Ive been trying to nail cooking butterflied chicken breasts on my all clad grill pan. My first attempt, they turned out rubbery, and almost completely in-edible, despite cooking to 165 as read on my instant read thermometer (taken off at 160). These were average size breasts butterflied, no more that 1/4 inch think at the very thickest part. It took maybe 5 min per side to reach 160 on medium-high heat, but this turned out to overcook them to all hell.

On a second try, I cooked them much less, ~3.5 minutes per side, and the instant read only read around 155 when i took them off, but they looked perfectly cooked, juicy, and no pink. I had tried to take them off by feel (poking them with my finger and guesstimating doneness)

What gives? Are these unsafe to eat despite appearing done and having the right texture even though i took them off the grill pan at 155. I thought maybe my thermometer was bad, so I bought another one, and they both read the same temperatures in several tests. Are instant reads just not accurate on thinner cuts of chicken? Or is the margin for error much smaller for thinner cuts?

  • Welcome to Seasoned Advice! This is a good question, and one you do not want to risk erring on if your chicken is store-bought. You may be able to find some useful tips in this post: cooking.stackexchange.com/questions/25152/… Although it is asking specifically about pan frying, I have found little difference between pan frying and using a quality grill/grill pan. – Paul Beverage Dec 6 at 4:29
  • Do you really need to measure the temperature of meat every time you cook? 99.9999999% of the world does not. If it looks cooked to you, you can just eat you know. You aren't going to die. – aris Dec 7 at 20:34

At my restaurant, I'll cook a chicken to 160 and let it carry-over to 163 - 165. 165 is only the highest you should ever go with chicken. I do this just to stay within compliance and to be honest if someone asks me if it's "all the way done." It really messes with the meat, though.

At home, or when I'm cooking for friends and family, you bet your ass I'll pull that bird off at 150 to 155. As you noted in your post, that is when it's cooked all the way through and still retains a pleasurable texture. But the idea that the chicken has to be cooked to hell has been beaten into us and never really challenged. 165 is the temperature at which salmonella is effectively killed off when you're cooking relatively hot and fast. These guidelines were also made at a time when food manufacturers were hellhouses, unsafe and unsanitary. Nowadays, by and large, the reality is much different. There's still risk, but as long as you're not serving chicken tartare, your risk for getting sick off chicken cooked at 150 is extremely low. (That said, if someone has a vulnerable immune system, it's better to just take risk off the table and cook it "all the way.")

One other thing: one thing that will help with this issue, and acts as a safety net just in case you walk away from the stove and your chicken does get overcooked, is to dry brine the chicken. Don't do a wet brine for chicken breasts, because it ends up waterlogging the meat and whatever you cook will be rubbery as hell. Wet brines should be reserved for WOGs or other whole carcasses. Dry brining is basically doing a short-term salt cure. A 1/4 teaspoon of salt on both sides of the chicken and let it sit in your fridge for an hour or two. The chicken breast will then be more forgiving and still stay a good piece of meat.

  • Please explain WOGs. – Rob Dec 6 at 14:08

In the old days, before cooking thermometers, we poked chicken with a fork. If the juice ran clear, it was considered "done". Texture gives you clues, as well, and "no pink" is always reassuring. As a rule, meat (generally) continues cooking for ~5 minutes after you remove it from the heat. So you shouldn't expect the temp to stay at 155F. I think it's relatively safe to eat, primarily because it is sliced so thin.

The thermometer reading is going to be affected if you do not have it inserted in the center. And if you try to read the temp while the chicken is on the grill pan (so close to the heat source).

Trial and error are a chef's best friends.

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