Cooking Tips
For Perfectly Tender Chicken Thighs, Overcook Them
Throw the chicken-cooking rule book out the window.
04-13-2022
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.

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.

What internal temperature should you cook chicken thighs to?

Chicken thighs are good at an internal temp of 175 degrees Fahrenheit, but they’re even better at 195.

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 at an internal temp 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.)

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There’s a wide spectrum of doneness for dark meat depending on how you’re cooking it, but keep these temperature guidelines in mind. (And don't go past 210°F. At that point, the meat gets stringy and loses its chicken-y flavor.)

Temperature Description Notes

165°F

Good

The USDA recommends cooking poultry to a safe minimum internal temperature as measured by an instant-read thermometer.

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.

How do I test the temperature of chicken thighs?

The best way to temp your chicken thighs is to use an instant-read thermometer. That way you can quickly open the oven and insert the thermometer into the thickest part of the meat to ensure it is fully cooked and at the desired temperature. 

ATK’s preferred instant-read thermometer is the ThermoWorks Thermapen ONE. In our testing of instant-read thermometers, the reviewers considered speed, accuracy, size and design. They loved the Thermapen ONE's large, grippy handle; rotating screen with large, highly legible numbers; and a backlight that goes on when viewing conditions are dim. It's also waterproof, it goes to sleep when not in use, and the display wakes up automatically when you pick up the entire unit.