How to Prevent Rubbery Chicken
Everybody likes chicken, right? Well, not if it is all dry and chewy! Chicken is arguably one of the most difficult ingredients to cook right every time. Very rarely do you have perfectly tender and juicy cooked chicken; it’s either overcooked or undercooked.
So, how do you prevent rubbery chicken? The best way to prevent rubbery chicken is to check the internal temperature of the meat. It should be 165°F (73-74°C). This means your chicken is neither undercooked nor overcooked.
In today’s article, we will be looking at all the different ways you can undercook and overcook chicken, what affects this, and all the common mistakes that make rubbery chicken. Finally, we’ll also look at ways to prevent and even fix it!
Different Cuts Of Chicken
Now, we know this might not seem relevant to why chicken can become rubbery, but it has arguably one of the biggest impacts on why chicken can take on this awful texture.
Before we discuss any other reason for rubbery chicken, it is important for us to explain why different parts of chicken will have the biggest effect on the final texture of the meat.
The size and shape of the piece of chicken you choose will affect the cooking method you should use, the temperature you should cook it at, and the amount of time you need to cook it.
It will actually even affect how you should use it (i.e. in stews, as pulled chicken meat, as whole pieces, etc.) as well.
1. Whole Chicken
Whole chickens are extremely popular in many if not all parts of the world. There are thousands of different recipes you can try that use different flavor combinations, preparation techniques, and cooking techniques.
There are different types of whole chicken classified according to their size. The size will have an effect mostly on how long the whole chicken should cook.
Most supermarkets stock broilers (fryers), roasters, and Cornish game hens. A game hen weighs less than 2 lbs (900g) and is the smallest whole chicken you will easily find.
Broilers range between 2 ½ and 4 ½ lbs in weight (1.13 kg – 2.04kg). Roasters are some of the oldest chickens and thus very large, usually around and over 5 lbs (2.27kg).
Naturally, the smaller chickens will cook for a shorter period of time and can then use higher temperatures. The larger ones should be cooked slow and at low temperatures.
Whole chickens are almost always roasted. This is important to know because it will help you more easily determine how to prevent that awful rubbery texture.
2. Chicken Breasts
Chicken breasts are a lean cut of chicken meat that comes from the chest of the chicken.
Chicken breasts can either have the bone in or removed, and it can also have the skin on or removed. This does have an effect on how the piece will cook.
Usually, chicken pieces that have bones still inside cook better, as the bone helps conduct heat to the flesh and essentially helps cook it from the inside. This helps prevent you from overcooking the meat, leaving you with juicy and tender chicken.
Keeping the skin on also has a ton of benefits despite it being considered unhealthy because of its fattiness. The skin helps protect the surface of the meat from drying out too much by adding a layer of fattiness (i.e. moisture).
Chicken breast is definitely one of the bigger cuts of chicken meat that you will find and means you will have to cook it longer compared to chicken wings, for example.
What makes chicken breasts so amazing is their versatility. You can cut them up or cook them whole as-is. You can deep-fry them, oven roast them, use them in stews and soups, as pulled chicken, air-fry them, and even pan-fry them.
3. Chicken Thighs And Drumsticks
Chicken thighs and drumsticks, even though they are different parts or cuts of a whole chicken, are more or less the same in size and amount of meat.
Both these pieces mostly are used with their bones still in and their skins on – they can be removed and this will affect the cooking times (usually make it a bit shorter but only by a few minutes).
These are both dark pieces of chicken meat and will take a bit longer to cook compared to other white chicken meat cuts of the same size.
This is because dark chicken meat has a much higher fat content and density. This will also make it easier to prevent a rubbery texture, as there is more moisture that needs to “evaporate” during cooking.
These are also very versatile pieces and can be roasted, used in stews, soups, and curries, deep-fried, pan-fried, and air-fried.
4. Chicken Wings
Chicken wings are smaller cuts that don’t necessarily have the most amount of meat, however, they are still incredibly delicious.
Chicken wings are usually roasted or deep-fried – these are the two most flavorful methods to use that give them the best texture.
Chicken wings can also very easily be flavored and are also almost always served with some kind of saucy basting or dipping sauce. This means that they are very easy to make without having that rubbery texture.
Why Does Chicken Become Rubbery?
So, now that you understand how different pieces of chicken and sizes of those pieces have an effect on cooking it for the right texture, we can move on to what causes rubbery textures.
Chicken can be a very scary ingredient to cook with. There are thousands of recipes, preparation methods, and cooking times.
All of these factors have an impact on how your chicken will turn out; juicy and tender, or dry and rubbery.
Before we discuss the many reasons chicken generally turns out rubbery, let us first have a look at exactly what happens to the meat that causes it to take on this unappealing texture.
