Can a meat that looks so good and tastes so delicious be bad for you, really? Let’s talk about the intricacies of cooking chicken souvlaki.
Whether you’re Greek or you’re interested in Greek cuisine, you know very well that souvlaki is one of the greatest ways to cook and eat chicken.
First, it’s easy to make. All you need to do is get boneless chicken breasts from the grocery store, brush or marinade them with olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, oregano, salt, and pepper, then slap them on the grill pan or outside grill.
Second, it looks, smells, and tastes fantastic. The grill marks on the chicken give it extra flavor. The garlic, oregano and lemon juice smell like a vacation on the Aegean. And the skewers make the meal hands-on and social, encouraging the people at the table to share and talk.
For everyone to feel as good after eating the souvlaki as they did when they ate it, the cook has the responsibility to make sure the chicken is cooked all the way through. A responsibility that we sometimes don’t take seriously. When that happens, we—along with everyone else at the table—have to pay for our mistakes with a bad stomach ache or, worse, a serious case of food poisoning.
Is Pink Chicken Souvlaki Undercooked?
Meat’s color isn’t a reliable indicator for its doneness; it’s internal temperature is.
For example, if you cook chicken souvlaki at too high a heat, the meat will be burnt on the outside and come out undercooked on the inside.
The opposite is also true. Even if you cooked the chicken souvlaki thoroughly as you should, the meat can still have a slight pinkish tinge in the middle.
Prolonged exposure to heat is what kills the harmful bacteria on the surface of the meat and the parasites lurking on the inside. And the only way to measure that and conclude that the meat has been cooked to safety is with a meat thermometer.
Sometimes, chicken souvlaki is undercooked when it’s pink in the middle. There are times, however, when it isn’t. The only way to tell is to measure the internal temperature of the meat with a meat thermometer before removing it from the heat. When it reaches 165°F (74°C), it’s cooked.
How to Measure Souvlaki’s Internal Temperature
You’re going to need a meat thermometer.
Meat thermometers come in all shapes and forms. Some are cheap and simple, others are expensive and have all the bells and whistles. Nine times out of ten, a fifteen to twenty dollar battery-powered instant-read meat thermometer is all you need to get the job done.
Related: The Best Meat Thermometers
Measure the internal temperature of souvlaki by inserting the tip of the probe on your instant-read thermometer into the thickest part of the meat. Make sure it isn’t touching the skewer and allow 2-3 seconds before pulling it out for an accurate reading.
You know that chicken souvlaki is ready to remove from the heat when the internal temperature of the meat gets to 165°F (74°C).
Should You Rest Chicken Souvlaki Before Serving It?
When it comes to the safety of cooked chicken (and poultry as a whole), there is no requirement to let the meat rest for a certain amount of time before putting it on the table.
But I’m going to make the case that you should still do it.
By resting the chicken souvlaki for 3-4 minutes before serving it, you’re allowing the chicken to finish cooking in its residual heat. This also helps the fats and juices to settle inside the meat and not drip down on the plate when you cut into it with the knife.
Chicken souvlaki that’s rested is souvlaki that stays tender and moist. Trust me, even if you prepare a ton of it, there will be no leftovers!
Is Undercooked Chicken Souvlaki Safe to Eat?
Undercooked chicken souvlaki is not safe to eat; it can contain harmful bacteria and parasites that can give you and your family a food-borne illness.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention unanimously agree that chicken should be cooked to the safe internal temperature of 165°F (74°C) before it is sent to the table.
According to the CDC, 48 million Americans get food poisoning every year. Of them, 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die. Clearly, you don’t want yourself or your loved ones to be anywhere near this statistic, so cook your souvlaki thoroughly.
Our Tips for Preparing Chicken Souvlaki
Bring the souvlaki to room temperature before cooking it:
Take the meat out of the fridge for 15-20 minutes before putting it on the grill or in the pan. It will cook faster and more evenly, drying out less and coming out juicier and more tender than it otherwise out.
Just don’t leave the meat on the counter too long. Raw meat should never be left for more than 1 to 2 hours (the hotter the weather, the shorter the meat’s shelf life), or harmful bacteria can grow on its surface and make it unsafe to eat.
Cook the souvlaki on a preheated grill pan or a hot grill:
If you’re cooking the souvlaki in a grill pan on the stove, brush the grill pan with olive oil and preheat it over medium heat until you feel it give off heat when you hold your hand close to the cooking surface.
As a general rule of thumb, gas grills should be preheated for 15-20 minutes before cooking. It takes charcoal the same amount of time to turn white and ashy—and thus ready to cook over—in a kettle grill.
Let the souvlaki cook uninterrupted on each side:
Contrary to what some people think, it isn’t necessary to keep turning the souvlaki skewers during cooking. Let them cook continuously, without interruption, for a few minutes on each side.
Patience is a virtue! Practice patience in your cooking, and you will be rewarded generously. The souvlaki will have the most wonderful grill marks and come out thoroughly and evenly cooked on the inside.
Yes, chicken souvlaki can be pink in the middle, provided it’s been cooked to the safe internal temperature of 165°C (74°C). There’s no need to rest it for safety reasons, but doing so ameliorates the souvlaki in many ways.
For best results, bring the meat to room temperature before cooking, preheat your pan or grill properly, and let the heat work its wonders before turning. You can thank me later. 🙂