How To Tell if Chicken Thigh is Cooked To a Safe Temperature

When it comes to chicken, you want to make sure that it’s thoroughly cooked before you dig in. But is there a foolproof method for testing the meat? If so, how can you perfect it? Let’s find out.

How To Tell if Chicken Thigh is Cooked

You’ll know your chicken thighs are cooked through when they reach an internal temperature of at least 165 degrees. Since the thighs are made up of dark meat, though, they’ll be more appealing if you cook them a bit longer. 180 degrees is a good benchmark for grilled chicken thighs.

About Chicken Thighs

Thigh meat is an excellent choice for the grill. Not only does it have more protein than breast meat, it doesn’t dry out as quickly. This makes for a more carefree grilling experience–and delicious results, provided you know what you’re doing.

Chicken thighs have a rich, meaty flavor that still manages to serve as a nice backdrop for bolder ingredients. You can use them in a number of dishes, from ordinary barbecued chicken to Indonesian satay with peanut-chili sauce.

Some people prefer to grill chicken breasts because the meat contains less fat. While this is true, we think the trade-off is worth it in terms of flavor and convenience.

At What Temperature Are Chicken Thighs Considered Done?

The answer to this one is tricky. It’s considered safe to eat poultry that’s cooked to an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s true of the dark meat as well as the white meat.

That said, thigh meat can benefit from longer exposure to the heat. White meat will turn dry and chalky if it’s cooked past 165, which is why some chefs like to pull it off the heat a bit sooner. But the dark meat will actually improve when it passes this threshold, turning tender and silky.

Why the difference? The short answer is that dark meat contains more collagen. Since collagen converts to gelatin as it heats up, the surrounding meat will be bathed in moisture. This gives it a succulent, juicy texture.

It’s fine to serve chicken thighs at 165 degrees, especially if you’re cooking the whole bird. The last thing you want is to overcook the breasts. However, if you’re only cooking the thighs, we recommend waiting until they reach 180 degrees before taking them off the heat. At 165, the meat will be tasty, but it may have a chewy texture.

How Long Does it Take To Grill Chicken Thighs?

If you set the grill temperature to 400 degrees, boneless thighs should reach the optimum temperature in 10 to 12 minutes. Remember that the thighs are fattier than the breasts, so you should watch them in case you need to tend to any sudden flare-ups.

Bone-in thighs will take longer, perhaps 15 to 20 minutes total. It’s a good idea to set the temperature a bit higher when you’re dealing with bone-in meat. Wait until the grill temp hits 450 degrees before adding the chicken thighs, and be sure to turn them often so that they don’t burn.

How To Tell if Chicken Thigh is Cooked Through

There is only one way to be sure that the thigh meat has reached a safe temperature, and that’s by using a meat thermometer. A digital instant-read model is best, but as long as the unit has been calibrated to show the correct readout, any meat thermometer will do.

There are a few other ways to check the meat for doneness. However, they should be used in conjunction with the thermometer and not as a replacement. As long as you keep that in mind, feel free to experiment with these common guidelines.

Timing

As we described, chicken thighs should cook through in 10 to 20 minutes. It might take a little bit less or more time, depending on their size. Other factors come into play as well: the accuracy of the grill temperature, the weather, or how close the cooking grate is to the fire.

Start testing the meat with a thermometer when it’s been on the grill for about 10 minutes. This should give you a rough idea of how much more time it needs to finish cooking, if any.

Consistency

The next time you take a batch of perfectly cooked chicken thighs off the grill, try sticking a fork in one of them as the meat rests. You’ll probably notice that the meat will slide right off the fork when you attempt to pick it up.

By contrast, if you have to shake the fork vigorously in order to dislodge the thigh, the chicken should cook longer. Again, this isn’t a hard and fast rule, but it’s interesting to note the difference.

A similar test involves tugging on a corner of the thigh to see if the meat shreds apart under gentle pressure. This works best if you’re dealing with bone-in thighs, but you can try it with the boneless variety as well.

Appearance

Fully cooked chicken thighs should be opaque throughout, without the gelatinous quality that characterizes their raw state. If they’re skin-on, the skin should be nice and crispy all over. Should you carve into a chicken thigh only to find that the meat is still translucent, put it back on the grill to finish cooking.

Juices

Most chefs have heard of this trick. Use a small, sharp knife to carve a slash into a section of the chicken thigh. If the juices run clear, the meat is done. If you see pink or red, then they probably need to cook more.

Of all the methods we’ve listed here, this is the one we would rely on the least. That’s because chicken thighs can be slightly pink and still be fully cooked through. In fact, if you’re making smoked chicken thighs, the meat will have a pinkish tinge beneath the surface even if they’re overcooked. A hint of pink in the juice doesn’t mean the meat is still raw.

The Bottom Line

As a griller, a reliable instant-read thermometer is the best gift you can give yourself. Without it, you can never be 100 percent sure whether your meat is cooked to a safe temperature. Since undercooked chicken thighs are a hazard as well as an inconvenience, why not err on the side of caution?

Best of luck, and happy grilling!

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