Whether you’re cooking at home, eating out at a fancy restaurant, or ordering some spicy chicken delivery, chicken is fantastic. Americans know this well– we ate 90.1 pounds of the stuff per capita in 2016! Sadly, chicken can also be dangerous and is one of the meats most commonly responsible for salmonella poisoning. However, with good safety practices, a sharp eye, and common sense, you can make sure your beloved chicken wings and zesty rotisserie dinners are safe to eat. Here are three simple steps.
- Color: Before being cooked, chicken is pink or peachy in color. When finished, chicken meat should look white throughout. If cooking at home, be wary of white or browned skin– the surface of the chicken may look ready to eat, but the inside can still be raw (and full of bacteria). Also, pay attention to the color of the juices that come from a cooking piece of chicken. At first, they may be pink or even bloody, but for the best chicken, wait until the juice runs clear.
- Shrinking: While cooking, the liquid in the tissues of the muscle and fat is released or evaporates, changing the texture of the meat and reducing its overall size. If chicken breasts and thighs do not look smaller in the pan, fryer, or oven, they probably need more time and TLC.
- Texture: Undercooked chicken is jiggly and dense. It has a slightly rubbery and even shiny appearance. Practice looking at the chicken you eat out so that you can identify perfectly-cooked chicken every time. Overcooked chicken will be very dense and even hard, with a stringy, unappealing texture. Finding that juicy, melty, in-between texture can be tricky, but once you know how to spot it, you’ll be using that recipe, or ordering from that one good chicken delivery place, over and over again!
- Temperature: When in doubt, test it out. Insert a meat thermometer into the thickest part of the chicken, being careful not to push too far; you may accidentally take the temperature of the heat source, resulting in a higher and inaccurate reading. Cooked chicken should be at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Since you probably don’t bring a meat thermometer to restaurants, if you have any chicken suspicions, ask for a replacement dish. Watch restaurant reviews– a place with many positive remarks is probably safe to try, but be wary of negative comments about food poisoning especially. When chicken can be so incredible, risking even slightly unsafe chicken is simply not worth your health or your time.
By following these four simple steps, you can make sure your home-cooked meal or chicken delivery is safe, delicious and healthy every time.