A piece of chicken meat (really any type of meat actually) consists of protein fibers. Once the heat is applied to the meat, these protein fibers contract. As they contract, they essentially push out moisture and lose it.
The goal to getting perfectly cooked chicken is to control how much these fibers contract – basically that they contract enough to be fully cooked but not contract too much so that the chicken loses all its moisture.
The way this is done is by controlling the temperature that the chicken is cooked at as well as the time the meat is subjected to it.
Ultimately, you want tender chicken that is still juicy – that is the goal and what so many people find difficult to achieve. So let’s dive into the two biggest things that cause rubbery chicken below.
1. Overcooking Chicken
Overcooking chicken is arguably the biggest cause of a rubbery texture in cooked chicken, regardless of what part of the chicken you are using.
It’s easy to overcook chicken and this is the reason why so many people struggle with rubbery meat.
If you use too high heat, cook the meat for too long, or simply don’t wrap it properly after it has been cooked, your chicken can potentially turn out chewy, dry, and rubbery.
The protein fibers contract so much that the moisture is pushed out and the meat becomes very tough.
There are few things as unpleasant as dry chicken and there isn’t much you can do to hide this unpleasant texture and taste. No amount of sauce or gravy will hide this!
2. Undercooked Chicken
On the other hand, while it might be bad to overcook chicken, it is even worse to undercook it!
This not only causes a rubbery mouthfeel and unappealing flavor but also poses health risks such as salmonella.
It is very easy to recognize undercooked chicken. First, if the meat is in any way pink, even if there is only a light hue of pink, you may want to put it back into the oven or fry it for a tiny bit longer – better to be safe than sorry!
Another area where pink meat is usually easily visible is in the very center of the piece of chicken.
Choose an area of meat with the thickest width and cut it open. Because thinner pieces cook faster than thicker ones, this technique will help you ensure the entire piece has been fully cooked – not only the thin areas.
The juices that run from cooked chicken may be pink or bloody at first, but they will be clear when the meat has been fully cooked. The same goes for juice and meat near the bones of the chicken – it is only fully cooked once there isn’t any blood running.
Undercooked chicken poses a ton of health risks and very serious ones at that! The most well-known illness contracted from raw or undercooked chicken is Salmonella and Campylobacter bacteria.
Both of these harmful bacteria will cause food poisoning and can even lead to death. Common symptoms include diarrhea, vomiting, high fever, and dehydration.
How To Prevent Overcooking Your Chicken
There are a few things you can do to prevent overcooking chicken. The first thing you have to consider is the cooking method you are choosing.
Naturally, the pan-fried chicken will cook in a different way compared to oven-roasted chicken, which will also cook differently than deep-fried chicken.
You also have to take into consideration that different pieces of the chicken will cook differently. A whole chicken breast will take longer to completely cook compared to a chicken wing.
Then, finally, you have to choose the best temperature and time at which your chicken needs to cook.
A rule of thumb is to roast every one 2.2 lbs (1 kg) of chicken for 45 minutes and add an additional 20 minutes to finish the chicken in the oven. This is usually at a temperature between 360-390°F (180-200°C).
For deep-fried chicken, more specifically smaller cuts like chicken wings), you can set the temperature to 375°F (190°C) and fry them for roughly 8-10 minutes.
In terms of the piece you are cooking, the larger the piece is, the longer it will need to be cooked. However, you will want to lower the temperature of the oven or deep-fryer to prevent overcooking it.
Smaller pieces will take less time to fully cook, so simply don’t keep them on the heat for as long. You can check them after about half the original cooking time, rather than overcooking them.
The best way to check if your chicken has been cooked enough without overcooking it is to check the internal temperature. It should be 165°F (73-75°C) in the thickest part of the meat.
How To Prevent Undercooking Your Chicken
Preventing and even fixing undercooked chicken is much easier compared to overcooked chicken. The most important thing to do is to always check the meat before serving or eating it.
In general, the times given for chicken recipes are pretty accurate and they should be safe to follow, however, we would highly recommend still checking the meat.
If you see any of the signs of undercooked chicken that we have mentioned above (any pink flesh or bloody and milky juice) then you should continue cooking your chicken.
Simply place it back into the oven or deep-fryer (or whichever method you are using) and leave it in for another 5-10 minutes, depending on how raw it still is.
If your chicken meat looks good but you are still unsure whether it has been fully cooked, again, check the internal temperature at the thickest part of the meat.
Other Ways To Prevent Rubbery Chicken
Besides preventing overcooking or undercooking the chicken, there are more things you can do to prevent getting a rubbery texture.
