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chewy boneless chicken breast: undercooked, overcooked, or poor quality?

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I apologize if this has been discussed recently, I did a quick search and didn't find anything that seemed to fit the topic.

I have almost always had a problem cooking skinless, boneless, chicken breasts--they often come out incredibly rubbery, chewy and stringy. Am I undercooking them? They certainly seem to be cooked all the way through, the inside is hot and doesn't appear raw. Am I overcooking them? They don't seem overly dry and I didn't cook for what seemed like a long time. Could it just be poor meat quality?

I typically have this problem when simply preparing them by cooking them in a pan with a little bit of olive oil to coat the pan. I'm certainly not frying them. I also encountered the same problem back when I had less resources and would use a Foreman grill (college days). I feel like I should be able to prepare a simple pan seared chicken breast by now!

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  1. Generally, overcooking is the cause. Also, cooking too slowly can be a problem, in my experience.
    When I cook chicken breasts, I use a high a heat as possible, and pull when just barely done. (all pink is gone by time they rest 3-4 minutes.) The outermost layer might be a bit tough from carmelization, but the inside is nice, soft, and juicy.

    The chicken itself is also a factor- freshness, whether or not it's been injected.

    9 Replies
    1. re: dude

      Ah yes, the injection factor is what I was most curious about. After I had let the chicken rest for a few minutes on a plate I noticed what seemed to be an unusual amount of what appeared to be water pooling on the plate. It looked much too clear to be natural juices.

      Thanks!

      1. re: pollymerase

        Sounds like overcooking. Take the internal temp, pull at 155-160F, let rest off-heat for at least 5 minutes before slicing. The juices need to redistribute, even though it's poultry and not beef.

      2. re: dude

        ditto dude - as with anything, but particularly something you're serving sort of on it's own, quality ingredients to start with are important. If you need to shop at the grocery, see if they carry a line like Bell & Evans and start with those breasts. Even better, buy from a butcher shop that gets local product - these will be even fresher and less messed-with.

        I would also encourage you (and the rest of america) to stop using teflon. You can't get a really good results if you aren't cooking right, and nobody is learning to cook properly by using teflon products. Just my opinion. Get yourself a good cast iron skillet, get it good at hot first (hot pan, cold oil then food right after the oil) and you will get much better results.

        1. re: rockandroller1

          Thanks for the tips. I actually never use teflon. I've got a couple of different sized cast irons (still have the same problem with the rubbery chicken) and a decent Wolfgang Puck set I received as a gift.

          I'm really leaning towards poor quality ingredients. I usually marinade for awhile and that doesn't seem to help much either.

          The only thing I've found successful is to cut the chicken into strips prior to cooking. That's great for fajitas and the like, but I'd like to prepare the whole breast as well.

          1. re: pollymerase

            definitely not the pan. jfood cooked boneless breasts in college in a $2 pan and uses NS all the time now. It's the chicken itself, or overcooking, or both. And jfood agrees w R&R1 on the brand. the Bell and Evans are the best brand you can get in a grocer.

            1. re: jfood

              Uh, jfood, what is NS?

              1. re: danhole

                he means non-stick. :)

                1. re: rockandroller1

                  Thanks! Sometimes the initials make me feel like I am playing a word game. I still don't know what PC means, or should I say I thought it meant Personal Computer, or Politically Correct, but on this board I never know.

                  I have used NS, as well as cast iron, but I think I get a better sear with cast iron, or even stainless steel than NS. Plus I have heard bad things about getting those pans too hot and releasing chemicals.

          2. re: rockandroller1

            Unless you're making an omlette?

        2. I cook boneless, skinless breast all the time and don't have this problem, but I do use a bit of a marinade, a touch of olive oil, and let the chicken rest in it a bit before I cook it. I also use a lot of fresh herbs, or dried if I don't have fresh on hand, and seasonings. Don't know if that is the trick or not, but it works for me whether I use the foreman grill, gas grill or cast iron skillet.

          1. I never cook boneless, skinless chicken breasts without doing one of the following:

            1. Brine overnight (an hour or so is fine as well, but I'd put in an acid such as vinegar or lemon juice). This is if I'm going to be shredding or cubing and putting in soup.
            2. Stab all over with a fork, get a dry rub on, and repeat. Let that sit for a bit.
            3. Marinade with an acid or alcohol overnight.

            Sometimes the freaky supermarket ones will still come out shitty, but that's no surprise.

            1 Reply
            1. re: link_930

              Polly, you are definitely overcooking them.

              I generally brine when I can too, but leaving boneless skinless chicken breasts in brine overnight is way too long. That's what you'd do with a whole turkey.

