Despite being more flavorful and versatile, chicken thighs remain far behind breast meat in popularity, at least within the US. Here at Serious Eats, though, we recommend chicken thighs for all sorts of preparations: braising, stewing, baking, frying, skewering/grilling. An abundance of connective tissue makes them both flavorful and forgiving of longer cooking times, unlike breast, which tends to dry out quickly.
To me, all that makes thighs the perfect cut for a relaxed night of cooking, one in which I don't have to watch the pan like a hawk to get good results. Here are 21 recipes, from one-pan braised dinners of chicken thighs and vegetables to Bengali rice porridge and grilled paella, to convince you of the glories of dark meat.
Grilled Chicken Skewers
Chicken thighs' higher fat content helps them retain more moisture than breast. That means thigh meat is practically a must for grilled skewers, as the intense heat of the grill would quickly overcook and dry out breast. Inspired by Vietnamese gà kho, these skewers get ample flavor from a sweet-and-savory glaze (incorporating both brown sugar and honey as a stand-in for the more traditional rock sugar) that caramelizes into a crispy coating on the grill. Rolling the skewers in a final layer of sesame seeds and sliced almonds gives them plenty of crunch. You can grill these (or any of the other skewers below) on the grate using a two-zone fire, as we've recommended in the past, or try our new and improved skewer-grilling setup to bring the meat closer to the coals and increase your chances of tender, juicy results.
The nanbansu in the name is a simple mixture of soy sauce, vinegar, sugar, and mirin, and it can be used as a sauce, dip, and/or marinade. Again, use chicken thighs here to ensure the yakitori come off the grill moist and tender. The meat picks up lots of flavor from an overnight marinade in the nanbansu, which we also serve alongside the skewers for dipping; a little optional shichimi togarashi will add a mild heat, if you want it.
Once you have a batch of homemade teriyaki sauce on hand, this recipe could hardly be easier. The teriyaki sauce gives the skewers a sweet-and-savory profile, while the grilled scallions' crunch helps balance the juiciness of the chicken thigh. As with any skewer recipe, thread the pieces fairly close together on each skewer to help them retain moisture—and, of course, don't skimp on the sauce.
There are many good reasons to own a mortar and pestle, but my personal favorite may be that it affords you the opportunity to just bash a lot of things into tiny pieces. You'll get to do plenty of that for this Thai-style chicken satay, which starts with a powerful aromatic paste featuring lemongrass, turmeric, garlic, ginger, and toasted coriander and white pepper. We combine the paste with coconut milk and fish sauce to form a marinade for small pieces of chicken thigh meat before they're skewered and grilled. The tart-sweet flavor of tamarind in the accompanying peanut dipping sauce makes it a perfect complement to the skewers' smoky char.
Lemon and mustard are both powerful acids, which help to tenderize chicken, and they work so quickly that their flavors can penetrate the meat in just an hour of marination time. The sweetness of honey and acidity of the lemon juice and mustard help balance out the strong anise-y flavor of tarragon here. This quick recipe is a good argument all on its own for introducing more weeknight grilling into your life.
Chicken thighs take well to braising and other moist cooking methods, such as in this chile verde, which also gets a flavor boost from using dark meat. Plus, with the power of a pressure cooker at your disposal, you'll achieve results in 30 minutes that would normally take hours on the stovetop. A combination of tomatillos, Poblano peppers, Anaheims, and serranos yields a complexly flavored sauce, and a small amount of fish sauce gives the chili an extra hit of umami once it's finished.
Cabbage and pork are a classic combination, and in this easy, hearty one-pan braise, we pair both with chicken thighs to great effect. By cooking the chicken thighs and bacon directly on top of a bed of shredded cabbage, we ensure the vegetables absorb flavor from both meats. The clincher? The whole dish takes just over an hour, start to finish.
The key to nailing a proper paella is browning every single ingredient very well before adding any liquid. Since the chicken is going to be first browned and then cooked in stock and puréed tomatoes, it needs to be able to hold up to an extended cooking time, which means thigh meat is what you want here. For a party-sized paella like this one, emulate traditional methods and make it outside on the grill—it's the best way to ensure such a large volume heats evenly. If you're not a paella purist, check out our paella mixta, too, which incorporates both chicken leg meat and seafood.
Fans of Kenji's five-ingredient pickle-brined fried chicken sandwich, or any fried chicken sandwich, won't want to miss out on this twist. We marinate chicken thighs in a mixture of kimchi brine, buttermilk, and gochugaru (Korean red chili flakes) before dredging and frying, then top the fried chicken with chopped kimchi and kimchi-infused mayo. (For extra credit, try serving it on Stella's flaky Black Sesame Buttermilk Biscuits.) Safe to say, I'll be dreaming about this sandwich for a few months at least.
