My Recipe Box

Chicken Thighs Take a Turn on the Grill

More flavorful than chicken breasts, boneless thighs cook quickly and stay juicy

by Pamela Anderson

fromFine Cooking
Issue 87

Since they started showing up in the meat case a number of years ago, boneless, skinless chicken thighs have quickly moved to the top of my favorites-to-grill list. They offer all the benefits of boneless, skinless chicken breasts—convenience and fast cooking—without the tendency to turn tasteless and dry, thanks to their slightly higher fat content. The hearty flavor of thighs and their ability to stay juicy on the grill is sure to win over anyone who claims to be dark-meat averse.

Before grilling boneless, skinless chicken thighs, you might need a quick handling tutorial. Like any chicken part, thighs come in different sizes. Thighs from mass-produced chickens tend to be larger than those from their free-range kin, so be sure to check the weight on the package.

To prepare thighs for the grill, you’ll need to remove any large pockets of fat, which could cause flare-ups. Don’t worry about getting every bit, as it’s the fat that will help keep the thigh moist during grilling.

Chicken thighs are multi-muscular, unlike breasts, which are a single muscle. When the thigh bone is removed, those muscles become more loosely connected, which explains why boneless thighs often look a bit lumpy when unfurled on the grill. The upside is that this unevenness creates little depressions that hold onto sauces and rubs.

Doneness tests are different for chicken thighs than for breasts. For a chicken breast, you look for the meat to change color from pink to white. The dark meat of chicken thighs, though, looks pinkish brown even when they’re thoroughly cooked. Food safety experts recommend that boneless thighs be cooked to an internal temperature of 165ºF, but it can be pretty tough to use a meat thermometer on such a small, irregular cut, especially on the grill.

The cooking times given here (10 minutes for small thighs and 12 minutes for large ones) will pretty much guarantee a fully cooked thigh. You’ll notice that when the thighs are done, they’ll shrink and plump up a bit. The good thing is that you can relax when you’re cooking thighs, knowing that even if you overcook them slightly, they won’t dry out.

The robust flavor of chicken thighs makes them a natural for all kinds of bold spice and herb rubs. Included here are four of my favorite recipes, to give you an idea of how versatile thighs are.

Next time you reach for that package of boneless, skinless chicken breasts, stop, and pick up thighs instead. They just may become your new favorite.

Skewer up some kebabs

Chicken thighs lend themselves to kebabs, which make a nice change of pace on the grill. Any of these recipes can be cooked on skewers in roughly the same amount of time.

To make kebabs, trim the thighs and then slice them lengthwise into 1-1/2- to 2-inch-wide strips. Toss with the flavoring of choice; then thread the chicken onto six 8- or 12-inch skewers (soak wood skewers in water for at least 20 minutes first), folding each strip in half as you skewer it. If some strips are very thick, cut them in half crosswise rather than folding them so that all the pieces of chicken are roughly the same size. Grill the kebabs, turning them every 4 to 5 minutes as dark grill marks form, until cooked through, 12 to 15 minutes total.

Photos: Scott Phillips

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