Do you know the difference between a chicken thigh and a drumstick? And how does a chicken leg differ from these cuts—if it differs at all? Our ultimate guide is here to explore these questions in detail.
Chicken Leg vs Thigh vs Drumstick
A chicken leg can be divided into two segments: the thigh and the drumstick. The thigh is the portion of the leg that’s connected to the body, and the drumstick is the bottom segment that attaches to the foot. When sold whole, chicken legs are sometimes labeled as “chicken quarters” or “chicken leg quarters.”
About Chicken Legs
A whole chicken leg consists of the thigh meat, which connects the leg to the rest of the body, and the drumstick, which is the lower portion of the leg. When left whole, chicken leg quarters make for generous portion sizes and an impressive appearance.
About Chicken Thighs
The thigh is the upper section of the chicken’s leg. It’s a rich and meaty cut with plenty of flavor.
Chicken thighs are roughly square-shaped and weigh about 3 to 5 ounces apiece, depending on whether they’re sold boneless or bone-in. The boneless ones are easier to handle, but the skin and bones improve the flavor and texture of the meat.
Since this part of the bird gets a decent amount of exercise—relatively speaking—the thigh is considered dark meat. That means it contains more myoglobin than the breast. As a result, the meat ranges from dark pink to purple in color.
Chicken thighs are great on the grill, but they can be used in a myriad of ways. Because the meat holds up well at high temperatures, it’s a natural for stews and casseroles.
About Chicken Drumsticks
Drumsticks have plenty of eye appeal and are a lot of fun to eat. These factors combine to make chicken drumsticks a popular party staple.
The drumstick is the bottom section of the chicken leg. It has a bulb-like appearance, with a meaty top portion tapering to a knob of bone. The bone gives diners something to hold on to while they nosh on the meat, so drumsticks are excellent finger food.
This part of the leg is considered dark meat as well. As such, it can handle temps of up to 195 degrees without losing its texture. That said, it might not take as long as the thigh to achieve this temperature, owing to the fact that it’s mostly bone.
Chicken Thigh vs Drumstick
Aside from their distinct locations on the bird, there are several notable differences between chicken thighs and drumsticks.
The first and most obvious difference lies in their appearance. Thighs are flat and square-shaped, while the drumsticks are smaller, but long and rounded.
Unlike drumsticks, which are sold exclusively with the bone in, chicken thighs are often packaged with the skin and bone segment removed. That makes the thighs a better choice for a quick weeknight supper.
Speaking of which, drumsticks can be difficult to find in bulk. While you can always procure them by purchasing a whole chicken or a batch of whole leg quarters, that’s not as convenient when you’re looking for a batch of drumsticks.
If you are able to find them, you can expect the drumsticks to be set at a lower price point than the thighs. The thighs have a higher meat-to-bone ratio, which drives up the prices. Of course, the trade-off is that you’ll get less meat per serving with the drumstick.
Chicken Leg vs Drumstick
Sometimes, a recipe will call for chicken legs when it intends for you to use the drumsticks only. This can be confusing. Fortunately, if you know the difference between chicken leg vs thigh vs drumstick, you should be able to tell when this is the case.
As we’ve established, a whole chicken leg is large enough to be classified as a chicken quarter. You’re looking at the entire leg, not just a drumstick-shaped piece of meat. As such, it should be easy to distinguish between them at a glance.
Of course, if the recipe makes it hard to tell which cut you should actually use, you can substitute one for the other. Just remember that the whole chicken leg will take longer to cook than the drumstick, since it also includes the meaty thigh portion.
Also, bear in mind that the presentation will be somewhat different. If you had your heart set on serving drumsticks as finger food, consider separating the thighs from the drumsticks either before or after the meat is cooked.
Which Cut is Cheapest?
As we pointed out earlier, thighs are usually more expensive than drumsticks. You’ll get more meat out of them, and the cut is much more versatile.
Whole chicken legs tend to be cheaper than either drumsticks or thighs. Dark meat has a reputation for being unhealthier than the breast, probably because it’s higher in fat. But unless you’re on a strict low-fat diet, this shouldn’t deter you.
Retailers know that they’ll make most of their money off the breast portion, so they can afford to attach a lower price tag to the legs. This is done in part to make the legs more attractive to shoppers on a budget.
It’s also easier for the processors to just package the legs after separating them from the carcass, rather than pay a butcher to divide them into segments. That way, they don’t have to worry about boning or skinning the thighs, either.
Can You Separate The Thigh From The Drumstick Yourself?
Even if you don’t want to cook the whole chicken leg quarter, you can save money buy purchasing the cut and then splitting it in half at home. All you need is a sharp knife and the time and inclination to do the work.
To begin, place the chicken legs onto a large cutting board. Make sure to wash your hands thoroughly using antibacterial soap before and after handling raw poultry.
Grasp the meaty thigh portion of the leg in one hand and hold onto the drumstick with the other. Bend the drumstick against the joint until it dislocates.
Once you’ve taken this step, you should be able to slide a sharp knife through the dislocated joint to separate the two portions. If you find that your knife isn’t getting the job done, try using a pair of kitchen shears instead.
If you’re not cooking the thighs and drumsticks right away, place them in sturdy zip-top bags. Cook within 1 to 2 days. You can also store them in the freezer for up to 6 months.
Pro Tip: When freezing several chicken parts in the same container, separate the pieces using wax paper to prevent them from sticking together. This will allow them to thaw more evenly.
How To Cook Chicken Leg Portions
Whether you’re dealing with the thigh, the drumstick, or the whole leg quarter, you should allow the meat to achieve an internal temperature of 180 degrees Fahrenheit before taking it off the heat.
Chicken is technically done when it cooks to 165 degrees. However, while the breast meat becomes unpleasantly dry if the temperature climbs much higher than this, the dark meat is too chewy and stringy at this temp. We prefer to let it cook a bit longer.
To help the meat cook more evenly, allow it to come to room temperature for about 30 minutes. If you haven’t already seasoned the chicken, do so now.
When you’ve set the oven or smoker to 350 degrees, whole chicken legs should take about 45 minutes to cook to 180. Thighs or drumsticks might be done in just 30 minutes.
Remember to test the internal temperature of the meat at the estimated halfway point. It might be cooking much more slowly than you expected, or it might be done sooner. Checking it partway through the cook will give you a better idea of its progress.
Also, know that the chicken might still have a pinkish tinge to it, even when it’s fully cooked. This is true especially if the bird was a younger specimen—their bones aren’t as well-developed, so the marrow can easily seep out into the surrounding muscle.
One final note: Don’t be tempted to cook chicken until it falls off the bone. If the meat is that well done, it’s probably starting to dry out. You want to be able to chew the meat from the bone easily, but it shouldn’t be sloughing off at the slightest touch.
Because chicken legs aren’t as popular as the breasts, they’re an affordable yet delicious alternative. They require a bit more care and take longer to cook, but the results are well worth it.
Now that you understand the difference between chicken leg vs thigh vs drumstick, you’ll have a better idea of which cut to buy for your next cookout.