How To Tell If Your Chicken Is Cooked — This One Simple Tool Has The Answer

Essential rules for cooking poultry to perfection.

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Chicken leg and thigh with spring onion salad
Photo, Erik Putz.

You’re not alone if you’ve ever wondered about the proper cooking time for chicken. Whether sautéing on the stove or cooking in the oven, this dinner staple can be a bit nerve-wracking when it comes to food safety. Under-cooked chicken and poultry isn’t just unappetizing, it also poses serious health risks as raw poultry can contain Salmonella and Campylobacter bacteria that lead to food poisoning.

Our no-fail solution to nailing perfect texture and flavour, while avoiding potential contaminates, is to use a meat thermometer. A high enough heat should kill any bacteria contained in the food itself, so the best way to ensure chicken is bacteria-free is to cook it to the correct internal temperature. But the advantage of using a thermometer goes beyond food safety, it’s also a handy way to avoid overcooking this lean meat.  

If you’ve never used a meat thermometer don’t be intimidated, it will quickly become your go-to tool. We’ve put together a handy primer showing target temperatures for different cuts of poultry and their average cooking times to help build your confidence in the kitchen.

How To Tell If Chicken is Cooked

Know the safe internal temperature of cooked chicken

There’s a fine line between poultry that’s sufficiently cooked and a dry, stringy chicken breast — so aim for the set temperatures listed below to prevent foodborne illness, while still achieving tasty results.

  • Whole chickens should be cooked to an internal temperature of 180F.
  • Chicken thighs, breasts, legs and wings (including ground chicken) should all be cooked to 165F.
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Mythbuster: Testing doneness by the juices running clear is not a reliable method to know when your chicken is cooked. According to Cooks Illustrated, the juices can also run clear on an undercooked piece of chicken, and pink on a fully cooked one. In addition to heat and cook time, the age and development of the bird, and a molecule called myoglobin (where the colour comes from) factor in. Learn how to use a meat thermometer.

How Long To Cook Chicken

While these temperatures are the best markers for doneness, time estimates are handy when prepping a menu or shopping for ingredients to throw together a quick meal.

Whole chicken

When thinking about how long it will take to get that roast chicken on the table, a good general rule for whole, unstuffed birds is to estimate between 20 to 30 minutes per pound (when cooked at 375F). The average sized bird you’ll find at the grocery store is about four pounds, so assume about 1 1/2 to 2 hours to cook.

Not fast enough? Decrease the cook time significantly by spatchcocking the bird (removing the backbone and flattening the bird down in the roasting pan). Learn how to spatchcock a chicken here.

Internal temperature: 180F. When the thickest part of the breast or thigh reaches this mark, the bird is finished cooking.

classic roast chicken on a roasting pan with lemons, onions and herbs
Chicken cooking time varies by size, method and whether you choose bone-in, or boneless.

Whole stuffed chicken

Stuffing can easily tack on an extra 30 minutes to the overall cooking time because of its moist consistency, which not only slows the cooking process, it also provides an ideal environment for bacteria growth. For speedier (and safer) results, cook stuffing in a separate dish alongside your bird.

Note: If you prefer stuffing your bird, we recommend also testing the temperature of the stuffing. To be properly cooked, the thermometer should read a minimum of 165F.

Internal temperature of chicken: 180F.
Internal temperature of stuffing: 165F.

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Boneless chicken breast vs. a bone-in chicken breast

The average cooking time for boneless chicken breasts ranges from 35 minutes to 45 minutes, at 350F (depending on size). Expect to add an additional 5 minutes or more to the cooking time for bone-in pieces as bones absorb heat, increasing the time it takes the chicken to cook all the way through.

Internal temperature: 165F.

Dark meat vs. white meat

Dark meat, such as chicken thighs or legs, will take longer to cook, because they have a higher fat content and density.

  • Boneless thighs will take 20 to 30 minutes to cook at 350F (dependent on size).
  • Bone-in cuts will require an extra 15 minutes in the oven.

Internal temperature: 165F.

Tip: Need a really quick weeknight dinner? Avoid buying chicken legs; they take the longest to cook, from 40 minutes to up to an hour for larger pieces.

Lemon-garlic chicken with spinach in a skillet on a wooden serving board
Photo, Sian Richards.

Cook chicken on the stove for faster results

Cooking chicken in a skillet takes a fraction of the time of oven cooking, so it’s a faster route to dinner or meal-prepping for the week. It’s also a good option for single person households, as it avoids having to preheat the oven to make a single portion.

  • Boneless, skinless chicken breasts: 8 to 11 minutes per side (depending on size)
  • Boneless, skinless thighs: 5 to 7 minutes
  • Bone-in chicken: Add an additional 3 to 4 minutes per side
  • Ground chicken burgers: 8 minutes per side.

Internal temperature: 165F.

How long can cooked chicken stay in the fridge?

Cooked chicken has a refrigerator life of 2 to 4 days. To store leftovers safely, cut and debone the meat and place it in shallow containers so it cools more quickly. Once food stops steaming, cover and place in the refrigerator.

Microwave sites on light greenbackground as feature image
You can reheat your chicken in the microwave, just be sure to heat the exact amount you need (reheating the same leftovers more than once isn’t recommended.)

Can I reheat chicken once it’s been cooked?

Yes. But for best results, add moisture. Start of by slicing leftovers into smaller pieces to help them heat through evenly. Place a single layer inside a baking dish with a little bit of chicken broth or stock (this helps prevent them from drying out), cover with foil, and heat in a 350F oven. To check the chicken is adequately heated through, get out your trusty food thermometer and make sure the internal temperature has reached 165F (it should take about 30 minutes). For faster reheating, follow the same protocol, but instead heat the chicken in a covered, microwave-safe dish in the microwave. Always avoid reheating the same leftovers more than once.

Watch: How to cut a whole chicken into 9 pieces