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How often have you grilled up a few chicken breasts only for the end result to be so rubbery that you wouldn’t feed it to a dog? There’s more than one reason your chicken might turn out like this.
Either you’ve done something wrong in the preparation or cooking process, or it’s the chicken itself that has suffered from a disease called woody chicken breast, meaning its muscle fibers are unnaturally knotted.
So, in some cases, rubbery chicken is unfortunately inevitable. But what about in other cases? Which steps should you be taking to avoid an unpleasant texture in your chicken?
Keep reading to find out the answers! Today we will break down everything you need to know about rubbery chicken and show you how to cook fantastic chicken!
What Causes Rubbery Chicken?
There are several different reasons your chicken might end up rubbery. Here are all of the most common explanations.
Reason 1: You Overcooked the Chicken
The most common reason you’ll end up with rubbery chicken is overcooking the meat.
Undercooking your chicken can lead to some nasty consequences, so you may feel inclined to cook your chicken until you’re certain that not only is the meat completely cooked, but it was completely cooked a while ago.
However, while this is certainly better than not cooking the chicken for long enough, it’s still far from ideal, and can drain the meat of all its edibility. This is an easy problem to prevent, though.
When cooked at high temperatures for too long, proteins lose their elasticity. As a result, overcooked chicken can adopt a rubbery texture. Chances are if you’ve ever overcooked a piece of chicken, you’ll know that this is also the reason it’ll lose the majority of its moisture.
How to Avoid Overcooking Chicken
There’s quite a simple way to prevent your chicken from ending up overcooked; simply cut all of the pieces so they’re the same size. If you’d rather not have every piece be the same size, then you should position the bigger pieces of chicken directly above the heat, with the smaller pieces to the sides.
This will allow the heat to be distributed evenly depending on the size of the piece.
The internal temperature of cooked chicken should be 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
Your chicken must be cooked to this temperature (which you can check most accurately by using a meat thermometer) because undercooked chicken can also have a rubbery texture- and you’ll be lucky if that’s the only outcome.
Remember to pound boneless breasts so they’re all the same level of thickness. To do this you should be placing the breasts between sheets of either plastic wrap or wax paper, before flattening them with a meat tenderizer (or, if you don’t own one, a big pan should do just fine).
Reason 2: The Chicken Lacks Moisture
One of the most common reasons your chicken will end up rubbery is because it lacks moisture (which can be caused by the aforementioned overcooking). If you’ve cooked your chicken correctly, though, and it’s still turned out rubbery, it may just have been that way when you purchased it.
How to Help Chicken Retain Moisture
Chicken is naturally lean meat, which is why it’s not uncommon for it to be lacking in moisture. Sometimes it’ll be so dry that it doesn’t matter how you cook it, the meat will still end up rubbery.
Make sure that you’re keeping your chicken as moist as you can while you’re preparing and cooking it.
But how do you make sure the chicken remains moist? One way is to brine your chicken in a saltwater solution before you begin the cooking process.
Marinating the chicken will also work, but you need to make sure that the chicken isn’t exposed to the acidic ingredients of the marinade for more than two hours, otherwise, this will make the chicken mushy.
Making a beer can chicken is also a great way to add moisture and flavor if you’re grilling a whole chicken!
One way to be sure that your chicken is of higher quality is to enquire at your local butchers about how the chickens were raised.
The meat of chickens that have been raised humanely tends to be of a higher quality than the meat of those who have been raised poorly.
What About Woody Chicken?
Earlier we mentioned a disease called Woody Chicken. This is a condition that affects around five to 10 percent of chickens across America.
It leads to the muscle fibers of the chicken getting all knotted and tight. You’d be surprised how often chicken with this condition is sold to consumers despite having gone through multiple quality assurance checks.
Some retailers will only pull woody chicken breasts from their shelves/counters if they’re significantly affected by the condition. For this reason, it’s not uncommon for consumers to be sold what is essentially defunct chicken that has no chance of being cooked to an edible standard.
Is Chicken With White Stripes Safe?
Similar to the woody chicken disease, white striping is another condition found in chickens that can cause the meat to end up rubbery regardless of how you prepare and cook it.
It’s called white striping because that’s exactly how it looks; long white stripes that run alongside the muscle of the meat, visually reminiscent of wood grain.
If you’re buying chicken and you notice that it’s in this condition, avoid it at all costs because the quality of the meat will be far lower than is acceptable. Both the nutritional value and the flavors of the chicken will be subpar at best.
The meat will struggle to absorb any marinade, will end up far less tender, and will contain a higher percentage of fat.
What Causes Woody and Striped Chicken?
It’s widely believed that the increase in the number of chickens that suffer from these conditions is due to the industry’s efforts to breed chickens that are more robust in terms of muscle density.
Chickens that grow at an artificially fast rate are more likely to suffer from muscular disorders, such as white striping. Research is still being conducted on the subject, though; so far there is no exact cause for these conditions, but they are believed to be genetic problems.
How to Avoid Rubbery Chicken
Now let’s go into further detail regarding the methods through which you can try to avoid rubbery chicken, including slow cooking the meat and brining the meat.
Slow Cook the Chicken
Slow cooking is a very popular method for cooking meat these days. The premise is that the meat cooks for a longer period but at lower temperatures.
With the electric slow cookers available today, all you need to do is set the cooker for your desired time and your desired temperature, and then sit back and wait.
You don’t need to be checking the temperature of the meat intermittently- you don’t need to check it at all.
Slow cooking is a sure-fire way to avoid overcooking your chicken, and therefore rubbery chicken. While the chicken stews in the cooking liquid, it maintains its moisture. It’s recommended that you cook your chicken for either six hours on the lower temperature settings or four hours on the higher temperature settings.
The only downside to slow cooking is, of course, that it takes a lot longer than you might be used to.
Certainly, it’s not the right option every time you’re cooking meat, but when it is a feasible plan, there’s a very low chance that the chicken will end up rubbery (if you’re setting it for the right time and temperature).
But what if you don’t have time to spend so long waiting for your chicken to cook?
Brine Your Chicken
We touched on this a little earlier, but let’s break down the brining process in more detail. It’s a way to combat dryness in chicken, which is one of the main causes of that rubbery texture.
Brining the chicken means that the meat will maintain its cellular water content, which will, in turn, maintain the texture of the meat, without it getting rubbery or too chewy.
Brining also means that the chicken will absorb all of the extra seasonings, making for more flavorful meat.
If you’re not all too experienced in the culinary world and you’re wondering what brine is, it’s essentially just a salt solution, which allows the chicken to tenderize and retain moisture.
It’s recommended that you go by a recipe when you’re deciding how much of each ingredient you’re working with, though.
We recommend two ounces of either coconut sugar or honey, half a cup of cider vinegar, two quarts of water, a quarter cup of kosher salt, four sprigs of rosemary, and six big springs of thyme.
There are several reasons your chicken might end up feeling and tasting rubbery.
It could be that you’ve simply overcooked or undercooked the meat, but it could also be that the meat either hasn’t retained enough moisture during the preparation and cooking process or that the meat was lacking in moisture, to begin with.
In some cases, an unpleasant texture is out of our control, because the chicken suffered from either the woody chicken or white stripes conditions.
In any case, you should take certain steps to prevent your chicken from ending up rubbery, either by brining the chicken before the cooking process or by slow cooking it.