Cooking Tips
For Perfectly Tender Chicken Thighs, Overcook Them
Throw the chicken-cooking rule book out the window.
03-08-2021
Mari Levine

We all know the golden rule of cooking chicken: Don’t overcook it. Doing so leads to dry and leathery meat. And since undercooking it is an even worse fate, many of us overcompensate and pay the price.

But there’s an exception to this rule: dark meat. Unlike chicken breasts, chicken thighs and drumsticks actually become more tender the longer they cook.

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That’s because of their makeup. Dark meat has an abundant amount of connective tissue, which dissolves into gelatin as the meat cooks, rendering it juicy and tender. The longer it cooks, the more that connective tissue breaks down. This means that chicken thighs are good at 175 degrees Fahrenheit, but they’re even better at 195.

So knowing this, what’s the best way to cook thighs and drumsticks? The key is to cook them slowly. Gentle techniques—such as braising at a relatively low heat and grilling over an indirect fire—work best. The goal is to keep the meat between 140 and 195 degrees—the collagen breakdown sweet spot—for as long as possible. (That discovery is what led to the supple meat in our Mahogany Chicken Thighs and Grilled Spice-Rubbed Chicken Drumsticks recipes.)

There’s a wide spectrum of doneness for dark meat depending on how you’re cooking it, but keep these temperature guidelines in mind:

  • 175°F (Very Good): The meat is cooked through and tender but still clings to the bone. If you’re roasting a whole bird or cooking the thighs along with other ingredients, this is a good temperature to cook the meat to.
  • 190–195°F (Even Better): The meat is meltingly tender and exceptionally succulent, with rich poultry flavor.
  • 210°F (A Bit Too Far): The meat slumps off the bone and loses some of its chicken-y flavor.