            2. If you're after a seared or grill-marked breast, try searing it and then putting it into a 375 degree oven to finish. Sometimes I cover the meat, sometimes not. That often helps keep things from getting dicey. There's also an old Joy of Cooking recipe that starts with a 10 minute poach - turning occasionally - in an oil & butter mix, lid on. Then, when the timer sounds, you pull the pan off the heat and let it sit under the lid for an additional 10 to 15 minutes (depends on thickness of the meat). That one works every time, but may call for more fat than you are looking for. Nice pan of juices for a gravy or sauce, too.

              1. I used to have a similar problem because I would always get distracted and overcook my chicken. Finally bought myself a digital thermometer. I set the alarm for when the temp hits around 160 depending on the thickness. Then I remove it form the heat and the temp will rise to around 165. Now I actually get compliments on my chicken!

                1. I generally grill or sautee them pretty quickly. Doesn't take over 10 minutes. Tenderness can be enhanced by using the flat side of the meat mallett to flatten to a uniform thickness, say 3/8", really helps with the "natural juices added" breasts which tend to puff up when cooked. Conversely, a long simmer/braise will tenderize most meats, think chicken cacciatore.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: dijon

                    I partially agree with the timing dijon. I usually leave the chicken as one of the last things to prepare, but it usually only takes about 6-8 minutes if I have flattened them, or if they came flat! They do continue to cook after you take them off the heat. I do a touch test, just as you would with steak. I feel to see if it is a bit soft, not too soft, just a bit. If it is hard it is overcooked. It is like going for a medium+ steak, but not well done. Then when you take it off it finishes up and is moist, tender and juicy for the table. And I do NOT buy any special brand - just whatever is on sale or looks good. The only ones that seem to give me any problems are those frozen ones in the big bags. I avoid them.

                  2. You could try butterflying them, pounding them, dredging in a bit of seasoned flour, and cooking very briefly, just a couple of minutes per side, in a bit of hot oil.

                    1. How about a gentle poach?

                      Tough chicken does exist - that's what traditional stewed chicken recipes were designed for. But those old stewing hens are not common in US markets, and if available are clearly marked as such. From the producer's perspective, it is best to sell the chicken as young and tender as possible, giving the most money for their investment. If anything, I'd expect expensive free range chicken to be tougher than the typical supermarket fryer.

                      Another thing, cut the meat across the grain, same as you would when carving a roasted turkey.

                      paulj

                      1. Lately I've come across chicken breasts with that rubbery texture. It's totally gross! When it's cooked it has the texture while chewing it of raw chicken, plastic like, rubbery. Here's an article I found that may explain why http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/art...

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: owaitress

                          ^^^ thanks for that info^^ everyone's talking about how the chickens being cooked and that's not the problem, I've been getting this nasty stringy chicken from the stores lately and it's disgusting! I knew something was not right with the meat, I've been cooking for a vary long time and never had a problem, the meat it's self is pumped with bs! Which is unfourtionate when your trying to feed a family of 8 and can't really afford to go organic! America is becoming so pitiful...

                          1. re: Brittany1

                            The OP is from 2007. I maintain that the OP's problem was overcooking.

                        2. Start by seeking out pasture raised chicken, not factory produced birds that never get exercise, fresh air or food that is free from other animal parts.

                          1. Bought some on sale, huge. Probably from old hens that had stopped laying. They were definitely not the texture I was used to and will never buy again.

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: Hopefulone

                              Only use for an old layer, (stewing hen) is a low and slow preparation, i. e. Chicken & dumplings, braised hen, etc.

                              1. re: Hopefulone

                                If they are huge, they probably not from old hens. Laying birds are bred for egg production, not for a lot of meat. The stewing hens that I've bought frozen are relatively scrawny, especially compared to the 5lb birds that I commonly buy.

                                With a large bird, I usually dismember it, use the dark meat in some sort of braise, and make stock from the bones. I poach the skinless, boneless breasts. This avoids overcooking. Sliced across the grain, this white meat makes a good chicken salad.

                                Trying to grill or pan fry a thick breast is a good recipe for overcooking it. By the time the center is cooked the outside is over done.

                              2. 1. Ditch the Foreman grill, all those things do is squeeze all the juices out of the chicken breast, leaving it tough and dry.

                                2. Consider getting your chicken from a local butcher, and ask for smaller chicken breasts, like 4 oz or 6 oz breasts if they have them. These are much easier to cook through without leaving the outside burnt and chewy and dry.

                                3. Avoid buying those frozen chicken breasts in a bag, they are typically soaked in a salt water solution, which, all leaks out during the cooking process, leaving you dry stringy chicken.

                                4. If you are grilling the chicken, try putting a lid over it for a bit while it is on the grill - this will help steam the upper part of the chicken and speed up the cooking process on it.

                                5. If you would like to try your own brine, I would suggest doing it no longer than 30 min to an hour. If you do it too long, it will make the chicken taste processed and mealy.