Another easy weeknight dinner, this one-pan recipe for baked chicken thighs relies heavily on a flavorful marinade full of Vietnamese flavors—bright, umami, and just a little spicy. It's certainly worth the few items you'll have to add to your grocery list. Here's a tip: Make sure you prepare your rice (because you're going to need plenty of rice on the side!) while the chicken is marinating.
Oyakodon, a rice bowl topped with simmered chicken and softly cooked eggs, is pure Japanese comfort food, and easy to make at home. The extra egg yolk on top is optional, but we love any chance to pop open a golden yolk, swirling it around and around in the bowl so its richness gets into every corner.
Chicken scarpariello is an old Italian-American standby of braised chicken thighs, sausage, and peppers in a punchy sweet-and-sour sauce, and it's simple enough to make any night of the week. Achieving the most possible flavor in the sauce depends heavily on the drippings from the chicken, so it's best to use bone-in, skin-on thighs. We sear those thighs until they're deeply browned before adding them to a pan with sautéed garlic, onion, and bell pepper; browned sausage; and pickled cherry peppers along with their liquid, before popping it all in the oven to braise.
It's hard to think of a culinary image makeover that's been more dramatic than that of Brussels sprouts—the days of their reputation as mushy, sulfur-scented lumps are over. That's thanks in large part to the realization that intensely high heat is the key to getting them crisp, nutty-sweet, and delicious. This recipe roasts halved Brussels sprouts, sliced sausage, and bone-in chicken thighs all in one pan, where (just as in some of the previous recipes) the meat gets tender and well browned, and the sprouts' flavor benefits from mingling with all those juices.
Building layers of flavor in a jambalaya is just as important as it is for a soup. In this recipe, the chicken and sausage join forces to flavor the stock. Once the chicken has been browned, it goes into the oven along with the rice, aromatics, and braising liquid—cooking in the oven is our secret to avoiding burnt rice and the need for frequent stirring—so the forgiving nature of chicken thighs is a must here.
If you're put off by overly spicy curries that leave you in tears, give massaman curry a whirl—a product of Middle Eastern migration to Southeast Asia, it uses milder spices that build warmth and aroma rather than fire. Boneless and skinless thighs work fine here, especially since they're easily cut into small pieces. We simmer them, along with potatoes, in a coconut milk– and chicken stock–based sauce, plus a surprise ingredient—Belgian-style wheat beer.
While you can technically highlight any chili pepper of your choosing for these braised chicken thighs, the recipe is especially well suited to ají amarillo, a bright and fruity orange pepper that's native to Peru. The mellow, sweet coconut milk takes on the golden color of the ají amarillo quite nicely, making this dish perfect for a day when you'd like a little more sun.
Blending the ground chicken here with a yogurt marinade, along with the thigh meat's natural ability to retain moisture, helps ensure these patties come out juicy after grilling. An array of spices creates a warm, Indian-inspired profile, balanced out by the cooling jalapeño-mint yogurt sauce dolloped on top. Serve these on toasted flatbread for an easy, handheld summer dinner.
Broiling is another high-heat cooking method in which chicken thighs can shine—a broiler may not be as powerful as a tandoor, but it's about as close as you're going to get with standard indoor home equipment. We tenderize the chicken in a mix of yogurt and spices, then broil it, along with the marinade, in a skillet until it's nicely browned. The liquid from the skillet does double duty, adding flavor to a side dish of fluffy couscous.
Coming together in a single pan in just an hour, this recipe is great for whipping up on a Tuesday night after a tiring day of work. Searing the chicken thighs first delivers crispy skin and adds extra flavor to the braising liquid, while a pinch of saffron turns the dish delightfully golden and fragrant. After the sear, we add chicken stock, quartered red potatoes, saffron, lemon juice, and black peppercorns, then stick the skillet in the oven—that's it.
Using stronger-flavored dark-meat chicken in this hot, spicy, and gooey dish just makes sense—the chicken has a lot of other flavors to compete with, including fresh red chilies, gochugaru, gochujang (Korean chili paste), ginger, black pepper, and more. While the cheese broiled over the top might seem like gilding the lily, it's not true buldak without it. Crack open a beer, get ready to sweat, and embrace the overkill.
This porridge is pure comfort food, perfect for those days when you feel a cold coming on or when it's gray and rainy out. Gently crushing some of the rice leaves smaller bits that dissolve into the turmeric- and ginger-scented porridge, making it nicely thick, and diced chicken thigh, potato, and red lentils turn it into a hearty, warming meal. But the best part, in my opinion, is the topping of crispy fried shallots, since I'm constantly looking for excuses to make more and sprinkle them over everything. That counts as meal prep, right?
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