When is chicken done?

Dear BBQ Friend:

The #1 mistake people make when barbecuing is not measuring their pit temperature correctly - at the grate where their meat is. The #2 mistake has got to be cooking by time and not by internal meat temperature with butts and brisket which is closely related to knowing when your meat is done...

Sooo... Exactly when is your chicken done?

Chicken is one meat I do not use an internal meat temperature probe with while cooking. To answer the question about "When is chicken done?", I usually cook chicken by time and pit temperature since it is fairly easy to do and most chicken pieces are of uniform shape and size. Just follow the recipes in the book Competition BBQ Secrets or in the Barbecue Videos and you should be fine. If you just happen to get extra large thighs or it is extra cold outside, maybe just add 15-30 minutes to the cook time. One thing you may want to do is double check with an instant read probe that the internal meat temperature is at least 165 deg F. With slow smoking, you don't always stop cooking when your chicken reaches 165 deg, but just to be safe, check that it has reached 165 deg after you are finished your smoking.

Of course, in BBQ competitions, we always just cook chicken thighs. So if you are cooking something like a whole rotisserie chicken or a beer butt chicken be sure to cook by internal meat temperature.

Properly barbecued chicken should be tender and moist but may or may not be "juicy". The juice, if present, should run clear. The meat should pull cleanly from the bone. The skin should be "bite through" and not rubbery - sort of like wet newspaper (but hopefully will not taste like wet newspaper). If you can get the skin on barbecued chicken to be crispy and bite through, then give me a call immediately.

When are ribs done?

There are many ways to cook ribs... hot & fast, 3-2-1, 3-1-1, no foil, etc. As with chicken, I do not use a temperature probe with ribs. I cook ribs by time and pit temperature. The trick is knowing when they are done.properly cooked ribs Again, just cook according to one of my recipes for championship barbecue ribs and pull them off before they get too done - meat falls completely off bones when picked up.

Properly smoked barbecued ribs will start pulling away from the bone tips anywhere from 1/4 to 3/4 of an inch. All ribs cook up differently - it just depends on the fat content, quality of meat, heat exposure, etc. Put a glove on or use tongs to pick your rack of ribs up near one end and if it bends down 90 degrees and the meat starts to crack at the bend, they are done. The meat should stick to the bone enough so you can cut them without things falling apart. When bitten, the meat should pull cleanly from the bone. In my opinion, if you can get a "half moon bite" out of a rib and the meat sticks to the bone a little, then they are not done. I shoot for something between the "half moon bite" rib and the "falling off the bone" rib. Actually... the "half moon bite" description can be a little deceiving because you can get a half moon bite out of a very underdone rib. You must be able to get a half moon bite AND there must be a clean bone in the bite area.

When is a Boston Butt done?

Boston butts are a little easier... just stick a temperature probe in the Boston butt and cook to an internal meat temperature of 195 deg. If you don't have a probe, you can get one in our BBQ Store. Now... you still have to know when it is done because things can go wrong even if your temperature probe says 195 deg. You may have stuck the probe in a fat vein or got it too close to the bone or you may have just gotten hold of some funny meat that needs to be cooked longer.

Properly done, a Boston butt will wiggle like jello and you can grab that blade bone and it should be loose. If you tug on it, you should be able to pull it out easily. If not, cook to 200 deg and recheck.

When is a brisket done?

As with Boston butts, often you'll see instructions to smoke big cuts of meat for 1 to 1.5 hours per pound. Well... if you do that, you're almost never going to get it done right. Just use that time as a guide to getting your brisket done by dinner time (or turn in time). Stick a temperature probe in the point, avoiding the fat veins, and cook to an internal meat temperature of 195 deg. If just cooking a flat, maybe start checking for doneness around 190 deg.

The best way to check for doneness in a brisket is to stick a probe in the flat against the grain. You can use one of those instant read thermometers if you want or just use a wooden skewer. The probe should slide in like a hot knife through butter with little resistance. If it is still tough, keep cooking with the internal meat probe and check for doneness every 5 degrees.

Here's a handy table for most meats...

* Note: Some of these temperatures are just the minimum "safe" temperature for that meat. i.e. I usually cook chicken thighs and ribs by time and not internal meat temperature.


Cooking Time

Internal Temp/When it's Done

Pork Butt & Shoulder

1 - 1.5 hours per lb

195 deg F

Pork Spareribs

4 - 6 hours

165 deg F*

Pork Loin

3 - 5 hours

145 deg F

Pork Sausage (raw)

2 - 3 hours

165 deg F

Beef Boneless Roast

1 hour per lb

140 deg F

Beef Brisket

1 - 1.5 hours per lb

190-195 deg F

Beef Tri-Tip

1 hour per lb

135 deg F

Beef Prime Rib

1 hour per lb

140 deg F

Beef Short Ribs

3 - 4 hours

Meat pulls easily from bone


1.5 - 2.5 hours

150 deg F


1 hour per lb

160 deg F in thigh


2.5 - 3 hours

160 deg F* in thigh


4 - 6 hours

160 deg F in breast

Cornish Hen

2 - 3 hours

160 deg in thigh

Leg of Lamb

1 hour per lb

140 deg F


2 - 3 hours

150 deg F


2 - 3 hours

Smoke until the flesh starts to firm up and just begins to flake

Shellfish, prawns, shrimp

1/2 - 1 hour

Firm to the touch


Bill Anderson