Dark Chicken Meat
Resources > Food > Meat > Chicken > Dark Chicken Meat

Are you a Smart Kitchen™ Chef?

Try it FREE or take a TOUR to explore Smart Kitchen!
+ -

 

When cooking Dark Meat Chicken, remember that most Raw Chicken contains the Salmonella bacteria, which needs cooking heat to kill off the Pathogens. Never eat or serve Raw Chicken. Work diligently to keep Raw Chicken out of The Food Danger Zone and to avoid Cross Contamination. The last thing you want is any sick friends or family. But don’t psyche yourself out just yet; on the whole, as a country, we are already doing a good job safely cooking our chicken. Only 4% of annual Salmonella poisonings are Chicken related. 

The old U.S.D.A. guidelines for cooking Poultry so that there is no chance of contamination recommended cooking Dark Meat to an Internal Temperature of 180° F (82° C) measured at the thickest point of the thigh. If you cook to this recommendation, Dark Chicken Meat is almost always cooked Well Done. Be careful though, there is a fine line between Well Done and overcooked. Chicken has less fat than some other meats and can quickly become dry and unpalatable. The new FDA guidelines call for cooking all Poultry (White Meat and Dark Meat) to 165˚ F (74˚ C) which is a step in the right direction.

Smart Kitchen’s feeling is to err on the side of taste. Most Salmonella on Poultry is found on the surface of the meat and skin, where it is easily reached by cooking heat. The most heat resistant Salmonella strain (Salmonella senftenberg) shows significant destruction when exposed to 130°F (54° C) heat for at least 2.5 minutes. We have not experienced ill effects from pulling our Dark Chicken Meat out of the oven or pot a little early, at 155° F (68° C)for example, which is still well above the heat needed to kill most Salmonella. Also remember that if we use a Pull Temperature of 155° F (68° C), Carry Over Cooking will continue raising the Internal Temperature 5 to 10 degrees.

The two most common Visual Clues for properly cooking Chicken meat is that there is no pink in the meat and that the juices run clear when finally cut or poked. In our experience, too often clear juices means an overcooked Chicken. We prefer, if we are even going to poke our bird and let the juices escape, to see clear juice streaked with a little pink. A hint of pink on the meat is also normal for well-cooked Dark Meat Chicken.

Cooking is personal. If you or your diners have complete-food-safety as your first concern, then by all means cook to a higher temperature, with no pink at all and clear juices.

For more specific information on cooking specific Dark Chicken Meat Portion Cuts, see Smart Kitchen’s Chicken Topic and the individual exercises for each Primal CutSub-Primal Cut or Portion Cut.

Purchasing

When buying packaged Chicken Legs, Chicken Thighs or Chicken Drumsticks, first check the package. What grade of product is being sold? Is the packaging secure, unbroken and without punctures?  Does the package have a “Sell-By” date? How long until the package goes out of date?

How does the product look? Is the skin creamy white to deep yellow? Does it look healthy or is the meat gray and pasty looking? Does the package have a persistent “off” odor?  If it does, don’t buy it.

If you get a package of Dark Meat home and it smells upon opening, there is a change the meat is bad. More likely, Oxidation can cause a bad smell for a few minutes when the package is opened. Oxidation is harmless and the odor should go away quickly. If the opened package continues to smell bad after a few minutes exposure to fresh air, it is spoiled. Don’t use it. Re-bag it in plastic wrap and take it back to the store to get your money back. Remember to wash up after handling the raw, spoilt chicken to avoid Cross-Contamination. Smart Kitchen covers more about purchasing Chicken in the exercise Purchasing and Storing Chicken.

Storage

Raw, Fresh Chicken is good for about 2 days in the refrigerator in its original package before it should be cooked. If you don’t plan to use the chicken quickly, within 2 days, it should be frozen. You can freeze it in its original packaging for at least two months. If you plan to hold it frozen longer, you should see the Smart Kitchen resource on Frozen Food Storage and Avoiding Freezer Burn.

If you are freezing packages of Dark Meat, it can be a time saver if you repackage them into portion sizes before freezing them. Thawing the proper amount of food for your crew will save time on cooking days and cut down on waste, that enemy of all budgets. Smart Kitchen covers more about storing Chicken in our exercise Purchasing and Storing Chicken.

Up until the latter half of the 20th century, most Chicken sold at retail was in the form of whole birds. The industry practice began to change after the 1957 passage of the Poultry Products Inspection Act, which mandated continuous federal inspection of poultry processing. Rather than discarding birds that fell below the Grade A standards, and therefore losing money on them, chicken producers began to recycle the substandard carcasses by selling them in portions and parts. Today this trend has reversed itself, and most of the packaged chicken portions and parts sold at retail is Grade A.

