How to Cook Chicken Thighs

By: Kimberly Holland

Chicken thighs are a less expensive and more flavorful alternative to basic chicken breasts. Find out how to cook them perfectly 4 ways—baked, sautéed, grilled and in the Instant Pot.

Roasted Chicken Thighs, Potatoes & Scallions with Herb Vinaigrette

Pictured recipe: Roasted Chicken Thighs, Potatoes & Scallions with Herb Vinaigrette

If your weekly shopping list routinely includes a pack of chicken breasts, it's time to reconsider your poultry purchase. Chicken thighs are a reliably tender, flavor-packed alternative to basic boneless, skinless chicken breasts. Although they are higher in fat and calories than breasts, thanks to the dark meat in the thigh, they are still high in protein and we have methods for keeping the fat and calories to a minimum. Plus, the added flavor makes these small cuts shine in any dish you're preparing.

Try These: Healthy Chicken Thigh Recipes

What Are Chicken Thighs?

Maple-Roasted Chicken Thighs with Sweet Potato Wedges and Brussels Sprouts

Pictured recipe: Maple-Roasted Chicken Thighs with Sweet Potato Wedges and Brussels Sprouts

Chicken thighs are a part of the bird's leg, a section just above the knee. This portion of the bird's anatomy is often called the "dark meat" because the meat has extra fat and a deeper hue.

The bird uses the muscle of its legs and thighs more than that of the breast, which can make thigh meat tough. However, because of the extra fat, chicken thigh meat is often tender and supple, not stringy.

How to Buy Chicken Thighs

All-American BBQ Chicken Thighs

Pictured recipe: All-American BBQ Chicken Thighs

Chicken thighs can be a seriously good budget buy, depending on the cut you purchase. Pick the cut that best suits your dish or your budget. Keep in mind, for every cut or trim the butcher has to make, the price of chicken thighs ticks up a few cents per pound.

Bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs are often the least expensive, but chicken skin can contribute a lot of fat and calories to your diet. For flavor without the fat, cook the chicken thighs with the skin on and remove it before serving. Bone-in thighs will also require more cooking time. The bone slows down how quickly the meat can heat up.

Boneless, skinless chicken thighs are often the most expensive chicken thigh option. That's because the butcher has to do extra work to prepare this. However, boneless, skinless chicken thighs are a weeknight dinner dream: they cook through very quickly (usually about 15 minutes total) and lend loads of flavor to any dish.

Bone-in, skinless chicken thighs fall in between the other two options in terms of price, but they're a great pick for the healthy eater. Again, because of the bone, these take longer than the boneless option, but the bone helps the thigh retain moisture.

Read More: Clean-Eating Buyer's Guide to Chicken

How to Prepare Chicken Thighs

Yogurt-Curry Marinated Chicken Thighs

Pictured recipe: Yogurt-Curry Marinated Chicken Thighs

Chicken thighs can be cooked as they are, straight from the package. However, some people prefer to buy the least expensive cut—bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs—and break them down a bit more to save money and get a faster-cooking protein option.

To remove the bone: With the skin-side down, cut along the bone, piercing the meat with your knife. Pull the bone up and away from the meat, and carefully run your knife between the bone and meat. Use your knife to scrape along the end of the bone and free it from the rest of the meat.

To remove the skin: Chicken skin will peel off the meat with a few tugs. With a pair of scissors, you can also snip any points where the skin is connected to the meat to make the skin-removal process faster.

To trim the chicken: Remove any bits of bone, cartilage or fat from the piece of chicken.

4 Ways to Cook Chicken Thighs

Cranberry-Balsamic Chicken Thighs

Pictured recipe: Cranberry-Balsamic Chicken Thighs

Each method for cooking chicken thighs delivers delicious results. However, some cuts do better with specific cooking methods, so use this guide to make the right call for your dish.

How to Bake Chicken Thighs

All three types of chicken thighs cook well in an oven. Boneless chicken thighs are the quickest-cooking option, and roasting skin-on thighs in an oven can yield a crispy surface even without the chicken skin. Thanks to the even heat of an oven, the bone-in variety can also cook evenly.

1. Preheat the oven. Heat the oven to 425°F, and position the oven rack in the middle of the oven.

2. Place in the pan. Season the thighs with any rub, marinade or sauce you wish. Place the chicken thighs in an oven-safe glass or ceramic dish. If you're using a dry rub, you may want to grease the dish with a non-stick spray or brush of oil first.

3. Bake until cooked through. Boneless, skinless chicken thighs cook quickly, in 15 to 20 minutes, depending on the size. Bone-in thighs, however, take a bit more time, between 25 and 30 minutes. Use a thermometer to measure the internal temperature of the thighs. They're finished cooking when the temperature reads 165°F.

