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I'm confused about temperatures and 'doneness' with chicken breasts

I've been getting back into cooking, this time more seriously since I now live on my own. Tonight, I cooked some bonesless, skinless chicken breasts (unflattened/unpounded) in some olive oil in a skillet on the stove top.

I bought a probe thermometer like what I used for grilling to check how done the meat was (shooting for 165 F). In the thickest part of the meat, I only got to about 140 F, but upon cutting the breasts open at the thick part, the meat is all white, cooked and sort of 'threads' apart as one would expect cooked chicken to do. The exterior was getting a bit beyond golden brown which is why I pulled it off the heat.

But I'm confused: The thermometer says it has a long ways to go but my senses tell me if I had cooked it any longer it would have been like gnawing on a tennis shoe.

Should I have used a mallet to pound down the thicker portions to make the cut more even? Was my heat too high (on an electric range)? Is the chicken indeed cooked thouroughly at this point?

Thanks for your thoughts and advice!

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  1. If the interior isn't pink, it's done. Your thermometer may be faulty. You should not have aimed for 165F as meat will continue to cook on residual heat, even if removed from the pan. No higher than 155F, and leave it for 10 minutes so the juice redistributes evenly throughout the meat before it is sliced.

    You can pound or butterfly for more even cooking, which will shorten cooking time, if you so desire.

    1. Maybe your thermometer is not correctly calibrated. Probe thermometers, in my experience, are also pretty slow to accurately measure the temperature... so maybe you didn't leave it in there long enough?

      3 Replies
      1. re: darrentran87

        It's possible. This is a new thermometer for me and this was the maiden voyage. It's the kind with the probe at the end of a long cord. My last thermometer was just a probe with a dial and measured quickly. I'm not sure if this thing can even be calibrated. It's a Taylor model.

        1. re: J_Tay81

          I agree with the faulty thermometer theory. I had one of those probe/long cord things, and it was slow and inaccurate. I have the dial kind, too. They are a little faster and a little more accurate. But I LOVE my thermopen. It is the best so far.

          1. re: sandylc

            Breasts off the bone don't normally appear raw or undercooked at 140 (and it's likely the breasts in question were a little hotter than that after resting anyway). Dark meat does. Breasts on the bone tend to also, though that's mainly because it's really hard to get an accurate temp right near the bone and the meat near the bone is usually the rarest. I think the thermometer was probably fine.

      2. The only way I really like breasts is poached very gently. I *KNOW* the Feds keep telling us that it's got to be 160º or more before it's really cooked, but that's not cooked, it's cremated - if I'm using a thermometer I pull them out at about 135º and let them sit a while (the temperature will rise a bit to around 140º). Perfection to me is when the meat has an almost imperceptible blush to it, more an off-white than pink. I also do this off the bone.

        1. First, consider brining your chix breasts. Better flavor, juiciness and more foregiving if overcooked.

          And, yes, pull at 155 or so and let rest for 10 min. The carryover will elevate the interior temp to 165.

          And buy a new thermometer

          7 Replies
          1. re: C. Hamster

            I'm down for purchasing a new thermometer. It doesn't even need to be fancy. Do you all have any suggestions for a good all purpose thermometer?

              1. re: J_Tay81

                Whoa! Before throwing away a good pen (I've used that brand before), just stick the pen in boiling water and it should read 212F at and around sea level.

                1. re: monavano

                  Agreed with this. Though I have a thermapen and I love it, it's pretty expensive. Do what monavano recommended and just check to see if it reads 212 with boiling water. Also, take note of HOW LONG it takes to read that (if it ever does)

                  1. re: monavano

                    I tried this yesterday. In boiling water the highest it read was 203 F. I live in Nebraska, so elevation should be a problem.

                    1. re: J_Tay81

                      I tried this test again today, and in boiling water it got to 212 F, but it took a loooong time to get there.

              2. Though prefer bone-in and skin-on for chicken breasts, will pretty much always buy some when at a good price. Have found that boneless/skinless will go fm perfect to HOCKEY PUCKS in a heart beat!?! On the bone, pretty forgiving... generally not tough or dry if cooked a little longer than absolutely needed.