Don't use NyQuil to cook "sleepy chicken," FDA warns home cooks

TikTok users are apparently bringing to cold and flu medicine into the kitchen, with potentially poisonous results

By Ashlie D. Stevens

Food Editor

Published September 20, 2022 8:05PM (EDT)

Cold medicine for sale in Walgreens. (Jeff Greenberg/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)
Cold medicine for sale in Walgreens. (Jeff Greenberg/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

About a week ago, I learned that the young adults on TikTok had discovered butter crocks, a development that warmed my heart (and prompted me to ask the fine folks over at the Institute of Culinary Education how they prefer to store their good butter). Still basking in the glow of a surprisingly wholesome, dairy-centered internet trend, I sat down at my desk this morning ready to face the day — that is, until I saw a message from my editor that simply read: "NyQuil Chicken is apparently a thing." 

So much of a thing, in fact, that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has had to release a warning urging home cooks not to try their hand at making what some have termed "sleepy chicken," or chicken that has been marinated, boiled or braised in the popular cold and flu medication. 

It's unclear how exactly this trend started. Some, like the writers at Prevention, point to a 2017 tweet that read: "[I]f she makes you nyquil chicken.... do NOT let her go." Beneath the tweet was a photo of a chicken breast with an eerie blue-green coating. In the background are two, ostensibly empty, bottles of NyQuil. 

Earlier this year, however, the trend started gaining traction on social media again. Food 52's Naomi Tomky pointed out in January that it thankfully didn't appear as though too many folks were actually eating the "sleepy chicken." 

"If you search TikTok with that hashtag, the results include about 10% people horrified at the supposed trend and 90% people showing off their pet chickens taking a nap," she wrote, " which is an excellent trend that does deserve the internet's attention." 

Yet videos of the trend — even if they are mostly jokes — have endured to the point that on Tuesday, the FDA issued a statement highlighting the dangers posed by the cooking process. 

"Boiling a medication can make it much more concentrated and change its properties in other ways," the warning said. "Even if you don't eat the chicken, inhaling the medication's vapors while cooking could cause high levels of the drugs to enter your body. It could also hurt your lungs." 

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The warning continued, "Put simply: Someone could take a dangerously high amount of the cough and cold medicine without even realizing it." 

No concrete numbers as to the amount of people who have actually ingested NyQuil chicken exist, though Poison Control toxicologist Dr. Kelly Johnson Arbor wrote for the organization's blog that "some of the current TikTok videos on this subject have been viewed millions of times." 

The bottom line? Cooking your chicken in NyQuil, even if just for fun, isn't worth the health risk (or the $8.99 bottle of medicine you don't need). If you're looking for a chicken recipe that will liven up dinner without poisoning your family, might I recommend this 3-ingredient marinade instead? 

By Ashlie D. Stevens

Ashlie D. Stevens is Salon's food editor. She is also an award-winning radio producer, editor and features writer — with a special emphasis on food, culture and subculture. Her writing has appeared in and on The Atlantic, National Geographic’s “The Plate,” Eater, VICE, Slate, Salon, The Bitter Southerner and Chicago Magazine, while her audio work has appeared on NPR’s All Things Considered and Here & Now, as well as APM’s Marketplace. She is based in Chicago.

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Chicken Fda Food Food Trends Nyquil Sleepy Chicken Tiktok