Slow and steady heat means the crispiest chicken.

By Margaret Eby
May 04, 2020
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If you come from a world of packaged boneless skinless chicken breasts, venturing into the other cuts can feel intimidating at first. There are bones to contend with, and different cooking times, and concerns over getting the skin to be crispy rather than rubbery. I get it! I was very much raised in a boneless skinless household, and it took me a while to get comfortable with methods like roasting a whole chicken, breaking one down into parts, and cooking just the chicken thighs. But it’s worth your time, because the other parts of the chicken, particularly chicken thighs, are full of flavor and possibility. Here are a few ways to ensure success the next time you’re cooking chicken thighs. 

Jennifer Causey

Get Them Bone-In, Skin-On

Boneless, skinless chicken thighs can be a good alternative to breast meat, but that's not what we want here. Keeping the skin on protects your chicken thighs from drying out while they cook, plus it allows for the additional textural treat of crispy, perfectly seasoned skin. Bone-in can be tricky to cut, but the bones help prevent the chicken from drying out. They also mean you need a bit longer to cook the meat through, but the results are worth it. 

Fire Up the Oven

Even though you’ll be starting the chicken with a stovetop sear, you’ll transfer the pan to the oven to finish cooking the meat evenly and completely. So it’s a good idea to start preheating the oven before you turn on the stove.

Choose the Right Skillet

You want something that can go from the stovetop to the oven, and that’s big enough to fit the chicken thighs without packing them tightly together. If they’re overcrowded, it’ll mean the chicken will steam instead of roast, leading to a rubbery skin situation. A cast-iron skillet is perfect for this application. For four thighs, depending on how big they are, a 10-inch skillet should be perfect.

Season Your Thighs

When the seasoning you’re using is very simple, you want to make sure you don’t skip it. In this chicken thigh recipe, you’ll just need 1 teaspoon of kosher salt and 1 teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper for four chicken thighs (about 2 pounds chicken total). If you want extra insurance of an even coating, you can mix the salt and pepper together before you sprinkle.

Start on the Stove

Heat your pan over medium. Be patient here—you may be tempted to bump the heat up higher, but you’ll run the risk of overcooking and burning the skin. Coat the pan in about 2 teaspoons of olive oil, and then put the thighs skin-side down on the pan. The point here isn’t to cook the thighs through, you’ll do that in the oven later. You want all the lovely chicken fat to gently, gradually render, giving the skin that crispiness we crave. Cook until the skin looks golden brown and crispy, then flip and let the other side cook for about 6 minutes, just to brown it a bit.

Finish in the Oven

Transfer the skillet to a 450 degree oven, and cook the thighs until the thickest part registers 165 degrees on an instant-read thermometer (avoiding the bone). You can use those drippings in the pan to make an excellent pan sauce, and serve the chicken thighs with whatever side you like. I’m particularly fond of mashed potatoes, or a chimichurri dipping sauce.  Now that you know how to make perfectly cooked chicken thighs, your menu has so many possibilities.