When it comes to the barbecue, breast isn’t always best.
For reliably tender, tasty results, few cuts offer more bang for your buck on the grill than chicken thighs. Quick-cooking, inexpensive, and—thanks to a higher fat content—much moister and more forgiving than breasts, they work just as well for a speedy weeknight supper as a leisurely Saturday feast. Another bonus: because their rich, dark meat stands up so well to bold flavors, thighs are the perfect blank canvas for trying out the wide world of bbq rubs, marinades, and spice blends. Not sure how to handle them? Remember these rules of thumb and you’ll be all set.
Unlike chicken breasts, which consist of a single muscle, chicken thighs contain multiple pieces—which is why they tend to have a more irregular shape and size, especially after the bone is removed. Also, the weight of a package of thighs can vary considerably depending on where and how they were raised; in general, free range methods produce thighs that are more petite than their industrially-bred counterparts. Larger pieces of meat will require more seasoning and longer cook times, so just make sure you know what you're working with before you fire up the bbq.
The extra fat on chicken thighs is what locks in their moisture and gives them their irresistibly rich, savory flavor. (And, happily, makes them almost impossible to overcook.) But some producers leave more skin and fat on their thighs than others—and large pockets of fat can cause nerve-wracking flare-ups when they hit the grill. Your best bet? Inspect each thigh before cooking, and trim away any excess folds of fat with a sharp knife.
Even unadorned, thighs are succulent and full of flavor—but season them with even the simplest marinade or spice rub, and the results will be off the charts. Their rich meat can stand up to robust spices, so don’t be shy. Slather them with a creamy Tandoori-style yogurt marinade and thread them on a skewer; pound them into a paillard and rub with a garlic- and thyme-flecked Mediterranean blend; or bathe them in a sweet-and-salty Vietnamese-style citrus and brown sugar brine and serve them over vermicelli noodles. The only limitations are your appetite and your imagination.
Give them a rest.
No matter what kind of flavoring agent you’re working with, for the fullest flavor, allow yourself enough time to season the chicken three to four hours ahead of cooking and let it rest in the refrigerator. Then bring it to room temperature 30 minutes before grilling.
Check the temp.
No one wants to bite into a chunk of undercooked chicken, ever. Because of their size, thighs will tend to cook quicker than breasts—as a general rule, about 10 minutes on the grill will take care of small thighs and 12-13 minutes for larger ones. But eyeballing it can be a little tricky because unlike breast meat, which turns from pink to white, thigh meat retains some of its dusky hue even after a thorough cooking. So ultimately, if you’re unsure of when to pull your thighs from the fire, your safest bet is to rely on a temperature check. Most food experts agree that when the internal temperature of the chicken reaches 165° F, it’s time to remove it from the heat and let it rest for a minute or two before serving. But remember: For the most accurate reading, always insert the tip of a digital thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh.