A couple of times I've cooked chicken at 140F in the oven (i.e. with the oven temperature set to 140 degrees). Both times I've followed the advice to cease cooking when an internal temperature of 140 degrees has been reached and maintained for a few minutes.

I wonder what leaving it at that temperature for longer than necessary would do. I'm partly interested because it would be convenient if I could leave the oven unattended overnight. And partly because on the second occasion I tried this, the meat was pink close to the bone despite the temperature probe reading.

For all I know, the meat could taste better the longer it is cooked. Does anyone know?

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    I don't know where you read 140° F, but no authoritative source considers that an appropriate temperature for poultry. The number is 165° F. If you're doing sous-vide and can afford to leave it cooking for hours then fine, but 140° F for just a few minutes in an oven is not safe! You may have read that temperature on a sous-vide page, as bikeboy hints at, but please do your guests a favour and don't try that in the oven. – Aaronut Feb 20 '11 at 21:50
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    Heston Blumenthal's "In Search of Perfection". I remembered one point incorrectly: the chicken is removed from the oven as soon as the internal temperature of 60 degrees C (140F) is reached. The chicken is left to rest for an hour afterwards. – Chris Steinbach Feb 21 '11 at 4:43
  • In case I wasn't clear, the chicken is in the oven for several hours and not just "a few minutes". The "few minutes" refer to the period the chicken remains in the oven after reaching 140 degrees. – Chris Steinbach Feb 21 '11 at 4:50

Well, on some level, this is exactly what sous vide cooking aims to do--very gently bring the food up to the target temperature and no further. In theory you wind up with something that's more or less perfectly cooked all the way through with no part overcooked or undercooked. But of course this is typically done in vacuum bags in a water bath, which is very different from doing it in an oven, because the bag keeps all the natural juices in contact with the meat, preventing drying on the outside.

When doing this in the oven, it's unavoidable that some of the outside will get dry. Even at temperatures lower than boiling, some evaporation will occur and the longer you cook (a side effect of low temperatures) the more drying you can get. Beyond that, about the only downsides are that the fat renders very differently so the skin doesn't get crisped, and there's little carry-over cooking that goes on after the bird is removed from the oven.

I think it's definitely a matter for debate whether this kind of method results in better taste. By not getting things hot enough for the Maillard reaction (browning, basically) I think you're leaving a lot of flavor potential untapped. However, it's undeniable that, ignoring possible air-drying that happens, you'll have little to no risk of overcooking. That alone will increase your chances of a good result because overcooking has to be the most common mistake people make.

As to why you got your 140 degree reading when the meat near the bone was still pink, I think there are two things at work. One is that I understand that the meat near the bone is just naturally more pink and that it's fine to eat in that state if the temperature is right--there's some science behind it but I just can't find the article right now. The other thing is that there's always some variability to sticking a thermometer into a roast, and you might not have gotten your probe into the least-done part.

  • Seeing the notes about proper doneness temperatures for chicken, I'll add that they are right--pretty much nobody calls for 140 degrees as done. I can never remember the right numbers myself and always look them up. So just imagine that the number in my last paragraph is 165, and work from there. The rest is general enough to hold up unedited, I think. – bikeboy389 Feb 20 '11 at 22:19
  • I guess what is meant by "done" is quite variable. Considered purely from the point-of-view of health and safety I understand that poultry cooked at 140 degrees for somewhere between 8 and 30 minutes can be considered pasteurized (see saberdosabor.com.br/sous-vide.pdf p29). The texture of the meat at 140F was slightly different to a bird cooked at "normal" temperatures. I would't cook this for my wife since she wouldn't consider that texture "done". – Chris Steinbach Feb 21 '11 at 4:43

Leaving food in the oven after it's finished cooking is generally referred to as "over-cooking" and for poultry in particular, is likely going to result in dried out and tough meat.

The chicken will not stop cooking just because you maintain the temperature. In particular, moisture will continue to be lost.

The "pink" you see near the bone (of, say, the leg), is a different type of pink from the raw meat. It may be due to the hemoglobin in the tissue which can form a heat-stable colour, and it is completely safe to eat.

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    Also, according to the USDA, chicken should be 160-165F. – Allison Feb 20 '11 at 21:41
  • Note, according to the CFIA (Canadian Food Inspection Agency), the 165F (or 74C) is for pieces. A whole chicken should actually have a temperature of 185F (or 85C). – Allison Feb 20 '11 at 21:48

165F (73,9ºC) is the temperature set by the FDA so an idiot can cook chicken without getting sick. At this temperature, the chicken needs to remain at this temperature for less than 10 seconds so as to achieve an appropriate pathogen decrease.

140 (60ºC) is PERFECTLY ACCEPTABLE as long as the chicken remains at this temperature for at least 26 minutes.

The FDA and CFIA use the temperature of 165 because it doesn't require core temperature monitoring and timing. If you know what you're doing in the kitchen, like the OP does, 140 is perfectly acceptable... And in fact, produces the best chicken you've ever eaten in your life!

Source (provided by @roxr in a comment below): http://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/wcm/connect/9ab2e062-7ac8-49b7-aea1-f070048a113a/RTE_Poultry_Tables.pdf?MOD=AJPERES

  • Please don't post food safety advice without an authoritative source. – Aaronut Jan 6 '14 at 1:39
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    This is exactly correct. The FSIS (food safety inspection services) which is part of the USDA has time-temperature charts. These are not supposed to be used by the home chef, but for meat processing, but scientifically the post above is correct: fsis.usda.gov/wps/wcm/connect/… – rox0r Dec 23 '15 at 18:26
  • @rox0r I've double checked and changed the times – BaffledCook Sep 24 '16 at 10:03

(I am not a microbiologist but I've thought about this topic a lot -- do your own research if you really want to experiment and be careful)

I added a comment, but also, the FSIS (part of the USDA), had time-temperature charts: http://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/wcm/connect/9ab2e062-7ac8-49b7-aea1-f070048a113a/RTE_Poultry_Tables.pdf?MOD=AJPERES.

They don't really want the average person using these, because you need accurate equipment. The 165F is the temperature that salmonella instantly dies (7 log10 die-off). Notice they never state that all salmonella is eliminated which is why you always need to handle left-overs properly. Note also that they deactivate at a little below 130F, so holding that temperature keeps them from multiplying.

TITLE: Modeling non-linear survival curves to calculate thermal inactivation of Salmonella in poultry of different fat levels AUTHORS: V. K. Juneja, B. S. Eblen, H. M. Marks JOURNAL: International Journal of Food Microbiology 70 (2001) 37-51.

These charts are for a certain humidity and fat content which is why the USDA says the 165F number.

For all I know, the meat could taste better the longer it is cooked. Does anyone know?

I have some theories and some ideas about this. I don't have references, but my understanding is that meat generally won't get tough if you keep the temperature low: sous vide style. The reason is that the proteins in meat denature as the temperature goes higher and when they denature, they tangle up and release water (very dumbed-down version). This is why they are tough and dry. The rate at which they denature is exponentially related to temperature (the same goes for the die-off of salmonella if you look at the time-temperature charts).

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