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 meat 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 or on the grill with my oven-safe meat thermometer probe in them and set my temperature alarm at 180 degrees Fahrenheit.
When the alarm beeps I know they’re done. Alright, let’s cook some chicken!
Chicken Thigh Internal Temperature
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 higher internal temperature for serving also goes for turkey thighs.
This gives the meat time to tenderize, convert the tough collagen into silky gelatin.
Won’t it take a long time to cook chicken thighs to a temperature higher than 165 degrees Fahrenheit? No.
It will take an extra three minutes for an 8-ounce, bone-in chicken thigh to go from 165 degrees Fahrenheit to 180 degrees Fahrenheit in a 450 degree Fahrenheit oven.
Now that we know it’s okay to continue to cook a chicken thigh past an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit, what’s the best way to cook them to get crispy skin with a moist interior?
You’ll have great results by cooking them first on the stovetop in a pan and then transferring them to the oven. Let me show you.
Juicy Baked Chicken Thighs
I’ll admit that referring to this chicken thigh recipe as a baked chicken recipe is cheating a bit as I’m starting the thighs on the stovetop first.
But you’ll see why in a second.
The best way to get chicken thighs with shatteringly crispy skin and juicy meat is by starting them on the stovetop in a cold pan, skin side down, and then finishing them in the oven.
When you start chicken thighs in a cold pan and then place the pan over medium to medium-high heat, you give the thighs a chance to render their fat and a lot of the moisture in that fat.
However, you still need to cook the rest of the chicken thigh as well, so after the skin of the thigh is sufficiently crispy, you will then transfer it to a pre-heated 450 degree Fahrenheit oven to finish cooking.
I’ve found it takes around ten minutes for a bone-in chicken thigh to render its fat and produce a nice golden-brown skin when starting it in a cold pan over medium to medium-high heat.
At the ten minute mark, you will then transfer the thigh to a 450-degree oven to finish cooking. This will take an additional 15 to 16 minutes.
It will take an 8-ounce bone-in chicken thigh 25 to 26 minutes to cook to an internal temperature of 180 to 185 degrees Fahrenheit using this method.
Here’s the recipe.
Crispy Chicken Thigh Recipe
An ovenproof skillet is needed for this recipe, you can use cast iron but be careful as to not get it too hot as it retains heat well and will burn the chicken thigh skin.
A 12 inch heavy non-stick ovenproof pan or skillet works best for this recipe. You can easily fit five large (or six medium-size) bone-in chicken thighs into a 12-inch skillet.
- 5 to 6- 6 to 8 oz bone-in Chicken Thighs
- Kosher Salt
- Black Pepper
- You can use a spice rub but don’t put any on the skin side, you can put it under the skin and on the meat side.
- No olive oil is needed.
- An accurate meat thermometer to check the temperature.
Here’s a time-lapse video showing the whole process:
- Preheat your oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit with a rack set to the middle position. You know how long your oven takes to get up to temperature. The chicken thighs will need 10 minutes to cook on the stovetop before being transferred to the oven.
- Season the chicken thighs with salt and pepper, if using a spice rub, keep it off the skin and just put salt and pepper on that side.
- Place the thighs skin side down in a cold, ovenproof 12-inch pan.
- Put the pan on a burner on the stovetop and turn the burner to in-between medium and medium-high heat. If you’re using gas you might want to go medium or a little less as it cooks hotter.
- Let the thighs cook, it will take about two minutes for them to start making noise, you want a gently babbling brook sound of fat being expelled from the thighs.
- Although you’re letting the thighs do their thing you still need to be watchful for smoke and too much hissing fat, if that happens turn the heat down, not too far, but enough so it’s not smoking.
- Around the 7 to 8 minute mark you will begin to start checking the progress of the skin side of the thighs by gently lifting them up with a spatula. The thigh should lift easily, don’t force it.
- If you cooked your thighs gently they should be ready for the oven at the 10-minute mark.
- Transfer the pan to the oven, keeping the thighs skin-side down. Cook them in the oven for 13 minutes and then start to check the internal temperature with your meat thermometer.
- I’ve found it takes 15 to 16 minutes in the oven for your thighs to reach 180 to 180 degrees Fahrenheit.
The chicken thigh in all of the photos in this article was cooked using this technique.
Oven Roasted Chicken Thighs
Update: I’ve developed an easier and better recipe for baking chicken thighs in the oven, check out my Crispy Oven Baked Chicken Thighs.
This method works best when you’re busy and need to cook a lot of chicken thighs in a short amount of time. The key to this recipe is preheating a baking sheet so it gets nice and hot.
This recipe is probably the fastest and easiest I’ve seen to cook many 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.
- 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
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.
Chicken thighs can be easier to cook than chicken breasts because their collagen content makes them less prone to drying out. This makes chicken thighs easier to cook than chicken breasts in that you don’t have to worry about them drying out if they go a little past 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
Your chicken thighs will still be incredibly juicy, even past an internal temperature of 180 to 185 degrees Fahrenheit.
This is also beneficial if you don’t have a meat thermometer and don’t know how to tell if your chicken is done without a meat thermometer.
Although you can certainly cook your chicken thighs by using just your oven, if you’re a fan of crispy skin you will get a better result by starting them first in a cold pan on the stovetop to render their fat first.
Once you’ve gotten a nice golden-brown skin you can finish cooking them in the oven to 180 degrees Fahrenheit. All of this takes 25 minutes or so.
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!