Many home cooks, worried about food safety, overcook chicken because they want to make absolutely certain that it isn't rare inside.  Even if it’s organic, ten- dollar-a-pound, straight-off-the-farm chicken, it will dry out if it is overcooked.

I recommend taking the guesswork out of chicken.  The best way to monitor the internal temperature and determine doneness is with a meat thermometer. A quick check in the thickest part of the breast and/or the fleshy part of the thigh will tell you immediately whether your chicken needs more time in the oven or in the skillet.

So what is the temperature that ensures fully cooked but still moist poultry?

For breast meat, the magic number is between 160F and 165F, and for thigh meat the range is 170F to 175F.  However, once you remove meat from the heat it will continue to cook and the internal temperature will rise by 5 to 10 degrees.  Therefore, be sure to remove breast meat from the heat at 155F to 160F and thigh meat when it reaches 165F to 170F.  Rest the meat for 10 minutes prior to carving and/or serving.

When you're cooking a whole bird there is added complexity since the thigh meat should be cooked to a higher temperature than the breast meat. That means that by the time the thigh meat is truly done, the breast meat will have dried out somewhat. There are 3 ways to address this issue:

  1. Take the bird out of the oven when the breast meat is cooked, and then cut away the thighs and legs and put them back in the oven, covered with foil, to continue cooking.
  2. Take the bird out of the oven when the breast meat is cooked and use the dark meat in a future meal that calls for cooked chicken. Once the meat is removed from the bone it will reheat and finish cooking very quickly.
  3. Leave the bird in the oven until all of the meat is cooked through, and make sure you have plenty of gravy or pan sauce to moisten the breast meat in case it's a little on the dry side.

(Note: These options are equally relevant for turkey roasting as they are for chicken roasting.)

Having an instant-read meat thermometer on hand will save you the effort of cutting, poking and wondering about the doneness of your chicken, and will ensure a tasty, moist dinner.  Bon appétit!