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Test Kitchen tips: When is chicken done? (plus 22 chicken recipes)

Recently, I received an email from Pam in Woodbury, Conn., inquiring about how to check chicken for doneness:

"My husband and I are disagreeing as to whether our roast chicken is fully cooked.

"When we cut into the thigh, the juices run clear.  And the leg wiggles easily.  My husband says: All done! However, when I tip the chicken and let the juices run out of the body cavity, they are still red/pink.  I say:  Not done!

"Please settle this dispute!  I just want us and our family and guests to stay healthy!!! Thanks so much!"

RECIPES: 22 recipes for chicken from the L.A. Times Test Kitchen

You're roasting a chicken in the oven, and while it may look like it's ready to eat, you have no idea if it's actually done. What do you do?

There's only one foolproof way to check for proper doneness, and that is using a thermometer. Chicken is done when a thermometer reaches at least 165 degrees. Slide the thermometer into the hip meat, in between the leg and breast; make sure the thermometer does not touch the bone, as this will give an artificially high reading (the bones heat faster than the meat).

Some of the methods Pam mentions above are helpful, though not necessarily the most accurate. If the meat is done, the joints should twist easily. Likewise, cooked chicken meat should feel firm when pressed, and the juices are often clear.

But what happens if we still see pink?

We've been taught that the meat should be white and the juices should run clear when chicken is done -- no pinkish coloring at all.

But color isn't always a good indication of doneness. Chicken can be done even when it is still a little pink.

This is especially true with young birds whose bones are still porous -- since the bones haven't completely calcified and hardened, pigment can seep through to the surrounding area, coloring the meat and liquids, and causing the bones themselves to darken.

And while the meat should not be overly pink or "rubbery"-feeling (a good indication it still needs to cook), it meat might also remain a little pink even after cooking due to the hemoglobin in the tissue.

Invest in a thermometer. It's the one foolproof way to safely check for doneness.

These tips are not only good for chicken; they'll work with all poultry.

If you have any kitchen tips or questions you'd like me to explore, leave a comment below or email me at noelle.carter@latimes.com.

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