4. Let rest. Remove the dish from the oven, and let the chicken rest for 5 to 10 minutes before serving. This will help the meat retain as much moisture as possible so the protein doesn't dry out when you slice it.

Read More: High-Protein 500-Calorie Dinners

How to Grill Chicken Thighs

Shaker-Style Smoked Chicken Thighs

Pictured recipe: Shaker-Style Smoked Chicken Thighs

Here again, all three types of chicken thighs work well on a grill or indoor grill pan. Skin-on thighs turn crispy in the searing heat, and boneless thighs cook incredibly quickly so you can serve them with burgers or hot dogs.

1. Preheat the grill or grill pan. Heat the grill or grill pan to medium-high heat. Rub the grates with olive oil.

2. Place on the grill. Season the thighs with your rub, marinade or sauce of choice. Place the chicken thighs skin-side down on the grill or grill pan. Grilling chicken thighs with the skin on is a great way to keep the meat moist in the cooking process. If you don't want the added calories and fat, just remove the skin before serving.

3. Grill until cooked through. Boneless, skinless chicken thighs are a fast cooker on a grill or grill pan, so they're done in about 10 to 12 minutes. Bone-in thighs require more time, 15 to 20 minutes, depending on the size of the thighs.

4. Let rest. Once a meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh reaches 165°F, remove the chicken from the grill and place the thighs in a clean baking dish. Let the chicken stand for 5 to 10 minutes to keep it moist.

Related: Expert Tips for the Best Grilled Chicken

How to Sauté Chicken Thighs

Cauliflower Chicken Fried Rice

Pictured recipe: Cauliflower Chicken Fried "Rice"

For skillet meals, chicken thighs are an incredibly delicious and fast-cooking option, especially the boneless, skinless variety. You can use a bone-in cut, but keep in mind the additional cook time needed. Other ingredients in the pain, such as vegetables or grains, may overcook in the time it takes for the chicken to finish.

1. Heat a pan. Warm some extra-virgin olive oil in a pan over medium-high heat.

2. Place the chicken in the pan. Once the chicken is seasoned and the pan is heated thoroughly, place the chicken, skin-side down, into the pan. Try not to crowd the pan; the juices will create a steam effect and prevent the skin from becoming crispy and browned.

3. Flip the chicken. After 5 to 7 minutes, flip the chicken. Cook another 5 to 7 minutes or until the internal temperature reads 165°F. Bone-in chicken thighs may require more cooking time to reach this temperature.

4. Let rest. When the chicken is at temperature, remove it from the pan and let the thighs stand for 5 to 10 minutes.

How to Cook Chicken Thighs in an Instant Pot

Pressure-Cooker Chicken, Potatoes & Peppers

Pictured recipe: Pressure-Cooker Chicken, Potatoes & Peppers

For the fastest, most hands-off way to cook chicken thighs, turn to your pressure cooker or multicooker (like the Instant Pot). While you can just "set it and forget it" to cook your chicken in the Instant Pot, we recommend using sauté mode first to get a nice crispy sear on the meat, especially for skin-on thighs. If you are cooking bone-in chicken thighs, add a little extra time to cook it all the way through.

1. Heat oil on sauté mode. Turn the multicooker on sauté mode, add a little olive oil and let it get warm before adding the chicken.

2. Sear the chicken. Working in batches, add the seasoned chicken and cook, turning once, until lightly browned on both sides, 2 to 3 minutes per side.

3. Turn up the pressure. Close and lock the lid. Cook at high pressure for 8 minutes.

4. Let rest. Release the pressure, then let the thighs stand for 5 to 10 minutes before serving.

Chicken Thighs Nutritional Facts

Lime-Honey Glazed Chicken

Pictured recipe: Lime-Honey Glazed Chicken

Chicken thighs, like chicken breasts, are a good source of protein, but because of the darker meat, chicken thighs have more fat and calories than breasts. You can eliminate some fat from chicken thighs by removing the skin before or after cooking the meat.

A 3-ounce serving of boneless, skinless chicken breast has about 140 calories, 26 grams protein, 3 grams fat and 1 gram saturated fat. The same amount of chicken thigh meat without skin has 152 calories, 21 grams protein, 7 grams fat and 2 grams saturated fat.

Read More: Free-Range vs. Pastured Chicken or Poultry

Related:
Healthy Chicken Recipes
The 5 Biggest Myths About "Natural" Meat
A Guide to Protein Serving Sizes

Watch: Maple-Roasted Chicken Thighs with Sweet Potato Wedges and Brussels Sprouts