A third reason for the consumer preference for White Meat instead of Dark meat may have to do with the color of each. On some level, consumers just perceive Dark Meat as “dirtier” than White Meat, according to Dr. Marcia Pelchat of the Monell Chemical Senses Center. There is no truth to the “feeling,” but frequently perception is reality.

A fourth and more recent reason consumers prefer White Meat over Dark Meat may be morphic (having a specific or specified shape), as a growing number of consumers prefer not to know that their meal began with an animal. It is easier to delude yourself about the meat’s origin with Boneless breast meat, as compared to Bone-In Chicken Legs, which are anatomically easy to place.

With the change in taste engineered by advertising, poultry producers have been altering the ratio of White Meat to Dark Meat since the 1970s through selective breeding programs. In the 1970’s, breast meat accounted for 36% of the total weight of the bird. Modern chickens yield closer to 40% breast meat by weight. Breasts that used to weigh 8 oz (227 g) now weigh in on average at 10.5 oz (298 g).

Another option for poultry producers was to export Dark Meat to international markets, especially Asia. In 1975, the U.S. exported just under 140 million pounds of Chicken. As White Chicken Meat consumption increased in the 1980’s, new markets were required for the Dark Meat also produced. By 1995, poultry producers were exporting 4 billion pounds of Dark Meat a year, and with the advent of Glasnost, 1.5 billion of that total trade went to Russia (Russians prefers gamier, Dark Meat). The Russian trade in Dark Meat has continued to grow. In 2009, Russia spent $800 million on 1.6 billion pounds of U.S. Chicken Leg Quarters.

The problem with this exchange is Russia’s aim is to be fully self-sufficient in Chicken production. Their intention was to achieve this by 2012 according to statements made by Vladimir Putin.  To help achieve their goal, Russia has begun employing “non-trade” barriers, such as complaints about the “safety” of U.S. Chicken, to hinder and effectively bar U.S. Dark Meat imports to some segments of the Russian Market.

Today, for both domestic economic reasons and because of the Russian trade situation, Dark Meat is staging a comeback. As of this writing, a package of Dark Meat Chicken costs about half what a package of White Meat costs (comparing a package of Chicken Legs to one of Chicken Breasts). As budgets, menu planning, and managing margins have become even more important at restaurants (and to all of us) in recent years, consumers and food establishments have begun purchasing more Dark Meat. The trend will accelerate if the Russian market for U.S. Dark Meat evaporates.  Ironically, after having helped engineer a preference for White Meat a few decades ago, now U.S. producers will have marketing teams busily working on how to increase domestic Dark Meat sales.

Culinary Uses

Even if modern Factory Birds build much less muscle mass in their legs than Free Range birds, the Dark Meat legs are still going to be all muscle, Connective Tissue and Fat, and therefore less tender than White Meat. Dark Meat will also take longer to cook than White Meat (especially on the bone). It will be moist, about 65% water (with Skin On). This fact makes properly cooking a Whole Chicken problematic.

Raw Dark Meat Chicken has enough moisture, about 65% water (skin on), to use both Dry Heat Methods such as Sauteing, Pan Frying, Grilling, Moist Heat Methods like Poaching and Combination Methods such as Stewing or Braising. When cooked it should be about 60% water. If it is less than that, you will experience it as "dry."

The best way to Tenderize Dark Meat Chicken (if desired) is with Marinades, Rubs and “Low & Slow” cooking which will Render excess fat and convert any Collagen (a type of Connective Tissue) into Gelatin.

Dark Meat Chicken should go into the pan with the presentation side down first. At Smart Kitchen, that is almost always Skin-Side Down (assuming it is skin-on). A nice golden brown skin makes an appealing presentation. We also like to start Skin-Side Down because placing the skin close to the heat allows the natural Fat in the skin to Render and add flavor to the meat before joining the other flavorful fats in the pan to cook the meat.

When cooking Dark Meat Chicken, remember that most Raw Chicken contains the Salmonella bacteria, which needs cooking heat to kill off the Pathogens. Never eat or serve Raw Chicken. Work diligently to keep Raw Chicken out of The Food Danger Zone and to avoid Cross Contamination. The last thing you want is any sick friends or family. But don’t psyche yourself out just yet; on the whole, as a country, we are already doing a good job safely cooking our chicken. Only 4% of annual Salmonella poisonings are Chicken related. 

