What Does It Mean If Your Grilled Chicken Shrinks?

Ever drop a piece of meat on the grill and take it off to discover it has shrunk down to half its original size? While this might be expected of a burger which is not a solid piece of meat, it's a little more startling when we see it with steaks or pieces of chicken that aren't held together with additives. 

So why does this happen? The answer is pretty simple science. Relish Relish notes that, in general, "beef, poultry, and fish tend to shrink by about 25% when cooked," though the exact amount it shrinks depends on how much moisture and fat content the piece of meat in question has. As Weight Watchers explains, animal tissues like meat contract when heated, and the more liquid or fat in a protein, and the hotter and more prolonged the cooking time, the more liquids will be evaporated or melted out of it, causing it to shrink down.

How to avoid dry chicken

While it is natural for meat to shrink a bit on the grill, it can create some issues for your dinner, including drying out your grilled chicken. Although Eating Well notes that you can use the shrinkage of meat to approximate if it has cooked through or not, meat that is dark on the outside but has not shrunk is likely still undercooked — there is a fine line between ideally done and overcooked chicken. Chef Works explains that ensuring your meat is defrosted before putting it on the grill will reduce necessary cooking time and heat and avoid drying the food out, while adding some extra salt or brine will help trap moisture. 

Finally, Relish Relish recommends starting with meat that has not had extra moisture added in, a technique used by some grocery stores to increase the weight and price. Higher quality, leaner meat may cost a bit more, but in the end, you will get more meat for your dollar.