Getting It Just Right: Chicken Thighs Temperature

Chicken thighs should be cooked to at least 165 degrees to be considered safe to eat, but this isn't the full story.

It was only once I entered culinary school that I learned to turn out the perfect chicken thighs each and every time. This was when I learned the proper chicken thighs temperature for any dish.

In this post I will show you what temperatures you should know about, how to monitor the temperatures, and more!

Internal Temperature and Safety - What You Should Know?

According to the USDA, you need to cook chicken thighs until they reach an internal temperature of 165 degrees.

It is at this temperature that all the harmful bacteria is killed off, allowing you to safely consume the chicken without the risk of salmonella and food poisoning.

chicken thighs with tomato and bell peppers

Now, this this is the safest temperature to grill chicken thighs at but this doesn't tell you the full story. After all, you aren't just looking to make your meat safe - you also want them to be delicious!

I will go into this in greater detail a little later on in the post.

Is 145 Degrees Safe for Chicken?

I get this question a lot because pork and other meats are said to be safe at this temperature. So, is this true for chicken thighs as well?

Well, this is a bit of a tricky question.

The reason that 145 degrees is considered safe for other meats is due to a phenomenon known as rest time. This is when the meat is removed from direct heat but continues to cook internally. Thus, with pork and other meats, you can take the meat off at 145 degrees but in about three minutes or so, it will reach 165 degrees.

This doesn't happen as much which chicken thighs, though, particularly when they are cooked on medium high heat.

Personally, I wouldn't take the chance as food poisoning is no joke. And, as you continue to read, you will discover why you should be letting thigh meat cook at temperatures even higher than 165 degrees!

Why You Should Let Chicken Thighs Cook for Longer?

So here's what you been waiting for - a reason why you should cook chicken thighs past the point of 165 degrees.

Chicken thighs are what is known as dark meat as it has an abundance of collagen, far more than white meat. At a high temperature, this collagen begins to break down, turning into gelatin. This acts as a lubricant for the meat, making it seem tender and juicy.

Then, what temperature should you be cooking the chicken thighs at?

Well, I would advise you to take the temperature up to 180 or 185 degrees for the best results.

While there is nothing wrong with eating chicken thighs that have been cooked until they are just done, I'm not too fond of the taste or texture. The chicken tends to be on the chewy side and the meat isn't as flavorful as I would like it to be.

Do Boneless Skinless Chicken Thighs Cook Faster?

Yes, boneless skinless thighs do cook faster than those that have the bones and skin. Now, there isn't too much of a time difference when it comes to cooking chicken thighs with or without the skin.

The major variation is when the bone in thighs is kept in or taken out. See, with bone in chicken thighs, the meat takes longer to heat up and thus will reach the desired temperature at a slower rate. With boneless thighs, though, you may be able to save up to 10 minutes at a time.

How Do I Know When Chicken Thighs are Done?

A lot of people estimate that chicken thighs are done based on cooking or baking time. Now, you can certainly follow timings if you want. Here are some guidelines to consider - these are for chicken thighs that weigh between 4 to 8 ounces:

  • Roasting/ Baking at 350°F - 40 to 50 minutes
  • Simmering - 40 to 50 minutes
  • Grilling - 10 to 15 minutes per side

If you want better and more predictable results, however, I would suggest using a thermometer instead. This will show you what the internal temperature of the meat is so you know precisely when it is done. This method reduces the risk of undercooking or overcooking the food.

Understand, when it comes to cooking, grilling, or baking time, there are a couple of factors to consider. These include the weightof the chicken thighs as well as the cooking temperature.

For instance, when you bake chicken thighs in the oven a larger chicken thigh will take longer to cook. On the other hand, if you are cooking or baking at a higher temperature then the food will cook faster. Thus, there is a lot that can go wrong if you choose to go by time alone.

I would suggest using it as a guideline instead.

How to Use a Food Thermometer Properly?

Food thermometers are becoming increasingly common in kitchens, a lot of people are still unaware of how to use them. So, here are a few tips:

First, make sure to use a high-quality, accurate thermometer or there will not be much use in this method.

The second trick is to always insert the thermometer into the thickest part of the chicken thigh. Push the tip all the way into the center. Make sure to avoid the bone as this can cause a misreading.

