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Why are there little holes in my chicken breast?

Chicken breasts can sometimes have small holes or indentations in the meat. These little holes are completely natural and harmless. There are a few reasons why chicken breasts get these holes:

Air Pockets

One of the most common reasons for the holes is small air pockets that form inside the meat as it cooks. As the chicken cooks, the proteins shrink and tighten, squeezing pockets of air out of the meat. This leaves behind the small holes or divots.

Air pockets form more easily in larger, thicker pieces of chicken breast. The pockets get trapped inside as the outer meat cooks faster than the inside. So those little holes are a sign you are dealing with a nice thick chicken breast!

Water Pockets

Similar to air pockets, small pockets of water or moisture can also cause the holes. As the chicken breast cooks, the proteins constrict and force excess water out of the meat. The moisture bubbles up through gaps in the flesh, leaving indentations behind.

So breasts with a high natural water content are more prone to hole formation during cooking. The holes from water pockets may be deeper than those from air.

Fat Pockets

Fat deposits in chicken can also cause the holes when melting and releasing during cooking. Areas of the breast that contained more fat or connective tissue will collapse as the fat renders out, creating divots and gaps in the meat.

Chicken that is enhanced or injected with broth or solution also commonly gets holes from pockets of the injected liquid. As the added solution heats up, it can bubble out of the meat, leaving marks behind.

Uneven Structure

Some holes in chicken breasts are simply caused by natural variations and uneven structure within the meat. Chicken breast muscle has bundles of protein fibers bundled into irregular groupings. Separations between the fiber bundles can sometimes create gaps and slots in the meat.

These natural crevices and openings through the flesh become visible during cooking as the breast firms up. The holes reflect the innate muscle structure rather than pockets of air or moisture.

Rapid Temperature Change

Drastic shifts in temperature can also contribute to hole formation. When chicken is cooked too hot and fast, the proteins on the exterior can stiffen and shrink rapidly before the inside of the meat has a chance to firm up. This difference in the contraction rate can cause gaps and divots to emerge.

High heat from grilling or broiling is a common source of rapid temperature change. The outer layers over-constrict compared to the moist interior, resulting in air pockets and holes.

Preventing Holes in Chicken Breast

While the holes are harmless, you can minimize their occurrence by altering how you handle and cook the chicken:

  • Trim excess fat and membranes before cooking to remove potential fat pockets.
  • Don’t overcook the breast, which causes more moisture loss and protein shrinkage.
  • Cook gently using lower, consistent heat rather than high searing temperatures.
  • Brine chicken breasts in saltwater before cooking to distribute moisture evenly.
  • Pound thicker breasts to an even thickness so they cook at the same rate throughout.

Are the Holes Harmful?

While the sight of holes in your beautifully cooked chicken may be alarming, rest assured that they do not make the meat unsafe to eat. The holes do not indicate contamination, bacteria, or loss of quality.

Small indentations are just a natural result of cooking chicken breast, especially with high heat. As long as the chicken was safely handled and cooked to proper internal temperature, it is completely safe and nutritious regardless of holes.

Should I Remove the Holes?

Trimming or cutting around the holes is not necessary. The holes do not affect flavor or texture, and the meat around them is perfectly good to eat. Removing the indentations would just mean losing more chicken flesh!

If desired for aesthetic reasons, you can cut around severe holes or deep pockets to remove them. But this is purely for appearance, not for safety or quality.

Can I Prevent Holes When Buying Raw Chicken?

Since air pockets are a main cause of the holes, inspecting the raw chicken breasts can help identify and avoid problem pieces:

  • Avoid chicken with large air bubbles under the skin, which can leave big gaps when cooked.
  • Look for chicken packaged tightly against the tray, not sitting in water or loose liquid.
  • Select chicken labeled with enhanced with up to 5% added solution. Higher amounts tend to bubble out.
  • Choose thicker, evenly sized breasts which will cook more uniformly.

Other Common Chicken Breast Defects

Along with small holes and dents, there are a few other common cosmetic defects you may see on cooked chicken breasts:

  • Blisters – Large air blisters on the surface caused by trapped steam.
  • Cracks – Fissures through the flesh from contracted proteins.
  • Bubbled skin – Pockets between the skin and meat due to rendered fat.
  • Dalmatian marks – White specks from albumen coagulation.

Despite appearances, these issues are all harmless and do not affect the chicken’s safety or quality when cooked properly. The nutrition and delicious flavor remain intact!

Preventing Other Cosmetic Defects

You can minimize cosmetic defects like cracks, blisters, and bubbles through proper cooking methods:

  • Avoid overcooking, which causes excessive protein contraction.
  • Use precise, constant heat rather than high searing temp.
  • Increase humidity when cooking to prevent moisture loss.
  • Chill chicken fully before cooking so it firms gradually.
  • Remove the skin before cooking to prevent bubbling between skin and meat.


Small holes or indentations in cooked chicken breasts are very common and 100% safe to eat. The holes are simply caused by air pockets and natural separations within the meat. As long as the chicken reaches a safe internal temperature of 165°F, the holes do not indicate any problems with cooking or quality.

While cosmetic, the holes are unavoidable characteristics of chicken breasts, especially when cooking with high dry heat. Do not waste good chicken by trimming the holes – they pose no health risks and do not affect nutrition or flavor at all. Just be sure to use proper handling and cooking methods to keep your chicken free of any dangerous contamination.

So the next time you see a cooked chicken breast with holes or divots, there’s no cause for concern. Simply enjoy your delicious and nutritious meal, holes and all!


  • USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service. (2013). Safe minimum internal temperature chart.
  • American Meat Science Association. (2015). AMSA white paper series: Why does my cooked chicken have holes in it?
  • Hui, Y. H. (Ed.). (2012). Handbook of poultry science and technology, Volume 1: Primary processing. John Wiley & Sons.
  • Lopez, K., Cook, D., Sanders, D. J., & Conner, D. (2015). The effect of ultra rapid freezing on meat quality, microbiological quality and sensory quality of chicken breast fillets. Poultry science, 94(5), 1045-1050.