The old U.S.D.A. guidelines for cooking Poultry so that there is no chance of contamination recommended cooking Dark Meat to an Internal Temperature of 180° F (82° C) measured at the thickest point of the thigh. If you cook to this recommendation, Dark Chicken Meat is almost always cooked Well Done. Be careful though, there is a fine line between Well Done and overcooked. Chicken has less fat than some other meats and can quickly become dry and unpalatable. The new FDA guidelines call for cooking all Poultry (White Meat and Dark Meat) to 165˚ F (74˚ C) which is a step in the right direction.

Smart Kitchen’s feeling is to err on the side of taste. Most Salmonella on Poultry is found on the surface of the meat and skin, where it is easily reached by cooking heat. The most heat resistant Salmonella strain (Salmonella senftenberg) shows significant destruction when exposed to 130°F (54° C) heat for at least 2.5 minutes. We have not experienced ill effects from pulling our Dark Chicken Meat out of the oven or pot a little early, at 155° F (68° C) for example, which is still well above the heat needed to kill most Salmonella. Also remember that if we use a Pull Temperature of 155° F (68° C), Carry Over Cooking will continue raising the Internal Temperature 5 to 10 degrees.

The two most common Visual Clues for properly cooking Chicken meat is that there is no pink in the meat and that the juices run clear when finally cut or poked. In our experience, too often clear juices means an overcooked Chicken. We prefer, if we are even going to poke our bird and let the juices escape, to see clear juice streaked with a little pink. A hint of pink on the meat is also normal for well-cooked Dark Meat Chicken.

Cooking is personal. If you or your diners have complete-food-safety as your first concern, then by all means cook to a higher temperature, with no pink at all and clear juices.

For more specific information on cooking specific Dark Chicken Meat Portion Cuts, see Smart Kitchen’s Chicken Topic and the individual exercises for each Primal CutSub-Primal Cut or Portion Cut.

Pairings

Flavors that go well with Dark Meat Chicken include the following (by category):

Dried Herbs & Spices - AniseAllspiceCardamomCayenne PepperCelery SeedsClovesCorianderCuminCurrantsCurry LeavesCurry PowderMustard SeedsNutmegPaprikaRed Pepper FlakesSaffronSaltSea SaltKosher SaltSesame SeedsStar AniseWhite SugarBrown SugarBlack PepperWhite PepperPink PepperTurmericChili PowderBay LeafCinnamonTarragonParsleyOreganoBasilGarlic PowderRosemaryDillMintSavory

Fresh Herbs OreganoChivesParsleyCilantroBasilSageTarragonMarjoramThymeRosemaryChervilDillCorianderMintSavory

Dairy MilkButtermilkButterYogurtCrème FraicheSour Cream

Wet Ingredients Beer, Coconut MilkOilsCream, Fish Sauce, Soy Sauce, Grand Marnier, Sherry, Stocks, Wine, Vermouth, Vinegars, Whisky, Brandy, Cider

Thick Ingredients Hoisin Sauce, Honey, Maple Syrup, MayonnaiseMolassesMustardsTomato Paste

Vegetables Artichokes, Bell Peppers, CapersCarrotsCauliflowerCeleryCelery Root, Chile Peppers, GarlicOnionsGingerKale, Lemongrass, Mushrooms, PotatoesSpinachTomatoes, Turnips, Chard, DaikonEndiveEscarole, Parsnips, Leeks

Fruits Apples, OlivesAvocadoes, Bananas, Figs, Raisins, Cranberries, Dates, Guava, Grapefruits, Grapes, LimesLemons, Oranges, PeachesPomegranates, Pears, Apricots.

Nuts AlmondsCashewsHazelnutsWalnutsPeanutsPine Nuts

Meats Bacon, Ham, ProsciuttoPancetta, Sausages, Turkey

Substitutes

White Chicken Meat

Nutrition

Dark Chicken Meat has a bad reputation as being a fatty meat with high calories, which is far from true. The fact is that Dark Chicken Meat has a little more fat and calories than White Chicken Meat. Boneless, skinless Chicken Breast and boneless, skinless Chicken Thighs vary in Saturated Fat content by only .02 oz (0.44 g) per 3.5 oz (100 g) of meat. According to the Department of Agriculture’s Dark Meat Figures, 100 g of Leg meat contains 1 gram of saturated fat and 119 calories, and 100 g of White Meat contains 0.56 grams of saturated fat and 114 calories. Dark Chicken Meat is also higher in nutrients like Zinc, Riboflavin, Thiamine, Vitamin A, and Vitamin B12 than White Meat. Both White Meat and Dark Meat have similar amounts of 5 critical minerals (Calcium, Iron, Magnesium, Potassium, Phosphorous and Selenium).

Low Fat

Yes

Low Calorie

Yes