The Seriously Underrated Cut of Chicken You Need to Start Buying
Some food ruts are borne of vanity. Maybe you eat the same grain bowls over and over, or the same smoothies every darn day. I have a penchant for cooking whole chickens, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t love how good they look on Instagram.
But it invariably takes time and an apartment-heating oven to cook a whole chicken—or my second poultry picks, bone-in, skin-on thighs—all the way through. To cook a cut that has the bone still in requires heat. Lots of it. It’s the end of May, and the mercury is creeping up, so I’m seeking shortcuts on the stove front, including those that might employ my Instant Pot, which keeps the temperature of my home cooler.
Though I’ve been an avid home cook for 20 years, it took me till this week, sadly, to recognize the myriad charms of boneless, skinless chicken thighs. I love crispy skin as much as the next person, but I don’t always need it, and I’ve started realizing how value packs of chicken tend to include way more skin than necessary. My cheapskate soul was consumed with wrath when I realized this.
If you spy boneless, skinless thighs—such as those from Bell & Evans, whose air-chilled, no-water-added chicken I quite like—at a price you can bear, snap them up. Here’s why.
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They cook faster than bone-in chicken thighs
I have it lodged deep in my psyche that bones and their marrow add unctuousness and juiciness to meat when you cook it. I’m sure that is likely still true, but chicken thighs are a forgiving, plush, meaty cut. If you cook them properly, you won’t miss the bone.
They’re harder to screw up than breasts and whole birds
Who hasn’t torn her hair out cooking a whole chicken at extreme temperatures, trying to get crisp skin, cooked dark meat, and moist white meat all at once? I’m among those who has written about the ease of whole chicken cookery, but it’s sort of a crock: It still requires a lot of attention and at least 45 minutes in a very hot oven. As for chicken breasts, they’re notoriously easy to overcook.
The meat tastes more luxe than other cuts
I can’t be the only one who finds the little weird knobby bits of cartilage on chicken legs troubling, and thinks that wings are almost more effort than they’re worth. (Almost. This recipe rules.) But thighs? The chicken thighs I made most recently, slathered with capers, garlic, olive oil, anchovies, and other wonderful things, have such a lovely texture that I’ve been nibbling on them cold right out of the fridge. And don’t get me started on how sad an overcooked breast is. So stringy, and so unpleasant.
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No extra skin or bones pumping up the price tag
Those “value packs” of bird you see at the supermarket? They’re a lot less cost-efficient once you trim off all the extra skin and notice just how much is still sticking to the paltry amount of poultry left. I love eating chicken skin, sure, but if you have too much of it in the oven, you have a smoky, splattery beast on your hands. Also, there’s something so satisfying in knowing exactly how many portions of meat you have in one package, and not having to account for skin or bones.
They’re fabulous for Instant Pots and other pressure cookers
My favorite Instant Pot cookbook contains tons of boneless, skinless chicken thigh recipes, because it’s simply easier to pressure-cook something that doesn’t have bones in it. Those can throw off the equation when you’re using pressure.
They soak up salt readily
Go ahead and try to salt a whole chicken evenly. No matter how far in advance you do it, or how long it sits uncovered in your fridge, curing, you’ll invariably wind up with under-salted bites. It’s just hard to salt a big bird from the inside as well as the out. Boneless thighs tend to be uniformly thick, and can soak up salt in about half an hour at room temperature.
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You can wrangle them more easily
There’s a lot to be said for the gratifying chicken Tetris of arranging boneless thighs around a skillet and making sure they don’t overlap. Try that with bone-in cuts, or with breasts; you’re going to be doing a lot more wrangling. Skinny, malleable thighs make your life easier (at least in the chicken department).
As for that pesky question of thighs having more fat and calories than breasts, that falls squarely into the “life is short” department for me. Once you’re making chicken—chicken!—dishes that are so good you’re actually cursing happily at your dinner plate, you’ll be a convert, too.
Alex Van Buren—follow her on Instagram and Twitter @alexvanburen—is a Brooklyn-based writer, editor and content strategist who has written for The Washington Post, Bon Appétit, Travel + Leisure, New York Magazine, Condé Nast Traveler, and Epicurious.