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Many texts I see say that chicken is done when it is "fork tender and the juices run clear". What does that actually mean and how do I tell?

I found Is "until juices run clear" a valid test for poultry doneness? Why or why not?, but this discusses the validity of "juices running clear" as related to doneness, it doesn't really deal with how to figure out if the juices are running clear.

I am very inexperienced in the kitchen, and maybe this is a silly question, but I don't really understand this, because:

  • When I poke the chicken with a fork, it's not like enough juice comes flying out to tell what it looks like. Poking from the top doesn't lead to juices coming out due to the laws of physics, primarily the ones dealing with gravity. Poking from the side doesn't help much either. I suppose I could pierce the side and then try to squeeze some juices out, but in some cases this damages the appearance and in any case:

  • The juices are never clear when I'm actually cooking chicken, because I don't generally cook bare pieces of meat. All juice I see is inevitably clouded by whatever else the chicken is cooking in; oils, batter, etc., often browned due to cooking.

How do I check the juices of a chicken in the oven?

Also, I also don't really understand what "fork tender" means. Pretty much any meat can be pierced with a fork at any stage in its cooking cycle. Even trying to focus on a more subtle "feel", the feel of the fork is about the same to me throughout the majority of the cooking except in the very beginning.

I end up just using a thermometer to check internal temperature, or pick temperatures and times that I know worked in the past for similar cuts of meat. Still, it would be nice to have another metric that I can use.

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    Using a thermometer is acutally the better and more precise approach... – Stephie Mar 9 '15 at 7:49
  • Nah, the best approach is ... cut it in half and see if its cooked. Eventually after enough experience you'll know its cooked and how well done, by poking it. Squidgy = Rare, Firm = Well. – Doug Mar 9 '15 at 9:22
  • Amen to this question. "Cook until the juices run clear" is one of the most frustrating cooking instructions. – Mugen Mar 12 at 6:34
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It is a "metric" which requires experience to recognize.

First, juices "running" clear doesn't mean that they will flow freely. You have to cut into the meat and look at the juice inside it. Is it clear or not?

Second, there is a difference between the feel of meat at different stages of doneness, when you poke it with a fork. If you cannot notice it, this means you haven't trained yourself sufficiently. Noticing the difference is a skill which has to be learned.

As you can see from the other question and the comments, the thermometer is the recommended way to do it. The old thermometerless way is both inaccurate and has a learning curve, making it hard for people to learn cooking. In fact, it is not really a metric. Experienced cooks recognize meat which is done by look and feel, including a look on the inside (cooking) and feeling with a fork instead of burning their fingers. What the recipe really says is "stop cooking when it's done". But because this sounds like a tautology to inexperienced cooks, the experienced ones try to describe in words what they should be looking for. And so this rough description is created, and the inexperienced ones use it as a guideline while learning to recognize doneness by trial and error.

Of course, it is always good to pay attention to your meat when you are cooking it. Do look at the state of the juices and the feel when poked with a fork, and you'll learn to recognize it with time. But before you have become comfortable with your knowledge that the meat is done, rely on the thermometer instead of the feeling. Also, if you want to comply with food safety rules, you have to use the thermometer every time, as meat cooked by feel is not guaranteed to have reached the recommended temperature and will be sometimes unsafe.

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    I recall a quick method for determining doneness from Gordon Ramsay: Forehead, Nose, Chin. Rare is soft and fleshy like your nose. Medium is fleshy with some resistance like your chin. And well done is firmer to the touch with more resistance, like your forehead. It provides a good baseline in addition to timing and visual observation to determine doneness in a pinch or if you don't have a thermometer at hand. – jsanc623 Mar 9 '15 at 17:25
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I have been in the kitchen for 30 years and still use a meat thermometer! I can tell when it's done through experience but I want to make sure as sometimes some thicker pieces take longer etc. I would rather be safe when it comes to meat and serving my family.

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