Serve them chicken like this! Photo credit: © StockFood / és-cuisine
You’re cooking your chicken wrong.
Forty percent of 120 participants in a new study conducted by the University of California, Davis are, anyway. Christine Bruhn, PhD, director of the Center for Consumer Research at UC Davis, says she was “really surprised” at the number, which represents the amount of participants who undercook their chicken.
"I know people do that on purpose with burgers, but with chicken I always thought people were more aware of making sure it was fully cooked,” she told us. The majority of participants who undercooked their meat were a full 14 degrees below the the recommended 165 degree F threshold, and more than half of those who grilled their chicken were 18 degrees under. “The grill is really hot; it’s harder to control and that chicken usually looks pretty darn cooked on the outside,” says Bruhn of the common misstep.
The problem is that this fowl fumble can lead to illness, including the dreaded salmonella infection. So what can you do to make sure your signature stir fry doesn’t make anyone sick? Below, Bruhn shares the basic rules of the game with us.
Use a meat thermometer. Slicing through the meat to check for color won’t get the job done. “Consumers do it all the time, but going off appearance just doesn’t work,” says Bruhn. And just because your recipe says to cook a chicken breast for 10 minutes doesn’t mean that’ll get you to a safe temperature. “That doesn’t account for how thin or thick the meat is or how hot your stove is,” she adds. “Time is just an approximation, it’s not reliable. You need to use a thermometer.”
Calibrate that thermometer. What? You don’t do this? Don’t feel bad, neither did a single person in the study. But it’s important, says Bruhn, who adds that the best way to calibrate your thermometer is to stick in ice water. It should read 32 degrees F. If it doesn’t, twist the dial until it gets to 32. Voila! Your thermometer is calibrated. To keep it in fighting shape, repeat this process every few months.
Don’t wash your chicken. Removing bacteria from your dinner may sound like a good idea, but it actually can lead to trouble. When you wash your chicken, the water pressure can cause any bacteria that’s on its surface to splatter all over your kitchen, and remnants have been found up to two feet away from the sink, according to Bruhn. “When you cook chicken, the bacteria is killed,” she says, “so there is simply no need to wash it.”
Do wash your hands, though. We all know this one, but we all don’t always do it. In addition to washing your hands for a full 20 seconds before handling food, you should do the same before you touch anything else after handling raw chicken. “We were really appalled,” admits Bruhn, referring to the large number of study participants who skipped this step, thus contaminating refrigerator handles, cupboards, and cell phones.
Don’t worry, 165 won’t dry out your bird. Years ago, the recommendation for cooked chicken was 180 degrees F. “Yes, that made for a dried-out chicken,” Bruhn admits. But times have changed and the USDA’s current recommendation of 165 degrees will keep your meat juicy. Promise.
Treat your chicken to its very own cutting board. "Sometimes there is residual bacteria on a board even after it’s washed," says Bruhn, who adds that you should stay on the safe side by using two separate cutting boards, one for your chicken and one for everything else. As for cleaning, dishwashing is best. "The heat helps destroy bacteria that can get in those little grooves."
Try this recipe tonight: