Cooking bone-in chicken thighs can be intimidating. At what temperature are chicken thighs done exactly?
Unlike chicken breasts, chicken thighs contain more fat and proteins, making it difficult to know when chicken thighs are safe to eat.
Are chicken thighs harder to cook than say, a chicken breast?
According to the USDA, chicken should be cooked to a temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit/ 73.8 degrees Celsius. However, this is not the end of the story.
The truth is chicken thighs can be cooked to 185 degrees Fahrenheit/85 degrees Celsius and still be moist and delicious. Why is this?
In this article, we will explain this phenomenon and how to use it to cook awesome chicken thighs each and every time.
And, as always, the number one tool you will need in this endeavor is an accurate instant-read digital thermometer.
No more talk about chicken is done when the juices run clear or if the meat isn’t pink anymore. These fun euphemisms are what turn a great piece of meat into a piece of cardboard.
It’s time for science. An accurate thermometer takes the guesswork out of knowing when food is cooked to the proper and safe temperature.
However, you don’t always have time to closely monitor everything you cook. When I’m busy I’ll throw some chicken thighs in the oven and stick my SmokeBloq probe in them and go about my business. Takes 5 seconds. It’s a game changer.
Alright, let’s cook some chicken!
Are Chicken Thighs White or Dark Meat?
Chicken thighs are the dark meat part of the chicken. Why is this?
All you need to do is look at the muscles a chicken uses most.
Chickens aren’t great at flying, hence the muscles they use most are their legs.
Muscles need lots of oxygen to operate.
I’ll let the Chicken Farmers of Canada take over in explaining this :
Without getting too scientific, myoglobin is the hemoprotein (an oxygen-carrying protein) responsible for giving dark meat its reddish colour. The more myoglobin, the darker the meat and the richer the nutrients. Myoglobin provides muscles with the oxygen they need during exercise or movement. Since chickens are flightless birds, they use their legs and thighs to get around, making them darker than the breast or wings.
So, the darker meat that is present in chicken thighs is a result of higher levels of proteins responsible for the everyday natural movements of a chicken.
What does any of this have to do with you, right now, cooking chicken thighs for tonight’s dinner?
Well, the higher levels of fats and proteins mean the meat will be denser than a chicken breast that has lower levels.
However, this is a good thing and is one of the reasons that chicken thighs are a favorite of teriyaki restaurants the world over.
They are really hard to overcook.
Let us explain.
Why Chicken Thighs Can Cook to an Internal Temperature Higher Than 165 Degrees Fahrenheit
The main reason that chicken thighs can benefit from being cooked to an internal temperature higher than 165 degrees Fahrenheit is their abundance of proteins such as collagen.
Here is the nerdy science explanation for what collagen is courtesy of meatscience.org
- Collagen—Collagen is the single most abundant protein found in the intact body of mammalian species. It is present in horns, hooves, bone, skin, tendons, ligaments, fascia, cartilage and muscle. Collagen is a unique and specialized protein which serves a variety of functions. The primary functions of collagen are to provide strength and support and to help form an impervious membrane (as in skin). In meat, collagen is a major factor influencing the tenderness of the muscle after cooking. Collagen is not broken down easily by cooking except with moist—heat cookery methods. Collagen is white, thin, transparent and is tough; however, heating (to the appropriate temperature) converts collagen to gelatin which is tender.
It is because of this abundance of collagen that chicken thighs are actually better when cooked to a higher temperature. Starting at 105 degrees Fahrenheit, muscle fibers begin to contract and release moisture.
At 140 degrees Fahrenheit, collagen begins to break down, transforming into gelatin. This gelatin makes up for some of the moisture loss the chicken thigh experiences as it continues to cook.
This conversion of collagen into gelatin will continue up until 185 to 190 degrees Fahrenheit. The gelatin will baste the meat making it moist and tender.
So can you cook and serve chicken thighs right after they reach the proper done temperature, 165 degrees Fahrenheit/ 73.8 degrees Celsius?
Sure. But the texture will be chewier than if they were cooked until 185 degrees Fahrenheit/ 85 degrees Celsius.
This gives the meat time to tenderize, convert the tough collagen into silky gelatin.
Now, some recipes.
Oven Roasted Chicken Thighs
The following recipe is adapted from Cook’s Illustrated.
This recipe is probably the fastest and easiest I’ve seen to cook moist and crisp chicken thighs in less than 30 minutes.
- Heat the oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit and place a rimmed baking sheet on the middle rack.
- Use a metal skewer to poke holes on the fat side of the chicken thighs.
- Season with salt and pepper on both sides.
- Place the thighs fat side down on the baking sheet after the oven is ready.
- Cook for 20 to 25 minutes.
- Remove the thighs from the oven and move the oven rack up to the middle-upper rack and turn on the broiler.
- Broil the thighs for 5 minutes and the meat registers 175 degrees to 180 degrees Fahrenheit on an instant-read meat thermometer. (Don’t have one? Here’s a great one for the price of a terrible movie at the local theater.)
- Carryover heat should raise the temperature about 5 degrees.
- Let them rest for 5 minutes and serve.
Grilled Bone-in Chicken Thighs
- For a charcoal grill light a chimney full of briquettes.
- For a propane grill turn all the burners on high and heat for 10 minutes, then turn all of the burners off except one.
- While the briquettes are lighting, season the chicken thighs with salt and pepper, or whatever rub you desire.
- Rub a little olive oil on the thighs as well (optional).
- When the top of the briquettes starts turning white, pour them onto one side of the grill to create a two-zone fire, cover the grill.
- Make sure the cooking grates are clean and well-oiled.
- After 5 to 10 minutes, place the chicken thighs, skin side down on the cooler side of the grill, cover and cook for 30 to 35 minutes.
- When the chicken thighs register 180 to 185 degrees Fahrenheit/ 82 to 85 degrees Celsius, move them to the hot side of the grill
- Cook until the skin is charred and crispy, 3 to 5 minutes.
- Let the thighs rest for 5 to 10 minutes and serve
Chicken thighs can be easier to cook than chicken breasts because their collagen content makes them less prone to drying out. With the tips and advice in this article, you will be a master of preparing perfectly cooked, moist and crispy chicken thighs.
For more helpful information on preparing and serving foods at the proper temperatures check out all our other articles here. Happy eating!