Learn how to grill perfect chicken thighs that are juicy, moist, and tender with a little crispy char. Using bone-in, boneless, or even skinless thighs, they make the perfect weeknight dinner. Fire up your grill for some incredibly easy thighs.
So what is the problem with grilling chicken thighs? Fat and flames... flames and fat. Chicken thighs are just loaded with fat. So here is how to solve the problem.
Trim off any trimmable fat and extra skin. There is generally a lot on most thighs. The competition grillers will remove the skin and trim all the fat under the skin but not really needed for great thighs at home.
If you are grilling thighs with skin, then do uneven grilling. This means less time with the skin facing the flame. If you are cooking skinless thighs, this is not needed.
Spice as you want. I often add the Cayenne, but if you have little ones, skip it.
Skip the seasoning and brush with your favorite BBQ sauce the last 5 minutes to make great BBQ thighs.
Resting the meat at room temperature, while the grill is preheating, will help get to the right internal temperature before the outside overcooks.
COOK TO THE INTERNAL TEMPERATURE, not by time along. The correct internal temperature for thigh meat is 180°-185°.
This is a 4 to 5 rating. If you're a real thigh person, then a five would be in order.
There are lots of things to love about chicken thighs, that is why so many people love them. The meat is delicious, moist, and flavorful because the fat keeps it that way.
Plus, you can have them your way, bone-in, boneless or skinless/boneless are all easily available and economical.
But it is the fat that will have many people picking chicken breasts instead.
How much fat is there?
Since we are dealing with a natural product, there is some variability but think of a thigh having about two to three times the fat of chicken breasts.
Here are the numbers from the National Chicken Council. Cooked skin-on thigh has 15.5 grams of fat while a skin-on split chicken breast is 7.8 grams.
🐓Boneless or Skinless Thighs
While the discussion is mainly for bone-in skin-on thighs, the meat is all the same and will cook the same with a few minor adjustments.
The bone will absorb some of the heat, so boneless thighs will cook a few minutes faster due to that, and they always seem thinner to me. Thickness is a big variable it cooking time, so pay attention to the internal temperature.
For skinless thighs, you can skip the uneven grilling times I discuss. You have no chicken skin you are trying to protect. But you will still need the large surface area to move around and avoid flare-ups from the fat drainage. Plus, give them a nice brush of vegetable oil before grilling.
The grill should be 450°-500° surface temperature. That is usually a bit above medium on most gas grills.
You want a grill with a large surface area. To do this right, you need to be able to move your chicken away from any flame-ups from fat drainage. I like to use the full grill surface and just divide it in half to avoid confusion.
If you have questions about grill set up, see A Beginners Guide to Grill Temperature on a Gas Grill.
Charcoal can be used, but you will need to keep about half the grill to move away from the heat during flair-ups.
A good estimate for cooking time is 25 minutes, but the exact grill temperature, the thickness of the thighs and their temperature at the start of grilling will make the exact time variable.
Boneless thighs will be about 5 minutes less but also tend to be thinner, so watch your internal temperature starting at 15 minutes.
Always cook to a final internal temperature. Please, never by time alone.
I suggest 180°-185° as the final internal temperature. This is where thighs are moist and tender. They are safe at 165° but are still tough and stringy. Please use an instant-read thermometer to get the right internal temperature.
Many recipes suggest cooking all chicken to 165°F, which is the minimum safe internal temperature by the FDA. But there is a difference between safe and done. Pork is safe at 145, but you sure won’t want your pulled pork to be cooked to 145°F. It would be terrible.
Also, some recipes call for cooking “until fluids run clear” or "no pink at the bone." How are you supposed to do that? Also, I suspect that it may even be below the safe minimum temperature since the pinkness disappears at about 155°F.
While I cook my chicken breast to 165°F, there is way too much fibrous tissue in thighs. They will be tough and stringy. Just plan not done. Again, please use 180°-185°F as you finish temperature. Check the comments if you need confirmation.
I used my All Purpose Seasoning - 7:2:1 and 7:2:2. But always season to your taste. Just some Kosher salt and pepper would do.
Many times I add a pinch of cayenne pepper. But use the seasoning you love.
Good just refrigerated for 3-4 days. They will freeze if sealed well; they should be fine for 3-4 months. Reheat by thawing first then reheat in an oven.
Chicken for a Hundred -The father of all of them.
Preheat grill to 450° surface temperature. That is medium to medium-high on most grills. Use the entire grill surface. Clean and oil well.
While the grill is preheating, trim the thighs of any trim-able fat and extra skin and allow to rest at room temperature until the grill is ready. No longer than 30 minutes, but this will help get to the correct internal temperature later.
Just before placing on the grill, give all sides a sprinkle of salt and pepper to your taste. I use my Homemade Seasoning, which is salt, pepper, and garlic powder. But season to your taste. If using skinless thighs, give them a light brushing of vegetable oil, also.
Using only half the grill surface, place on the grill with skin side UP. Grill for 5-6 minutes, then flip onto the other side of the grill and skin down. Grill for about 4 minutes with the skin down and then flip and back to the first side of the grill.
Continue to alternate sides of the grill to help keep the flair up down and continue the "uneven" grilling. If you are doing skinless thighs, you don't need to do the uneven part but still alternate sides of the grill.
Grill to 180°-185° internal temperature. Right at 25 minutes for me, but this will vary some with your exact grill surface temperature, the temperature of the thighs, and thickness.
Allow to rest for 5 minutes before serving. They are too hot to eat.
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Editor's Note: Originally Published August 1, 2015. Updated with expanded options, refreshed photos, and a table of contents to help navigation.