled chicken? It means that size matters.

Say you’ve been grilling chicken, and it now looks perfectly brown on the outside. Yet, it’s still the same size as when you put it on the grill. This is a clear indication that your chicken is far from being fully cooked.

Our advice is to make small, long slits lengthwise in the chicken. Next, give it 5 to 10 more minutes on the grill. Then, flip them over halfway to ensure even cooking.

Before removing them off the grill, take a look at the size of each piece. Do they look about 5% smaller than they did 10 minutes ago?

Then, it’s time to serve your delectable grilled chicken!

How Long Does It Take to Cook Grilled Chicken

There are a couple of factors to consider when figuring out how long your chicken will take on the grill. There’s thickness, size, and whether it’s on the bone or not—to name a few.

Yet, as a general rule of thumb, most chicken breasts will take about 10 to 15 minutes on the grill, flipping halfway to get those classic grill marks on both sides.

Alternatively, thigh pieces will take anywhere between 25 to 30 minutes to cook through completely. Don’t forget to flip them mid-way through the grilling process to ensure even cooking.

Never rely solely on time to tell doneness.

If possible, use a meat thermometer. If not, approximate doneness with one of the techniques I just told you all about.

To Sum It All Up

We hope you enjoyed our guide on how to tell if grilled chicken is done.

All you have to do is figure out which technique to use on your chicken, then follow through regardless of whether you’re using a food thermometer or not.

All the methods we mention here will ensure you have a well-done, finger-licking good plate of chicken. In addition, you’ll avoid any potential food poisoning incidents or foodborne illnesses that can come from eating raw, uncooked chicken.

So, now, nothing is stopping you from holding that backyard BBQ you’ve had your heart set on for some time now. So, gather your family, friends, and neighbors, and enjoy a relaxing afternoon with some crispy, golden chicken straight from the grill!

By Sammy Steen

Sammy, Barbehow's editor, is a die-hard carnivore, barbecue whisperer, and self-proclaimed master of the grill.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *