If you're used to buying lean chicken breasts, shifting your focus one section over to the chicken thighs can feel overwhelming. With so many options to choose from, how do you know which is the best one to put in your basket? It all comes down to understanding the different cuts and what cooking methods they're best for. This mini guide will help you navigate through all the options so you can buy the right chicken thighs for your needs.
What Are Chicken Thighs, Anyway?
What they are: Chicken thighs are a portion of the leg (along with the drumstick), cut just above the knee. This is a portion of the bird often referred to as the "dark meat" because of its extra fat content and deeper hue.
What they taste like: Since the thigh muscle is worked more, it's considered a tougher cut, although it also has higher amount of fat — far more than lean chicken breast— which translates into a rich flavor and more tender texture. While chicken breast is lean and even a little chewy, thighs have a supple, tender texture.
Why they're everywhere: Yes, they are everywhere, and for good reason. Chicken thighs deliver an exceptional value. Not only do they deliver the most flavor of any cut of chicken, but they are also far cheaper than chicken breast.
The 3 Types of Chicken Thighs to Know
When it comes to buying chicken thighs you have a few more options than chicken breast. There are three types of thighs you're likely see in the case.
Bone-in Thighs with Skin
The most widely available, and arguably the most popular, this cut comes with the bone in and skin on. Since no extra work was done to remove the bone, this cut is slightly cheaper than its boneless counterpart. At an average price of just under $1.45 per pound, it is significantly less expensive than boneless, skinless chicken breast, which averages just under $3.10 per pound.
Don't Rule Chicken Skin Out Just Yet
Coming from a world of skinless chicken breast, packages of thighs covered with a pinkish layer of skin might have a way of seeming unappealing, but don't rule them out immediately.
When seared on the stovetop or roasted in the oven, the skin cooks down and crisps up, treating you to a savory, fatty cracker-like crunch. It's supremely delicious, but it also acts as a protective shield of sorts to prevent the chicken from drying out.
Bone-in, Skinless Thighs
The least popular of the three cuts, and one that's not as widely available, these thighs come with the skin removed and the bone still in. Since no extra work was done to remove the bone, this cut is slightly cheaper than its boneless counterpart.
Chicken Bones: Keep 'em or Toss 'em
Chicken thighs are commonly sold with the bones still in, and it's up to you whether you want to keep them or toss them. Not only are they a little less expensive than boneless chicken thighs, but they also pack more flavor.
Don't want the bones? You have two options. Deboning chicken thighs is just one of the many services your grocery store butcher will do for you; all you have to do is ask. Or if you're feeling ambitious, it's not too tough to debone the thighs at home. Should you choose to remove the bones, do consider hanging on t0 them and stashing them in the freezer to make stock later.
Debone at home: How To Remove Bones from Chicken Thighs
Boneless, Skinless Thighs
This popular cut comes with both the bone and skin removed. It's very versatile, and quicker-cooking than bone-in thighs. Since extra butchering was done to remove the bone, this cut is a little more expensive the bone-in thighs. This is the cut that's the easiest swap if you usually use boneless, skinless chicken breast.
Why Boneless Chicken Thighs Are Always Skinless
So what about boneless chicken thighs with the skin still on? Try as you might (and trust me, we have!) this is not an option you'll find in the meat case. During the extra butchering to remove the bone, the skin is also cut away. But it doesn't have to be! If this is what you're after, the best way to get there is to buy bone-in thighs with the skin on and either ask the butcher to remove the bones or debone the thighs at home.
Let the Cooking Method Dictate the Thighs You Buy
Perhaps you already know what you want to to buy. Maybe crispy skin-on thighs are totally irresistible to you, or you have a recipe in mind that suggests the type of thighs to buy. If not, the easiest way to choose between bone-in or boneless, skin-on or skinless, is to let the cooking method decide for you.
Roasting: Whether you're making a sheet pan supper, skillet meal, or simple roasted chicken thighs, all three options work well for oven cooking. Boneless thighs are the quickest cooking, while skin-on thighs treat you to crispy skin.
Braising: Both boneless and bone-in, skinless chicken thighs are particularly well-suited to braising. While skin-on pieces will work, the skin can lose its crispiness and become soggy during cooking.
Grilling: Take your pick. While all three choices cook well on the grill, skin-on thighs are particularly well-suited to this method since the skin prevents the meat from drying out.
Soup and stew: When the thighs will be cut up for a soup, stew, or chili, boneless thighs are the best option.
Using a glaze: If you're planning to brush a sticky glaze over meat, you want thighs with the skin still on. The crispy skin acts like a magnet, capturing the glaze in all the nooks and crannies and holding it in place.
How Much to Buy
If chicken breast has been your standby, you know you can safely cook up a single breast and it's just the right amount for a meal. But chicken thighs are so much smaller — so, what's the right amount for a meal?
Pre-packaged chicken thighs can vary in size, so instead of going by number of pieces, portion the meat based on weight. As a rule of thumb, for a main course, plan on about 1/2 pound of boneless chicken thighs per person, or 3/4 to one pound of bone-in chicken thighs per person.
What's the Deal with Those Massive Family Packs?
You've seen those massive packs of chicken thighs sitting in the bottom of the case, looking large enough to feed a crowd. If you're cooking for one or two, you might quickly bypass them, but you should reconsider. While the overall price tag is higher than that regular four-count package, it might actually be cheaper in the long run. Pound for pound, family packs often come at an even better value than the regular-sized packages. Remember that chicken can be stored for months in the freezer!
Storing Chicken Thighs
In the fridge: It's best to cook chicken thighs soon after buying them, although they will keep for one to two days in the fridge.
In freezer: Not going to cook them right away? That's okay, too. Chicken thighs can be stored for up to nine months in the freezer.