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I often cook chicken thighs in my InstantPot pressure cooker, 12 minutes on high with a marinade and it turns out tender and perfect each time.

This time, however, the thighs were still a little frozen. I had let them thaw for 2 days in the fridge, but I could tell when I squeezed them that they weren't thawed all the way through.

I put them in the InstantPot for the same amount of time with the same settings, and they came out quite tougher than usual (but still done all the way through).

My theory is that it took the Instant Pot longer to get to pressure due to the temperature of the chicken thighs, and so ended up cooking them longer...

What could be the cause of the dramatic difference in toughness?

  • Maybe the chicken lost a lot of humidity while thawing ? – Max Oct 16 '19 at 20:03
  • Well the instant pot is sealed and there was also a marinade in the pot while it cooked so I don't think that's the issue – Jordan Oct 17 '19 at 16:03
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I'm assuming since you said "this time... still a little frozen" that you were starting from frozen Thighs the times you had success, and that the only real difference is that these particular thighs were not fully thawed. If that's not the case you could have another issue entirely.

In these kinds of situations I think the best we can do is use the information available to try and guess at the cause. Rather than the issue being that the thighs were overcooked and thus tough, I think the issue was likely that the thighs were less cooked than the tender ones you're used to. If you're leaving the Instant Pot for the same amount of time, the internal temperature of the chicken thighs would not effect the overall temperature of the device much at all since it is insulated by the surrounding meat.

Starting from a cooler interior of the chicken thighs (frozen vs refrigerated) could mean that the thawed thighs were cooked past the threshold of toughness and into the point of being soft/tender again, whereas the frozen thighs wouldn't have yet reached that point due to the temperature difference.

This is, however, just a guess. The only thing you could really do if this happens again, to try and test this, would be to put the thighs back in and cook them for a proportionately longer time.

Best of luck!

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  • Yes, I always buy them frozen, thaw them in the fridge, and then cook them. What's the threshold of toughness for Chicken? They were definitely cooked to the point of safe eating. I don't know that they indeed cooked for the same amount of time - because the Instant Pot is "smart", it only starts counting once it reaches pressure, so I'm thinking it might've cooked them longer. – Jordan Oct 17 '19 at 16:03
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    @Jordan My understanding with most meats is that there's a tender-tough-tender pattern to cooking, where there's a "gentle cook" at the beginning where the meat is done but tender, then a window of toughness where the meat has been cooked past being tender into being tough- then you get to the point of cooking the meat enough (with enough moisture) that it goes back to being the "fall apart" kind of tender. I don't know whether this is entirely relevant to your circumstances, however. – Onyz Oct 17 '19 at 16:11
  • @Jordan One thing that interests me is as far as I'm aware Instant Pot pressure cookers should be able to "tenderize" even very tough meat since it effectively forces moisture into the meat. This makes me think that rather than it being cooked too long in the pressure cooker it was not cooked long enough due to the lower internal temperature. Could you add what Pressure/Temperature your instant pot was using, if you know? – Onyz Oct 17 '19 at 16:13
  • Very interesting, I had it on High pressure. Maybe it was more undercooked than I thought though. – Jordan Oct 17 '19 at 20:22

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