What Makes Chicken Chewy and Tough? (+8 Easy Ways to Fix It)

Tough chicken can spoil a meal and all your hard work in the kitchen

Find what makes chicken chewy, how to prevent it and how to fix chewy chicken!

See the steps below for super moist and tender chicken

Why Do Chickens Have Tougher Meat?

Chicken meat has a bad reputation for getting a rubbery texture and ending up dry.

To understand why this is, we must analyze the meat.

why-is-my-chicken-chewy

White Meat 

The white meat comes from predominately the breast. 

The white meat is very lean and has little to no fat with high moisture content. 

It also contains very little connective tissue or collagen.

The cooking temperature for white meat should be no more than 165°F.

Dark Chicken Meat 

Cuts like the chicken thigh or legs contain dark meat.

They also have more connective tissue, muscle fibers, and collagen.

The cooking temperature for darker meat should be no more than 185°F.

what-makes-chicken-chewy

Why the Meat Matters 

As you can see above, both types of meat on chicken are very different. 

The differences have an impact on taste and cooking time.

The cooking internal temperature and texture are also changed. 

This all needs to be considered to avoid chewy and tough meat.

What Is a “Woody Chicken Breast?”

Woody breast is a term used to describe a muscle condition.

It affects the texture, taste, and general usability of proteins in chicken meat. 

Consuming a woody chicken breast is not harmful but is distasteful.

Avoid this at all costs in any eating experience with chicken!

There is a specific muscle condition in the chickens to cause this condition. 

But, the cooking process will also have an effect.

Nobody likes eating rubbery chicken!

chicken-breast-chewy

The Likely Causes of Tough & Chewy Chicken 

So what are the culprits for dry chicken? 

Lack of Moisture During the Cooking Process 

During the cooking process, the moisture in the meat proteins will evaporate. 

Water evaporation in meat that is not replaced will lead to a dry piece of meat.

The white meat in the breast has more moisture in it and less fat to keep it tender. 

I recommend bringing or marinating the chicken. 

The salt will help the proteins keep the moisture.

I also recommend wrapping the white meat in aluminum foil while cooking and resting. 

chicken-chewy

Cooking Temperature Too High 

Chicken should be cooked for a long time. 

As it has the potential for food poisoning in undercooked chicken meat is high. 

If you cook at a high temperature with direct and dry heat then the outer layer will cook and burn quickly. 

The inside will remain raw.

I cook chicken on medium heat below 300°F.

The Meat Is Not Evenly Sized 

There are many cuts of meat within the chicken. 

These are all different sizes with different cooking times. 

If you have a larger piece of meat still uncooked but the smaller pieces dry or burnt then it will cause toughness. 

To ensure even cooking it is helpful to cut each part into similar sizes or spatchcock a whole chicken flat.

You could even wrap the chicken in plastic wrap and use a meat mallet.

Not Seasoned, Brined or Marinated Properly 

Marinating the chicken in your favorite sauce and season with salt.

Do this at least 60 minutes before you start the cooking process. 

Not only does this tenderize the chicken but also will prevent the lean meat from drying. 

This is because the water evaporates during the cooking stage.

This is because the salt will help lock in the moisture in the meat.

chewy-chicken

Cooking Without the Skin 

Skinless chicken breasts are more likely to dry than if the skin was left on. 

The skin acts as a protective barrier from intense heat. 

It also stops as much water from evaporating.

Leaving the skin on during the cooking process will help stop rubbery skin and tough chicken meat.

You don’t have to eat it!

How to Prevent Tough & Chewy Chicken 

I have touched on why chicken can become tough and rubbery so now let us focus on preventing them! 

Brining 

Brine or marinate the chicken for at least 60 minutes before you cook. 

chicken-is-chewy

Using a Temperature Probe 

Monitoring the exact temperature not only tells you when the chicken is cooked.

It gives a sign if it is too hot.

Accurate monitoring of the cooking environment is pivotal to achieving succulent bits of chicken. 

Covering While Cooking 

Covering the meat with foil or butcher paper will lock in the moisture.

This will help prevent further cooking on the beast.

Do this towards the end of the cooking process while you wait for the darker or larger meat to come to temperature.

The Correct Cooking Method 

Throwing meat on hot grill grates might work for beef but not for chicken. 

Cook sous vide or smoke low and slow to keep higher moisture content and a juicer piece of meat.

The Type of Chicken 

Don’t just buy any old cheap frozen chicken as they will likely have been in a coup their whole life. 

An organic, free-range chicken will improve the taste.

it will also help prevent a chewy and tough chicken.

This is because they would have worked their muscle fibers through exercise. 

Rest the Chicken 

A whole chicken should be covered and rested for at least 30 minutes at least. 

Resting for this time will allow the muscle proteins to relax.

Relaxed muscle proteins absorb back some of that lost moisture. 

Our Favorite Chicken Recipes

Want some declious chicken recipes?

Beer Can Chicken On A Pellet Grill

Smoked Chicken Breast Recipe

Crispy Smoked Chicken Wings

Salt Block Chicken

Smoke On!

Charlie

Author: Charlie Reeves
Hi, I’m Charlie, I am head taste tester at Simply Meat Smoking! I love it grilling, smoking, and getting out in the yard with the kids! The family also love to test all my recipes (especially my EXTRA CRISPY pulled pork, smoky pork loin, and ANY SEAFOOD I grill)

You will usually find me playing with the kids, perfecting my brisket bark, or sipping beers with boys around the fire. Can’t wait to share all my delicious smoking and grilling adventures with you!

You can read more on our About Us page.

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