Knife Skills

Videos and step-by-step guides, each highlighting an essential knife technique.

Knife Skills: How to Debone a Chicken Thigh

The first step to great food is great knife skills. Check out more Knife Skills this way!

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[Photographs: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt]

Recipes often call for boneless skinless chicken thighs, yet finding them in supermarkets can be a bit of a hassle. You're far more likely to find bone-in thighs or even whole legs. Knowing how to take that bone out yourself will save you some hassle and provide you with some good bones for making stock in the process.

I've tried dozens of methods of boning chicken thighs. As it turns out, the easiest is also the one that provides the best yield, scraping every last bit of meat from the bone. Here's how you do it.

Step 1: Locate the Joint

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If you're starting with whole chicken legs, you'll have to remove the drumstick from the thigh. Place your thumb over the joint and move the thigh bone back and forth with your other hand to find the articulation point. This is where you'll cut.

Step 2: Divide the Leg

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Insert a sharp boning or paring knife into the joint. It should slide right through. If there is resistance, move the blade around until you find the space between the joints.

Step 3: Set Aside Drumstick

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Set aside the drumstick for another use (they go great on the grill, or in place of wings in Korean Fried Chicken).

Step 4: Remove the Skin

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Peel the skin off the chicken thigh using your hands.

Step 5: Trim Fat

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Trim off any excess fat with your knife and discard.

Step 6: Find the Bone

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Flip over the thigh so that the rough side is up and locate the single bone that runs through it. Your goal is to remove this bone with minimal damage to the meat.

Step 7: Make the First Incision

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Keeping the fingers of your non-knife hand curled for protection (raw chicken can be slippery) and using the tip of the knife, score a line through the meat along the length of the bone.

Step 8: Expose Bone

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Expose the top of the bone by using the tip of your knife in short, flicking motions, making sure to keep your fingers well away from the blade.

Step 9: Scrape the Bone

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Grasp one end of the bone with your non-knife hand (a little piece of paper towel can help if it's very slippery), then using the base of your knife, scrap the meat off of the bone in short, firm flicks. A boning knife should have a curved bolster designed for this task. If using a paring knife, just use the section of the knife closest to the handle.

Step 10: Separate Meat From Bone

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When the meat has been mostly scraped off the bone, separate the end of the bone completely from the meat. Trim away any gristle or bits of bone or cartilage that may have remained on the meat. Save bones for stock and use the meat for recipes as desired, such as these Grilled Turmeric Chicken Skewers, or Mario Batali's Chicken Thighs with Garlicky Crumbs, or this Real Deal Kung Pao Chicken.

Or—the most popular chicken thigh recipe on the site—this Halal-Cart Chicken and Rice. Yum.

About the author: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt is the Chief Creative Officer of Serious Eats where he likes to explore the science of home cooking in his weekly column The Food Lab. You can follow him at @thefoodlab on Twitter, or at The Food Lab on Facebook.

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