Nothing is more frustrating than realizing the chicken you’ve grilled is tough and chewy. You’ve followed the recipe to a “t” yet it’s rubbery and chewy. This has you wondering “what makes chicken tough and chewy”, well let’s find out so it doesn’t happen again.
What Makes Chicken Tough and Chewy?
The short answer is it’s due to the quality of the meat (aka “woody breast), undercooking or overcooking the meat, which sucks the moisture right out leaving you with a rubbery dry, tire-like texture cut of poultry. Without moisture, the protein fibers in the meat become elastic and tough.
There are several ways to cook chicken from deep-frying, baking, grilling, smoking.
In this article, we’ll be looking at ways to prevent it from becoming tough on a pellet grill.
One of the advantages of cooking chicken on a pellet grill is you have more control over the temperature and the meat doesn’t dry out as much. There’s a lot to know about cooking chicken on a pellet smoker, but if you follow these tips it’ll help ensure your next grilled chicken dish is tender and juicy.
So let’s dig in and figure out what causes the problem and how to fix it.
Before we dig into what causes this problem, let’s take a closer look at the two types of chicken meat.
White Meat Vs. Dark Meat
White meat comes from the breast of the bird, which is very lean and low in fat. Dark meat is fattier, lower in moisture, and comes largely from the legs and thighs of the bird.
White meat is most tender when it is cooked to the FDA recommended temperature of 165°F, to avoid food-borne illnesses. You’ll want to use a meat thermometer to check the fattest part of the meat before pulling it off.
It’s fine to pull it off the grill a little bit early, as the temperature will keep rising during the resting period. Check out my step-by-step tutorial on how to cook chicken breast on a Pit Boss pellet grill.
Dark meat is more forgiving and can be cooked to an internal temperature of 180°F-185°F without becoming dry. It has more connective tissue aka collagen that breaks down and moisturizes the meat at higher temperatures.
Causes for Chewy Chicken
Woody breast is a muscle abnormality that causes hardened muscle fibers of broiler chickens, which lead to rubbery chicken. While the cause is unknown, it’s suspected it’s caused by the synthetic hormones and antibiotics used to make the chickens grow as quickly and as large as possible.
This problem affects 5-10% of the chicken breasts on the market. Woody breast chicken is not dangerous to humans, but it makes for an unpleasant meal.
One of the most common causes of tough chicken is overcooking. When overcooked it will have a dense, hard, and stringy appeal. Leaving the eat on the heat too long can suck the moisture out leaving you with a dry bird.
White meat is lean meat and when overcooked it will become dry. Unfortunately, it’s much easier to overcook white meat than dark meat.
All chicken regardless of cut should be cooked over medium heat of at least 350°F over indirect heat. Chicken breasts, will take about 7-8 minutes on each side or more depending on the thickness of the breast. If you pounded the chicken breast before grilling it can take less.
Regardless of how long it takes you to want to keep them on the grill until they reach an internal temperature of 165°F.
Another way to prevent the white meat from becoming dry is to brine the breasts in a solution of 1/4 cup kosher salt dissolved in 4 cups of water for a minimum of 30 minutes before placing it on the grill.
The chicken breasts will absorb enough moisture, making them less likely to become dry.
Dark meat will take longer as you’ll want to cook it to an internal temperature of at least 180°F, especially if you don’t want that reddish-pink meat near the bone.
On the other end of the spectrum, undercooking the chicken is another reason chicken comes out rubbery.
Undercooked chicken will be a dense and jiggly texture that looks shiny and rubbery in appearance.
As mentioned above, white meat should be cooked to an internal temperature of 165°F. Dark meat should be cooked to an internal temperature of 180°F.
Taking the meat off the heat too soon prevents the collagen breakdown which tenderizes the meat.
If you’re cooking a whole chicken, you’ll want to truss the chicken legs to prevent them from burning or cooking faster than the rest of the chicken.
Here’s a great video that walks you through the process of trussing a chicken.
Is It Safe to Eat Rubbery Chicken?
As long as the rubbery texture is due to overcooking not undercooking, it’s safe to eat. If it’s chewy because it’s undercooked, it should be thrown back on the grill or finished cooking in the oven.
Eating undercooked chicken can cause foodborne illness, also known as food poisoning. According to the CDC, one million people get sick from eating contaminated poultry in the United State per year.
How To Avoid Tough and Chewy Chicken?
The best way to avoid tough and chewy chicken is to on relatively high heat so it doesn’t stay over the heat too long.
Your overall temperature for cooking chicken should be around 350°F/176°C. Cooking both dark and white meat on relatively high heat for a short period of time will help it stay moist and juicy and prevent it from drying out.
How Do You Fix Chewy Chicken?
Fixing chewy chicken is only possible if you’ve undercooked it. Take your thermometer and check the internal temperature. If it’s cooked under the recommended internal temperature of 165°F for white meat and 180°F for dark meat, you can still salvage it.
Take the chicken and throw it back on the grill. If you’ve already put the grill up, you can put the chicken in the oven to finish cooking it to a safe internal temperature.
If the chicken was overcooked, the best thing you can do is to make your favorite sauce such as BB, or Alfredo sauce that will help moisten and provide more flavor to every bite.
Mistakes to Avoid
When it comes to cooking chicken, it’s important to avoid some of the most common mistakes that cause it to become chewy, which are listed below:
- Using skinless chicken breasts: While healthier, the skin prevents the chicken from losing moisture too fast. If you don’t want to eat the skin, just remove it before serving.
- Cooking them too thick: Tenderizing or pounding the meat before throwing it on the heat helps them cook faster. The longer the chicken stays on the heat, the more likely it will become tough.
- Not Marinading or brining: White meat is naturally lean, and marinading or brining the chicken in a kosher salt solution, not only adds flavor but will help it stay moist throughout the cooking process.
What to Do With Rubbery Chicken?
With the high cost of poultry and meat, the last thing you want to do is throw away the rubbery chicken. Well, the great news is you don’t have to.
You’ll just have to get a little creative to serve it in a way so no one knows it came out chewy. Below are some tips for saving dried chicken.
#1 Shred The Chicken
Once the chicken breast has cooled, shred the chicken into small pieces. Both boneless and bone-in chicken breasts can be shredded by using your hands. Use your hands to pull the chicken breast into the desired-sized pieces you prefer.
Once shredded, you can use the chicken to make chicken broth, chicken soup, chicken casserole, chicken salad, and dips and appetizers, such as buffalo chicken dip.
Search the Internet and you’ll find tons of recipes you can use to salvage the dry chicken so you don’t end up throwing it out.
Now you’re armed with the knowledge of what to do to prevent the dreaded rubbery chicken, you should be able to make delicious finger-licking chicken everyone loves.
If you constantly follow the steps above and avoid all the mistakes mentioned, it’s time to pay closer attention to the chicken you’re buying. You may want to consider buying pasture-raised meats that are slow grown and never fed antibiotics.
The next time you throw some chicken on your pellet grill, you know exactly what to do to make sure it comes out juicy and tender. You’ll have everyone thinking you’re a grill master.