The Safe Internal Temperature for Chicken

Learn about the safe minimum internal temperature you should be cooking your chicken to, indoors or outdoors.

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Where I live, we take our chicken seriously. For generations, we’ve known that the key to delicious poultry is taking that bird off the heat as soon as it’s cooked just right.

How do we gauge “just right?” Well, now, we also know that the only reliable way to tell if the chicken’s cooked just right is to check its internal temperature with a meat thermometer, in the thickest part of the cut.

The internal temperature, for reasons you and I are about to delve into in a moment, is the one thing you *don’t* want to mess around with when cooking chicken — whether you’re doing the cooking in the confines of your kitchen, on the red-hot grate of the grill, or over smoldering chunks of wood in the smoker.

To ensure that your chicken is not just delicious but also safe to eat, it must reach a minimum internal temperature of 165°F (74°C). This may seem like a no-brainer, but many a home cook choose to ignore it or forget to check.

I know we all love that juicy, tender chicken, but if it’s not cooked to the right temperature, know that it can make you mighty sick!

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, raw chicken carries harmful bacteria, like Salmonella and Campylobacter, and if we don’t cook it to the right temperature, those bacteria can survive and sicken us. That’s why it’s so important to use a meat thermometer and make sure that the internal temperature of the chicken reaches at least 165°F (74°C).

Now, I know some folks like to rely on the color of the meat or the juices running clear, but let me tell you, that’s not a reliable way to tell if your chicken is cooked through. The only way to be sure, the food safety experts warn, is to use a meat thermometer and check that internal temperature in the thickest part of the meat.

And so, my dear friends, let us make sure we’re cooking our chicken to the correct internal temperature.

As those on grill duty, we have a responsibility to cook food that’s not only delicious but also safe to eat. Trust me, you don’t want your cookout to be the reason why a family member or neighbor had to pay an emergency visit to the physician on a Sunday.

So, whether you’re frying up a big batch of Southern-style chicken on the stovetop or smoking a whole bird low and slow, make sure you have a reliable, well-calibrated meat thermometer on hand — and check that temperature before you send the bird to the table and encourage everyone to dig in.

As soon as the bird reaches 165°F (74°C), it’s ready to remove from the heat.

Dive deeper: How to Tell If Grilled Chicken Is Done

Fixing Undercooked Chicken

Well, well, well, seems like we’ve got ourselves a little problem with some undercooked chicken, now, don’t we? Don’t you worry, darlings, we’re here to help you fix that undercooked bird right up.

If you’ve found yourself with some undercooked chicken, there are a few things that you can do to salvage it. One option is to halve the bird in two and throw it back on the grill (or in a preheated oven) until it’s golden brown all over and cooked through.

Another option, if the bird was already fabricated before you threw it on the grill, is to butterfly the fillets or cut up large pieces before cooking them. This will allow them to cook more evenly and ensure that, the second time around, they come out properly cooked.

Now, I have a little secret to really bring out the flavor of that chicken: salt the side that isn’t cooked yet before throwing it back on the heat. This will help develop the taste and have it come out all that better.

Now, who’s ready for some good ol’ chicken?

By Sammy Steen

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

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