If you’re talking about white meat versus dark meat, it is probably either Thanksgiving or you are ordering fried chicken. In most other instances, chicken doesn’t demand a lot of conversation.
For years, we’ve lived in a white meat society, using the boneless, skinless breast in nearly every application, from salads to stews. In just the last few years, though, chicken thighs are surging in popularity, thanks in part to increased access to globally influenced cuisines where chicken thighs have always been king.
Chicken thighs differ from breasts, since they come from a more active muscle of the chicken, resulting in their naturally darker color. While the breast is very low in fat, chicken thighs are higher in fat, and in cooking, fat equals flavor. It also means the thighs are more tender and less likely to dry out than chicken breasts—in other words, they are very easy to cook and very difficult to ruin. You can’t say that about chicken breasts.
Here is everything you need to know about cooking chicken thighs.
Buying Chicken Thighs
- The thigh is the upper part of the chicken leg (sometimes called a leg quarter), attached to the drumstick at the other end.
- Thighs can be purchased bone-in or boneless. The bone-in option will typically be sold skin-on, and the boneless will have the skin removed. If you would like skin-on and boneless, or bone-in and skinless, your butcher can help with either. Removing the skin and the bone are both very simple, though, if you want to give it a try at home!
- The size can vary dramatically, so for menu planning purposes, plan about 1/2 lb of chicken per person. Depending on the size and menu, a serving would typically be one or two chicken thighs per person.
Preparing Chicken Thighs
- Boneless, skinless versions may have some residual pieces of fat, leftover from when the skin was in place. You can trim these, if you like, but it will all cook down and contribute to the overall flavor. Unless there are bone-shavings or bits of cartilage left behind from the boning process, chicken thighs shouldn’t need to be trimmed much, if at all.
- You can marinate or dry-rub chicken thighs like you would any other cut of meat. You can leave the thighs whole or cut the boneless meat into cubes or strips for skewers, stir-fries, or stews.
Cooking Chicken Thighs
- Because they have some surface fat, chicken thighs shine when cooked over high, direct heat, like in grilling or sautéing. Even skinless thighs will crisp and brown deeply, for a tender interior and salty-savory “crust.”
- Thighs have more heat-and-time tolerance than chicken breasts, so they can be simmered with a soup or stew without becoming tough or chewy.
- For cooking skin-on thighs, start skin-side down in a heavy-bottomed pan over medium-low heat. Don’t flip the chicken until the skin easily releases from the pan. If it’s still stuck, that means it hasn’t finished rendering and won’t be crisp.
- When cooking boneless, skinless thighs, resist the urge to tuck the ends under for a tidy presentation. Your meat will cook unevenly and will likely shrink from that placement anyway. Lay the thighs flat as they cook, and for the neatest presentation, use bone-in
- Bone-in thighs take longer to cook than boneless. If cooking on the stovetop, the exterior may brown before the thigh is cooked-through. In that case, transfer the thighs to a 350°F oven for 5 to 10 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through.
- Just like chicken breasts, chicken thighs should be cooked to 165°F, measured at the thickest part, not touching the bone.
Eating Chicken Thighs
- There is only one bone in a chicken thigh, making it easy to eat with a knife and fork. If you would like to debone the thighs before serving, turn it upside-down use a knife to cut alongside the bone, without cutting all the way through. Continue cutting around the bone, turning the chicken, as needed, until the bone releases from the meat.
- If slicing boneless chicken thighs, cutting the thigh diagonally on the bias will result in cleaner slices that won’t fall apart.