For Dark Meat Lovers: Our Best Chicken Leg and Thigh Recipes
While our test kitchen advocates buying a whole chicken and cutting it into parts, when they do buy chicken pieces, they make sure its legs or thighs. Just as a whole chicken can be cut into pieces, chicken legs can be used whole or cut to separate the thighs and drumsticks. It's easy enough to divide chicken legs into thighs and drumsticks at home or you can ask the butcher at your grocery store to do this for you.
Like most budget-friendly cuts of meat, chicken legs are tougher and contain more fat than ultra-lean breasts, but they also deliver more flavor. They can be cooked on the stovetop, in the oven, in a pressure cooker, or even grilled in any recipe that calls for drumsticks or thighs. Chicken thighs and drumsticks are also sold on their own. Thighs are our test kitchen's absolute favorite chicken part. This dark meat cut has more fat, more flavor, and a more tender texture than chicken breast, and thighs are much better value than chicken breast. Chicken thighs are generally sold as bone-in thighs, with or without skin, or as boneless skinless chicken thighs.
Like thighs, chicken drumsticks are much juicer and have more flavor than chicken breast. An often overlooked cut, drumsticks are worth trying, particularly if you and your family are fans of bone-in meat. They offer the finger-food fun aspect of chicken wings but there's more meat to enjoy. Since drumsticks, like thighs, also have more fat and connective tissue, they are better suited to a wider range of cooking methods than chicken breasts. They do well with high-heat, quick-cooking methods, like grilling or roasting, as well as slower-cooking methods, like baking or braising, which renders them fall-apart tender. You can substitute drumsticks for bone-in thighs in almost any recipe, as the two cuts cook in about the same amount of time and have a similar flavor.
Here, our favorite recipes that utilize these tasty cuts.
Roasted Chicken Thighs with Tomatoes, Olives, and Feta
Roasting chicken thighs with grape tomatoes, olives, and shallots couldn't be simpler. The resulting tender meat and crisp skin are set off by fresh mint and briny feta.
Pan-Roasted Chicken with Za'atar, Potatoes, and Greens
Sheet pan suppers for the win! Here, chicken thighs and drumsticks are rubbed up with the Middle Eastern spice mixture known as za'atar and roasted along with fingerling potatoes, red onion, kale, and lemon.
Spicy Basil Chicken Stir-Fry
Better than takeout, chicken-thigh style: This fast, Thai-inspired dinner features a flavorful sauce made with soy sauce, oyster sauce, and sugar. There's also fiery Thai chiles and plenty of fresh basil.
Chicken thighs are marinated in spiced yogurt, then broiled and stewed in a tomato cream sauce for this popular Indian dish.
Red-Hot Chicken and Peppers
What makes these roasted chicken legs red hot? A fiery combination of hot sauce, smoked paprika, and roasted red-pepper brine.
Fried Chicken Sandwich
It doesn't get more crowd-pleasing than a buttermilk fried chicken thigh in a squishy bun. The homemade tartar sauce doesn't hurt either.
Arroz con Pollo
The traditional Spanish chicken-and-rice casserole gets its distinctive flavor from white wine, saffron, and plenty of aromatics. Nestle seared chicken legs and thighs into the seasoned rice and cook everything together in the oven.
Grilled Chicken and Vegetable Skewers
Deliciously charred kebabs of chicken-thigh meat, zucchini, cipollini onions, and cremini mushrooms get Mediterranean flair from a simple seasoning of lemon juice and chopped parsley.
Thyme-and-Sesame-Crusted Chicken Thighs
The most delicious breaded chicken cutlets. We start with chicken thighs which are butterflied into cutlets—the recipe explains how. It's a smart move for flavor and for budget, they're much better priced than chicken breast cutlets. Then panko provides the crunchy coating for these quick-cooking cutlets.
Maple-Mustard Chicken Legs with Potatoes and Carrots
Pantry ingredients deliver big flavor here: two kinds of mustard—smooth Dijon and whole-grain—and maple syrup are transformed into a flavorful paste for chicken legs.
Slow-Cooker Spicy Buffalo Chicken Sandwiches
Savor the flavor of spicy buffalo wings in sandwich form when you simmer chicken thighs in your slow cooker with crushed tomatoes and hot-pepper sauce. Serve the shredded chicken on hamburger buns with pickled vegetables on the side.
Grilled Chicken Salad
Yes, your green salad needs some dark meat! Drumsticks are given a quick turn on the grill along with boneless skinless breasts, then tossed with butter lettuce, peas, fresh mint, and a garlicky lemon-Dijon dressing.
Whole chicken thighs serve as the satisfying base of this classic Mexican soup. They're browned then simmered with tomato paste, Savoy cabbage, chicken broth, herbs, and aromatics.
Tequila-Lime Chicken Drumsticks
Braised Chicken with Tomatoes and Freekeh
In this easy one-pot dinner, chicken legs are braised with freekeh, a roasted, cracked wheat. Olives and cherry tomatoes round out the dish, it's a super tasty take on chicken and rice.
Thai Coconut Chicken with Pineapple Salsa
Ginger, garlic, coconut milk, and a splash of fish sauce create layers of flavor in this quick and easy Thai-inspired supper that starts with boneless, skinless thighs. You'll want to spoon the spicy pineapple salsa on everything!
Better known as coq au vin, this rustic French chicken stew gets its richness from bacon and red wine. Serve with crusty bread or buttered noodles.
Roasted Chicken and Butternut Soup
Hearty and nutritious, this soup stars butternut squash and chicken thighs flavored with onions, cumin, and coriander. Roasting the chicken and vegetables before adding them to the broth adds wonderful depth of flavor.