Everything You Need to Know About Cooking Chicken Thighs
Repeat after me—Thighs save lives.
You’re in the grocery store. You need a protein for tonight’s dinner. You want something cheap and fast, but you can’t bear the thought of another chicken breast bake or ground beef casserole. The answer to this dinner slump is, behold, a bone-in, skin-on chicken thigh. I realize that for some, this might not be a revelation. That succulent dark meat and irresistibly crispy skin is nothing new for you, I get it. However, for others, picking up that package of 4 tightly-wrapped chicken thighs with the bones and skin intact is a daunting task. How on earth do I turn this into a delicious meal?
Don’t overthink this. You’re less than 30 minutes away from a seriously impressive dinner, and you don’t even need a recipe. Whether you’re slinging thighs for hungry guests or it’s just a low-key weeknight situation, chicken thighs are an easy, versatile, and hearty protein to add to your repertoire. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with a breast, or a boneless, skinless thigh, but that’s not what we’re here to talk about. I talked to test kitchen professional, Robin Bashinsky, to get the low-down on the no-fail way to cook bone-in, skin-on thighs everytime. It’s time to get crispy.
Pat and Season
Because you have a solid grasp on the important things in life, your main goal when cooking chicken thighs should be nailing that perfectly crackly skin. In order to achieve this, you want to remove as much moisture from the raw chicken as possible—this means patting it dry with a paper towel and aggressively salting it on all sides. If you remember to do all of this ahead of time, let the patted and salted thighs sit uncovered in your fridge for a couple hours (this further removes even more moisture), but if dinner needed to happen an hour ago, then just keep moving forward, says Bashinsky. While we’re here, go ahead and set your oven to 425°.
Watch Now: How to Make Crispy Chicken Thighs with White Wine Butter Sauce and Vegetables
To the Stove
For the purpose of this exercise, let’s say we’re working with 4 thighs. You can definitely do more than 4 at a time, but just make sure that your pan isn’t overcrowded—if they’re sitting on top of one another, you can kiss any chance of crunchy skin goodbye. In a large cast-iron skillet (or other oven safe skillet), heat 1-2 tablespoons of oil over medium heat. Once warmed, use tongs to place your chicken thighs skin side down. According to Bashinksy, if you don’t hear the beautiful symphony of popping and crackling, then your oil is not hot enough. If this happens with the first thigh, pull it back out and wait until your oil comes to temperature. Leave the thighs skin-side down and untouched until the skin has an even, golden-brown sheen, about 4-5 minutes.
To the Oven
Your thighs now have the beginning of a crispy outer skin, but they’re not done yet. From here, transfer your cast-iron to the oven, leaving the thighs skin side down, and let them cook at 425° for another 10-12 minutes. Bashinsky says that this process, paired with the initial sear over the stove, is how you’re going to achieve that ultra-crispy skin that you probably only thought you could get from a restaurant meal. When you take the skillet of the oven, the thighs should be nearly done. If you’re unsure, there’s a couple ways to tell if your thighs are good to go. You can take a paring knife and gently prod from the bare side of the thigh around the bone to see if the meat is done—if you’re seeing a lot of pink, give it a couple minutes more. For a more accurate reading, use a meat thermometer to make sure that your thighs have reached 160°.
Back to the Stove
Okay, I know it seems like you’re bopping all over the place, but you’re in the final stretch. Don’t give up now! For your last and final step, bring your cast-iron back over medium high heat and turn the thighs so that the skin side is facing up. Let them cook until the bottom of the thighs have a little color, which should only take 2-3 minutes. Not only does this step give bottom of the thighs some solid, golden-brown action, but the crispy skin will become even crispier as it comes into contact with air.
If you want to take this a step further, let’s make this into a full, well-rounded dinner. Brussels sprouts, potatoes, mushrooms, onions, leeks, fennel, carrots, or whatever you’re feeling can be incorporated into this one-skillet dinner. Bashinsky recommends adding the vegetables to the pan right after you’ve completed your initial sear on the thighs. From here, everything about the process stays the same except when you put your skillet into the oven, turn the thighs so that the skin side is up, and perch them atop your lovely bed of veggies. This way, all that schmaltzy goodness from the thighs will drip onto the veggies. Not to mention, if you keep the thighs skin-side down while they’re surrounded by veggies, the water released from those veggies while cooking will leech into the crispy skin, undoing the crispiness. Tragic, I know!
Yes! Fresh herbs are a great thing, and they’re quite welcome in a situation such as this. Fresh thyme sprigs, oregano, or sage leaves will all lend a subtle yet exciting flavor to your already delicious meal. Add them to your skillet right after the initial sear, and remove them upon serving.
If the good ol’ salt and pepper seasoning just wasn’t enough pizzazz for your liking, you can definitely toss in your favorite finger-licking sauce. Anything from a teriyaki to a Sriracha-honey to a barbeque sauce can be brushed onto the skin side while you’re finishing up the thighs on the second go-around at the stove. It’s important not to add any sugary sauce too early in the cooking process, as it’ll only caramelize and burn by the time the thighs are cooked through. And to be clear, caked-on, black bits scattered throughout your pan are not the kind of “crispy” that we’re going for here—remember, it’s all about that skin.