How Do You Grill Bone-In Chicken Thighs
For many years, chicken thighs were considered the “black sheep”, as it were, of the chicken family. They were the cut of meat that you chose if there was nothing else available. This likely stems from the obsession towards the end of the 20th century with “low fat” foods - chicken thighs are indeed higher in fat content than other cuts of chicken, but thankfully society is coming around and realizing that a little extra healthy fat is not a bad thing!
In our opinion, society owes a bit of a mea culpa to chicken thighs. They are one of the tastiest and most versatile cuts of chicken, and incredibly easy to cook.
In fact, when it comes to grilling, chicken thighs are the perfect cut of meat to cook on the barbecue, because their higher fat content helps them retain moisture when cooked over high heat. You may have experienced the frustration of having perfectly grilled chicken breasts one moment, only to turn your back to grab your tongs and *BAM* that extra minute of grill time left you with chewy and overcooked chicken. You won’t have that problem with chicken thighs - in fact, it’s pretty hard to mess up chicken thighs, which gives them extra points as far as we’re concerned.
Here are just a few reasons to love chicken thighs:
- They’re budget friendly - maybe it’s left over from the days when chicken thighs were considered less desirable than their chicken counterparts, but thighs tend to be a less expensive cut of meat and cooking with chicken thighs is very budget friendly.
- Chicken thighs pack a flavorful punch - due to their higher fat content, chicken thighs are bursting with flavor, and that flavor is much more intense than other cuts of chicken. This makes them a great choice for casseroles, where other cuts of meat may run the risk of being overpowered by the other flavors in the dish.
- They’re easy to cook - Best of all, it’s very difficult to overcook chicken thighs, since they retain their flavor and moisture even when cooked at high heats. Unlike chicken breasts which run the risk of drying out, chicken thighs are bound to be savory and moist even when cooked by the most novice chefs.
At Pasturebird, we offer our chicken thighs with the bone-in. While both bone-in and boneless chicken thighs are delicious, cooking chicken thighs with the bone in allows the flavor from the bone to expand into the meat during cooking, making your final product even tastier. If you’ve ever tasted a good chicken stock or bone broth, you know how much flavor is packed into those bones. As an added bonus, since you can rest assured that with Pasturebird you’re getting the highest quality pasture raised chicken - you can reuse the bones to make your own bone broth!
Tips for Grilling Bone-In Chicken Thighs
Since cooking meat with a bone can add a few variables to the cooking process, there are a few important things to remember when cooking bone-in chicken thighs on the grill.
First, when meat is cooked with the bone-in, the bone absorbs some of the heat, which extends the necessary cooking time a bit. Not by much, but it’s important to note both for meal planning and food safety purposes, that you’ll have to add a few minutes to your cook time when grilling bone-in chicken thighs.
Second, when checking the temperature of your chicken thighs after cooking, find the thickest part of the meat, but make sure your thermometer doesn’t touch the bone - this can lead to an inaccurate reading.
You may find that you need to space out your chicken thighs on the grill more than you would with a different cut of meat. The fat content of thighs can cause flame flare-ups from the fat draining during cooking, and you’ll want to give yourself enough room to move the thighs away from flame to avoid charring. Moving the chicken thighs around the grill each time you flip them will help cut down on any flame flare-ups as well.
To begin, preheat your grill to about 450-500 degrees. While this may sound awfully high, you’ll want to increase the temperature a bit since you’re cooking meat with the bone in. While boneless chicken thighs are usually finished cooking after 15 minutes, bone-in thighs usually require about 20 minutes of grilling time to reach perfection. Many people recommend cooking chicken thighs to an internal temperature of 180-185 degrees. While they are safe to eat at 165, like other cuts of chicken, they become a bit more tender with a little extra cooking time.
To Marinate, or Not to Marinate?
You can probably tell by reading some of our other blog posts that we come down firmly on Team Marinate when it comes to chicken. A good marinade adds so much depth and flavor to your meat, no matter how you’re preparing it or what cut of meat you’re using. Bone-in chicken thighs are no exception! Whether or not to marinate your chicken is certainly a personal choice, and you may think that since chicken thighs are naturally juicier that they won’t benefit as much from a marinade. While technically true from a juiciness perspective, marinating chicken does much more than keep it from drying out during cooking.
When you use a marinade prior to cooking, it infuses your chicken with the flavors of the marinade - since chicken thighs have a robust and savory flavor to begin with, this flavor is only enhanced when a marinade is used. As always, make sure to use proper food safety when preparing and cooking your chicken thighs, including when it comes to how you use your marinade. You can read some of our chicken cooking safety tips here.
One more helpful tip, regardless of the type of chicken that you’re grilling - remember that if you’re using barbeque sauce, it should be added towards the end of the grilling process. If you add it too early, the sugars in the barbeque sauce will crystallize and char, resulting in a burnt skin around your chicken rather than a tasty coating of flavor.