You can add some kind of cooking oil when baking or pan-frying your chicken. This will help add moisture so that even if you do accidentally overcook your chicken a bit, it will still not be completely dry and rubbery.
This can also be done by marinating your chicken pieces. We prefer using a nice meaty marinade or a very citrusy one.
The acid from the citrus helps break down the proteins and helps tenderize the meat. This again means that even if you overcook the meat, it won’t be rubbery.
A basting sauce is another great idea that will help add moisture. The only thing you absolutely have to do is continue basting your chicken while it cooks. This way, it absorbs that moisture.
If you want to prevent rubbery chicken in soups, stews, and curries, a great way to prevent it is to basically sear it before cooking it in another way. Simply heat a pan with some olive oil, add the chicken, and brown it on all sides.
This helps create a barrier that will trap the moisture inside the chicken and it also creates a nice meaty crust that will add even more flavor to your dish.
After you have browned the piece, you can add it to your stew whole, soup, or curry and simply continue cooking it. This technique also works great if you want to roast your chicken.
Our last tip is that you can cover your roasting tray (if you are oven-roasting chicken) with some foil. This will also help trap moisture and keep your meat moist.
What To Do With Rubbery Chicken
If you couldn’t prevent rubbery chicken, there are a few things you can do to try and save it. Here’s our favorite method:
- Take some broth or stock and heat it in a pot. Bring the liquid to a simmer, not a boil!
- Slice your rubbery chicken (make sure it has been fully cooked) and place it in a roasting tray or baking dish.
- Pour the heated stock or broth over the sliced chicken and bake it in a preheated oven for 10-15 minutes at roughly 300°F.
The heated liquid makes it much easier for the meat to absorb. The low heat at which it is also baked will again help the meat absorb the moisture. Ultimately, you will be left with a softer and more tender piece of meat.
If you cannot do this method or don’t want to, then alternatively, you can think of a better way to use the overcooked rubbery chicken. We would recommend shredding the chicken and mixing it with a sauce.
Make sure to shred it fine enough so that you don’t eat a large dry piece and notice the texture. You can mix the finely shredded chicken with some barbeque sauce, a sweet chili dressing, or a mayo sauce.
Then you can incorporate it into a wide variety of recipes like chicken tacos, sandwiches, or burritos and wraps. There are literally a ton of ideas you can try which are all delicious and will hide the rubbery texture perfectly!
Is It Safe To Eat Rubbery Chicken?
It is generally safe to eat rubbery chicken unless it has been undercooked. As we have mentioned, rubbery chicken can be caused by either overcooking or undercooking it.
While neither is an appealing texture to have and eat, overcooked chicken is safe to eat, as all the harmful bacteria have been destroyed.
Undercooked rubbery chicken has potentially harmful bacteria like salmonella, which can cause severe illness and even death in extreme cases.
Can Organic Chicken Become Rubbery When Cooked?
Organic chickens do tend to have a chewier texture and do tend to become rubbery much quicker and more easily. This is because of the way they have been raised and fed.
Free-range and organic chickens have a ton of moving room, which basically means that their muscles are much more developed compared to factory-raised chickens.
The more muscly chickens produce meatier, rougher, and more woody-tasting meat. For these chickens, we would recommend using slow cooking methods at lower temperatures to help soften the texture.
How Do You Prevent Rubbery Chicken In Soups?
You can first try our browning first method and add whole browned chicken pieces before you add them to the soup. The browning helps add a barrier to prevent moisture loss too quickly.
If you don’t like this method, then alternatively, you can try adding chicken at the last 15-20 minutes of the cooking time.
Make sure the chicken pieces are on the smaller side (so diced chicken breast for example). Also, make sure to use lower temperatures to prevent raising the internal temperature too much.
Is The Term “Woody” Chicken Used To Describe Rubbery Chicken?
Woody chicken does not mean rubbery chicken, although the two things do usually go hand-in-hand. Woody chicken is more used to describe the tough texture and “wild” flavor of some types of chicken.
A lot of the time organic chickens have this characteristic. Many people also say that chicken species with genetic problems (such as mutations) can produce this type of flavor and texture.
Woody chicken usually refers to chicken breast and thighs, not really other parts like drumsticks or wings.
A way you can recognize whether or not the chicken is woody is by physically feeling it. If you touch it and it is hard (or feels harder than usual) or it has lumps in it, it will have this woody characteristic.
Can Smoking Chicken Create A Rubbery Texture?
Unfortunately, as much as we love smoking meat, it isn’t always the best or easier cooking method.
Smoking food still involves some form of heat, which is how the smoke infuses the food. This also means that the food can overcook and ultimately create a rubbery texture.
Make sure to follow the recipe exactly, as there is nothing as bad as overly smoked chicken that also has a rubbery texture.
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