If the chicken thighs aren't cooked all the way through, return them to the heat. If the reading is close enough, then check every five minutes after that until the chicken is cooked all the way through.

Using an Oven Thermometer

On a side note, if you are baking or roasting the chicken thighs, I would suggest using an oven thermometer as well. This is to gauge the exact temperature in the oven.

Remember that just because you are setting to your oven to a certain temperature that this isn't exactly what is registering internally. Making sure that the heat is as high or as low as you want will ensure that you cook the chicken evenly. It can also cut down on how often you have to open the door and letting the heat escape.

Chicken Thighs are Pink in the Middle - Is It Safe to Eat?

Most people - me included - thought that you should only eat chicken meat that was completely white. If there were any pink portions it meant that the chicken was undercooked and that it shouldn't be eaten. Well, it turns out that this isn't always the case.

gilled chicken thighs

When it comes to whether or not chicken thighs are fully cooked, it is all down to the actual temperature of the center of the meat. As long as it registers above 165 degrees, it is perfectly safe to consume.

In fact, the color of thigh meat can be a bit misleading at times. This is because the color of the chicken can depend on the age of the chicken, what it was fed, pigment in the bone marrow, and whether the meat was frozen. To add to this, the hemoglobin the muscles can react with air while cooking to create a pinkish tinge that remains.

Chicken Thighs vs. Chicken Breasts

Chicken breasts are just as popular - if not more so - than chicken thighs. Due to this, I am often asked if the breasts take longer or slower to cook than the thighs.

Well, unlike chicken breasts, the chicken thighs are darker meat. As a result, they have a higher content of fat. They are also tend to be larger in size.

Although this can seem like a downside, it actually isn't. A chicken breast may cook more quickly, but there is also a higher risk of the meat being overcooked as well. As there is less fat, there aren't as much juices to keep the chicken moist. This can lead to a dry and unappealing dish.

So, when it comes to breasts, I would advise you to cook them until they are just done and then take them off the heat.

The Top Tips for Grilling and Cooking Chicken Thighs

Here are some guidelines that you should follow to ensure that you get delicious and juicy meat each and every time:

Choose Bone In Thighs with Skin

Yes, these chicken thighs can take longer to cook, but the flavor and texture are unparalleled. See, the bone is home to the marrow which has a concentrated amount of umami flavor. It also gives off a wonderful roasted taste as well.

When you cook the chicken thighs with the bone, this flavor spreads to the rest of the meat. This creates a deeper and meatier flavor.

As for the skin, it is great for two reasons. First, it crackles up beautifully during the cooking process, leaving you with a crispy and tasty layer. Secondly, the skin helps to preserve moisture so that the chicken doesn't dry out. It can also act as a bugger if you accidentally overcook the thighs a bit.

Look for Similar Sizes

When choosing thighs, look for ones that are similar to each other in size. In particular, pay attention to the density or thickness. This ensures that they more or less heat up at a similar rate and will be done at the same time. This also saves you the hassle of having to check the internal temp of each chicken thigh on the skillet or grill.

Choose Fresh Meat

I do prefer fresh chicken thighs - and meat - in general. The taste and texture is just better. I have also found that fresh thighs cook up more quickly as well.

If you are going to be using frozen chicken, then make sure to defrost it thoroughly. I would also suggest keeping the thighs out on the counter for about half an hour or so once they are defrosted so that they are at room temperature.

Don't leave them out longer than this or there is a greater risk of food poisoning.

Start on the Stove, End in the Oven

If you are roasting the thighs instead of grilling them, I will tell you start on the stovetop first. This way, the skin gets nice and crispy.

Start by preheating the oven.

Seasons the thighs. Add oil to a cast iron skillet and fry both sides until golden brown. Then, take the skillet and place in the oven until done. If you dont have a cast iron skillet, then deposit the thighs onto a baking sheet beforehand.

This is all that you need to know about figuring out the doneness of chicken thighs. Now that you have this information in your hands, you can easily whip up this dish any time that you need to!

By Kristy J. Norton
I'm Kristy – a chef and connoisseur of all things BBQ! You can find me either in my kitchen (or someone else's) or at a big outdoor barbecue surrounded by friends and family. In both my professional and personal life I’ve picked up more than a few tips and tricks for turning out delicious food. I consider it a privilege to share it with others!
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