Have you ever devoted lots of effort and time into a supposedly guaranteed-to-be delicious recipe only to have nothing to show for it but disappointment? Rubbery chicken breast comes to mind. While this problem may sound petty, the flavor of your meat is backed up by its texture. Just as it’s difficult to think of uncooked chicken –or any other meat–as tasty, it’s also difficult to enjoy a good meal with rubbery chicken.
This kind of chicken takes a lot of time to chew; hence its other name, ‘chewy chicken.’
How is chicken turned into what feels like rubber? Is it the recipe you’re using, or –and we hate to bring it up–your own culinary skills? What about cooking time? Let’s explore how it happens, ways to avoid rubbery chicken, and methods to bring about a more pleasing texture.
What Makes the Chicken Rubbery?
Let’s break it down! There are many myths and facts about rubbery chicken. However, the conventional understanding is that meat contains protein fibers that are sensitive to heat. When you cook meat, water is released out of its cells, which denatures these proteins. Cooking time is important in this regard; lesser times will leave your chicken not cooked properly, while cooking for too long can denature these proteins to such an extent that they will render your chicken elastic and give it a rubbery, chewy texture.
A fear of many foodborne illnesses leads us to think that cooking more and more will purify our meat. However, this method is counter-productive to enjoying our food as we ruin the texture of the meat. It doesn’t have to be this way! Cook your meat until its internal temperature reaches 165 degrees Fahrenheit. At this temperature, most of the harmful microbes or any other living contaminations will be gone, and the proteins in the meat will also remain intact.
Besides cooking time, another thing that makes chicken taste rubbery is ‘dryness.’ That’s right! When cooked chicken is left in a dry condition or over-cooking has caused it to be dry, it will become rubbery from the outside. For this reason, you should always keep it covered while it marinates or use a plastic wrap or foil sheet after cooking.
If you are grilling or smoking–or, for that matter, using any method that may cause dryness in your chicken–continuously baste the chicken with leftover marinade or oil. We will discuss various other methods of saving your chicken from being too chewy in further sections.
Another name for rubbery chicken – chewy chicken – because you can chew and chew and chew, and it will not break down. Certain specific parts of the chicken are particularly more vulnerable to being chewier after over-cooking than others, including chicken breasts. Some people prefer to not have chicken breasts in their meals just because they can easily get too spongy or rubbery. Its rubbery texture may have to do with having a lesser proportion of cartilage and bones attached.
Specific cuts mean specific characteristics: though lean meat is considered healthy and preferred for cooking, it is more vulnerable to this phenomenon and gets dry easily. So, make sure to keep this cut in check, or, perhaps, use a less lean cut.
Rubbery chicken is not necessarily always the fault of the chef. The farming technique, the dietary routine, and the commercial-scale production of poultry have severely affected the quality of the meat produced. It is estimated that about 10 percent of the chicken breasts produced in the USA have a “woody” form and texture. This characteristic is not unintentional; there is a higher potential for better profits out of lesser cuts as it has a higher weight than in the organically farmed animal. When cooked in thinner cuts, this meat tends to become chewy.
Why Your Chicken Turns Rubbery
Here are the most conventional basic reasons why you might not get your preferred result in cooking chicken for any recipe:
- The Source: As previously mentioned, animal farming can speak volumes about your meat’s viability. The more the environment your chicken is raised in resembles a proper environment with organic feed, the better its meat will turn out to be.
- Cooking time: This is the primary cause of chewy chicken —overcooked chicken always tastes rubbery.
- Cooking temperature: Time and temperature are highly related. A high temperature causes the chicken to release all its cellular water too quickly, which renders it dry and spongy.
- Dryness: Without water, the protein present in the meat turns tough and elastic. Any dryness should be avoided at all costs.
How to Avoid Rubbery Chicken
With care and close supervision, spongy chicken is not difficult to avoid. Certain techniques work perfectly for both tenderizing your chicken meat and for saving it from being too chewy or spongy–ie, achieving a happy medium. Depending on the time and material available, some of the below techniques may be better than others.
Whatever you do, especially when you’re dealing with chicken breasts, the golden rule is to not over-cook chicken. Keep the cut, size, and thickness of the meat in mind, and set the cooking time accordingly. The rule of thumb is to strictly follow your given recipe to minimize or eliminate any unwanted results.
1. Slow Cooking
Slow cooking is a centuries-old traditional culinary method that allows the food to cook at extremely low temperatures for a longer duration of time. These days, electronic slow cookers are your best bet; just set the appropriate time and temperature, then leave the work to the machine. There is no need to constantly check to make sure the chicken is cooking.
