Chicken is one of the most relished dishes all over the world. The tender, juicy, succulent flesh of this bird is something no one can ever resist. Although chicken recipes seem particularly easy and take only minutes, cooking it to a correct degree is something even chefs find daunting. There is a lot of confusion regarding the appropriate temperature for cooking chicken. If you under-cook it, there is always a risk of harmful bacterial infections. If you overcook it, you lose all the flavor and the chicken turns hard, dry, and rubbery. The solution to this problem is to find an agreeable compromise between health and flavor. That is why it is important to know the correct cooked chicken temperature for your recipes.
For Whole Chicken
As per the USDA guidelines, you should preferably cook your whole chicken until temperature at thigh reaches 180°F or 82°C. When the temperature at thigh reaches 180°F, the temperature at breast is about 170°F. At this stage, your chicken might have turned to a dry and rubbery mass, which may not agree with your taste and most people may not find it particularly appetizing. If you take the temperature while the heat is still on and then switch it off, be sure that the temperature is likely to increase by 10°F by the time the chicken comes to rest. This can further worsen the flavor. Many chefs and cookbooks recommend 170°F as an ideal temperature for a fully cooked chicken. However, take the temperature a few minutes before you are about to switch the heat off and leave the margin for a 10°F rise in temperature.
As per USDA guidelines, if you decide to cook the chicken in pieces, then the recommended temperature for cooked thighs, drumsticks, and wings is about 180°F. Breasts should be cooked until the temperature reaches 170°F. The reason why breast is often cooked at a lower temperature than the rest of the chicken is that it contains less fat and connective tissue. Connective tissue takes a bit longer to cook, hence the parts rich in it take longer time to cook too.
The main reason why USDA urges people to cook chicken at high temperature is for the fear of spreading infections. The government imposed stricter rules for cooking during the bird flu pandemic. The reason why chicken is susceptible to various types of bacterial and viral infections is that its tissue density is lesser than that of red meat. Hence, the microorganism can easily travel up to the muscles and spread infection. Most of these microbes die at the temperature of about 150°F or 66°C. Hence, chicken breast cooked at this temperature should be safer to consume. The other parts should be cooked at slightly higher temperatures. Although you may be able to retain the flavor and texture of chicken by leaving it slightly undercooked, you may expose yourself to the risk of food poisoning. If you have young children of age less than 5 or older people, then it is recommended that you stick to the USDA guidelines.
Some cookbooks may state that it is alright to under-cook chicken if you know it has been hygienically packed and hasn't traveled far. However, the practice of mass production does not assure that there has been no bacterial intervention. Therefore, it is best to adhere to proper and safer practices while cooking.
You need not always fuss about the temperature if you aim for soft, delicious chicken. Knowing correct dry and moist cooking practices may help you to retain the flavor and also make it safe to consume.