The Smart Guide to Grilling Chicken Thighs
If you're an omnivore with a grill, then it's likely you already have chicken in your easy summer meals rotation. But when it comes to perfecting favorite grilling recipes, there's always a little room for improvement, right? We already shared our guide to grilling chicken breasts, and here we're providing guidelines for getting grilled chicken thighs just right. We turned to cookbook authors (and husband-and-wife team) Marge Perry and David Bonom, whose most recent book is Hero Dinners: Complete One-Pan Meals that Save the Day. They're also the chef-owners of the innovative meal service company Trunk Pop Dinners based in Tenafly, N.J. Here, they share their best tips for grilling chicken thighs at home.
Perry loves to grill chicken thigh quarters. "Not only do they have great flavor, but they are also much more forgiving than white meat," says the award-winning food writer, cooking instructor, and television personality. "Unlike white meat, they can be slightly overcooked and still stay juicy and tender—they don't dry out as easily. And most importantly, they are more flavorful!"
For Bone-In Chicken Pieces, Use Indirect Heat
For Bonom, who has contributed to several Weber Grill cookbooks over the course of his career in food, grilling is as much a pleasure as it is a profession. He and Perry share a winning formula when it comes to grilling bone-in chicken legs, thighs, or quarters: Cook them over indirect medium heat (between 350 and 400 degrees Fahrenheit). "The gentler heat and longer cooking time allow the skin to crisp up nicely and keep the meat extra juicy," Bonom says.
And if he's in the mood to add some smoke, hickory is his wood of choice. "It's assertive enough to give great flavor but not overwhelm the chicken," he says.
For Boneless Chicken Thighs, Direct Heat Is Best
There's no questioning that opting to grill boneless, skinless chicken thighs is going to be quicker and more convenient for a busy weeknight dinner. If you're used to only cooking bone-in thighs, Perry and Bonom emphasize that boneless thighs require a different approach on the grill.
While bone-in chicken parts do best over indirect heat, "boneless thighs benefit from a quick cook over direct high heat for 8 to 10 minutes," Perry says. "Also, boneless thighs don't have any skin to worry about burning over direct heat, like you would a bone-in version."
What About Flipping?
There's no need to flip bone-in, Perry says, but do turn over the boneless thighs at least once when grilling. Ready to practice? Try this grilled boneless chicken thighs recipe with charred corn and summer squash—it's like summer on a plate.
On Marinades and Dry Rubs
For boneless thighs, Perry and Bonom prefer using marinades or pastes, and they advise that if there is an acid in your marinade (which there often tends to be), marinate your chicken for a minimum of 30 minutes and up to four hours. "After four hours the acid starts to break down the muscle and give the cooked chicken an unpleasant mealy texture," they say. "But two to four hours will give you great flavor."
For an all-purpose marinade for boneless thighs, try this versatile recipe for Grilled Marinated Chicken Thighs that uses a punchy herb sauce to flavor the chicken inside and out.
For bone-in chicken legs, Perry and Bonom like using dry rubs to add flavor. "The gentler cook over indirect heat helps to keep the spices from burning," Bonom says.