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"How can I keep chicken tender?"

Dear Anne and Sue,

Please give me some tips on keeping chicken tender while cooking it on the grill or in the oven.

James Dallas


Still have more questions? You'll find more answers in our archived monthly feature articles by the Inquisitive Cooks.

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Hi James,

Most cuts of chicken are tender to begin with. The best way to keep them that way is to avoid overcooking. Chicken breasts in particular have short muscle fibers and little fat or connective tissue, so they cook surprisingly quickly. If they're left on the grill beyond the point where they're done, their muscle fibers shrink and toughen, which makes the meat dry and stringy.
So how do you know when chicken is done to perfection? Any meat may be done sooner than your recipe suggests, so checking for doneness is the key. Make a small slit with a paring knife into the thickest part of the meat. With chicken breasts, we usually turn them over and check on the underside so the slit doesn't show when it's served. If the juices run clear and the meat has lost its translucent appearance, the chicken is cooked. Remove it from the heat just as it reaches this point. Better still, use a meat thermometer to take away the guesswork-- when chicken reaches 180° F (82° C), it's cooked.

When grilling, keep the heat relatively low and you may be surprised at how evenly and how quickly pieces of chicken cook. A grilling basket is a great aid when grilling small pieces such as breasts, thighs, or legs. Brush lightly with a little olive oil to keep the meat from drying and to aid in browning. Use some branches of fresh herbs if you have them and you'd like a little embellishment.

Happy grilling!
Anne & Sue


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