Many grilling recipes call for chicken thighs rather than breasts. One reason for this is that the meat is more flavorful. Thighs are also a better choice for the grill because they’re capable of withstanding high heat without drying out. In this guide, we’ll take you through the finer points of chicken thighs and their ideal internal temperature.
Chicken Thighs Internal Temp
Chicken thighs are technically done cooking when they’ve reached 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Because the meat contains a great deal of collagen, though, they have a juicier and more succulent texture when you cook them to at least 180 degrees. We would recommend using this number as a benchmark when grilling chicken thighs.
Breasts vs. Thighs
Because chicken breasts consist of white meat, they cook fast, making them a good choice for beginners. The downside? They become unpleasantly dry if they’re overcooked.
The thigh meat, on the other hand, contains higher amounts of protein and fat. It has a meatier flavor than the breasts, but it still partners well with bold spice rubs and zesty marinades. Best of all, thighs are more forgiving, since there’s no harm in “overcooking” the thighs. In fact, it’s encouraged.
Chicken Thighs Internal Temp: The Basics
All poultry products should be safe to eat when they reach an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit. At this temperature, the bacteria that cause salmonella poisoning are killed off quickly. This means that you can consume the meat without worrying about getting sick.
When you’re roasting or grilling a whole chicken, check the temperature by inserting the thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh. The dark meat cooks at a slower pace than the breasts, so you should rely on this number to determine whether the entire bird is done.
However, if you’re cooking the thighs alone, we would recommend waiting until the internal temperature registers at least 180 before taking them off the heat. The breasts will have a sandpaper-like texture if you overcook them, but the thigh meat will be moist and succulent even at higher temps. Here’s why.
Chicken thighs contain a great deal of collagen, a protein that’s responsible for providing strength to muscle tissue. When it’s heated, collagen is converted to gelatin. This tenderizes the meat in addition to lending it moisture.
If you serve chicken thighs at 165 degrees, they’ll still taste fine and be safe to consume. However, the meat will be a bit chewy. When you wait until they’ve hit the 180-degree mark, they’ll be tender and juicy, with a silken texture.
Does it Take a Long Time to Cook Chicken Thighs to 180?
That depends on the temperature of the grill or smoker. If you’re grilling the thighs at 450 degrees, cooking an 8-ounce chicken breast to 180 will only take a few minutes longer than cooking it to 165. Since you need to wait until it hits that 165-degree threshold anyway, you probably won’t even notice the extra time.
If the grill temperature is any lower, it might take a few more minutes for the meat to reach the 180-degree mark. The only way to be sure is to check the temperature using a calibrated meat thermometer. In our opinion, the results will be worth the wait.
While we’re on the subject, let’s talk about the overall cooking time for chicken thighs. In general, boneless thighs should cook for 10 to 12 minutes, while bone-in thighs might take 15 to 20 minutes to achieve the right temperature.
We recommend grilling boneless thighs at around 400 degrees, but it’s better to raise the temperature to 450 for bone-in thighs. Just remember that when the grill is this hot, you’ll need to turn the thighs every 4-5 minutes to prevent burning.
Finally, remember that these are only guidelines, and not concrete rules. The total cooking time will depend on the size of the thighs, the actual temperature of the grill, and even outside factors like the weather. This is why a good instant-read thermometer is every griller’s best friend.
Can Chicken Thighs Be Pink in the Middle?
Many amateur chefs assume that chicken meat is only cooked through when they can no longer see any pink in the meat. It’s not necessarily a bad impulse, but this isn’t a rule that you should rely on.
In truth, chicken is safe to consume as long as the internal temperature has hit that 165-degree marker. This is the case even if the meat still has a pinkish tinge to it when you take it off the heat. Instead of color, rely on the thermometer. It’s the only true test of doneness, assuming that the thermometer is in good working condition.
Remember, too, that smoked meat always has that reddish hue just beneath the skin. If you’re using a smoker to cook the chicken thighs, you should see pink no matter how long you leave them on the heat.
Other Tips For Grilling Chicken Thighs
Season the chicken with bold ingredients. A hearty dose of kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper will work, but you can also experiment with different spice rubs. Try cutting boneless skinless chicken thighs into strips and seasoning them with curry powder, then grilling and serving them with peanut sauce and quick-pickled cucumbers.
Start with a quality product. If your butcher has free-range chicken thighs available, use those instead of the supermarket variety. You’ll be surprised at how much better the meat tastes in comparison.
Keep an eye on the grill temperature and adjust as needed.
If you’re adding a sauce to the chicken, wait until the meat is almost done cooking. Many sauces–including barbecue sauce–have a lot of sugar in them, which means they’ll burn if you add them too early.
The Bottom Line
Chicken thighs take a bit longer to cook than the breasts, but their flavor is superior, and the process is more forgiving. You should still keep a close eye on the thighs to prevent the outsides from burning, but cooking them past 180 degrees won’t do them any harm.
Best of luck, and happy grilling!