The best thing about slow cooking is that you can always avoid over-cooking. Moreover, the meat is stewing in a cooking liquid, so it remains hydrated during the process. The cellular water within the meat is released slowly and gradually, so the proteins present in the chicken do not degenerate.
The catch? Time.
It is advisable to cook for 4 hours on high-temperature settings and 6 hours on low-temperature settings. These settings are also true if you are cooking on your stove-top.
Cook your chicken on the lowest flame and keep checking it every 2 hours until you’ve decided on a final cooking time. The time should be decreased for chicken breasts and other lean cuts, so it is better to constantly check while cooking. Once your chicken has been tenderized, you can work on what flavors and seasonings you’d like to add: cut some herbs and spices into slices, shred them (great for a soup), or make a gravy. Experiment!
The only disadvantage of this process is obvious: the ‘long cooking time.’ Without an electronic slow cooker, few people can afford to take time out of life to cook chicken for such a long duration. Sometimes, it isn’t feasible to plan what you are going to cook, and, if you end up using chicken and don’t keep an eye on the time, chances are it will turn out to be rubbery.
Let’s look at some ways in which you can save the chicken from becoming rubbery without spending too much time cooking it. These solutions might come in handy the next time you suddenly decide to have chicken breast for dinner.
2. Brine Solution
The brine solution is a less time-intensive technique that will save you 6 hours of cooking time. Now that we’ve established that dryness is perhaps the paramount reason for chicken texture to become rubbery, brine is the ultimate prophylactic against this problem. When the chicken retains all of its cellular water, it does not get too chewy and keeps its texture while absorbing all added seasonings and flavors into its each and every fiber.
What is brine?
If you don’t have much culinary experience, you must be wondering about it! Generally speaking, brine is a salt solution. It helps to tenderize your meat so that it does not tighten up too quickly during cooking and aids in the retention of water within your meat. Thus, no amount of cooking will dehydrate your chicken.
Though brine is a simple salt solution, you must be careful with how much you add. Too much or too little can disturb the balance, so it is best to go by a proper recipe and learn what to do next! For rich and mouthwatering flavors, you can always add additional ingredients to your brine recipe. Here is a savory and time-efficient recipe that’s sure to make good use of your entire kitchen:
- 2 oz. honey or coconut sugar
- 1/2 cup cider vinegar
- 2 quarts of water
- 1/4 cup kosher salt
- 4 sprigs fresh rosemary
- 6 large sprigs fresh thyme
- 1 tsp red pepper flakes
- 8 to 12 (6 to 8 oz) chicken breasts, skinned and boned
Except for water, salt, and chicken, not all of these ingredients are essential for a good brine. But, if you add them, they will do wonders for the taste and flavor of your meat.
- Mix your cider vinegar, honey, salt, rosemary, thyme, and red pepper flakes in water in a large stockpot.
- Cook this mixture on medium-high heat, stirring occasionally
- Continue cooking until the salt is completely dissolved in the water.
- Then, strain the mixture into a large pot.
- Cool your brine mixture at room temperature for about 1 hour.
- After it’s been cooled, soak the chicken in the cooled brine.
- Cover your pot and let sit for 3 hours at most.
- Then, drain the chicken and discard the brine solution.
- Using a paper towel, pat dry your chicken.
- Your chicken is now ready to be used for any culinary purpose; you grill it, smoke it, sear it–whatever!
- If baking, Rubbery baked chicken can be avoided by cooking for not more than 7 minutes at 350 degrees F.
Once the chicken is soaked enough, you can try any method of cooking without fear of ruining the texture.
3. The Gravy Technique
What if you don’t have the time or the ingredients to prepare a brine solution? In a hurry, a brine mixture is not a good option as it still takes some time and effort to prepare the solution. Plus, it takes even more time to cool down, and you’ll only have a meal ready to eat after your chicken’s been soaked. A great alternative? Gravy!
A delicious gravy is a classic way to avoid rubbery chicken.
Gravy is a saucy, viscous liquid. So, when a chicken is cooked in gravy, it retains its moisture, and its cells keep enough water to maintain a desirable form. Gravies can be made using any form of cooking, including stovetops, ovens, automatic cookers, stir-fries, etc. As long as you have your chicken in a moisturized environment, it won’t turn rubbery. As always, keep the time in check and constantly look after the texture of your chicken.
Rubbery chicken is a common sight in every household, and every beginner cook often experiences this unfortunate result. However, with the simplest methods, you can avoid this condition; all you need is a personal understanding of overcooked chicken — its cuts, its form, its texture, etc– so that you might have as much chance as possible to avoid it.
If you are a foodie and love a good, delicious meal, chewy chicken is almost definitely not something you want in the way of a perfect culinary experience. So, try out these techniques, and find out what works best for you!