There’s a great article on cooking chicken by ThermoWorks, from which I learnt a few things.
TLDR: use a pull temperature of 63℃ when roasting a chicken, and rest uncovered for ten minutes.
To follow any of the following advice, you’re going to need a digital food thermometer like a thermapen.
Pull vs final temperatures
Food continues cooking after it has been removed from the oven in a process known as carryover cooking. Hence it’s important to distinguish between two temperatures thresholds:
- Pull temperature: the minimum internal temperature when you remove from the oven.
- Final temperature: the max that the minimum internal temperature reaches after removing from the oven.
Most advice on internal temperatures refers to final temperatures and it’s easy to conflate the two (and overcook food by waiting too long to remove it from the oven).
Safety vs taste
The standard safety recommendation is to cook chicken until the minimum internal temperature (e.g. deep in the breast) is 74℃ as all foodborne bacteria pasteurise (i.e. die) at this temperature.
Regrettably, chicken breast meat is overcooked at this temperature and starting to turn stringy.
But bacterial death is a function of temperature and time. The same level of safety can be achieved by cooking the meat to a lower temperature and then holding the temperature at or above that level for a period of time. As shown in the below table, holding the internal temperature to 63.3℃ for 8 minutes will kill all bacteria but avoids overcooking.
Without specialist equipment, it’s not possible to hold the internal temperature at a fixed level. It will continue to rise during carryover cooking.
Hence the best approach is to remove the bird from the oven at a lower temperature and allow the resting period to maintain a high enough temperature to kill any bacteria but avoid the breast meat overcooking.
Some skill still required
Some judgement is required as the amount of carryover cooking depends on the size of the chicken and the temperature of the oven. These factors determine who much heat energy is stored in the outer layers of the chicken.
In practice, I have found a medium chicken cooked at 170℃ in a fan oven should be removed when its minimum internal temperature reaches 63℃ and rested, uncovered, for around ten minutes. During resting, the minimum internal temperature will rise to around 70℃.
It’s useful to continue to measure the internal temperature during resting to get a feel for how much carryover cooking is occurring, and to inform decisions about what pull temperature to use.
Here are two other excellent articles on the subject: