Chicken thighs have more fat and blood vessels than other parts of the chicken—which is why the thighs are the most flavorful parts of the bird. However, chicken contains a lot of harmful bacteria, so it needs to be cooked to a precise internal meat temperature. Avoid “eyeballing” chicken. Always use high-quality instant read thermometers to give you an accurate reading.
Chicken thighs are best cooked to an internal temperature of 175° F. Although the USDA recommends chicken be cooked to 165⁰F, the thighs have more blood vessels and fat, and need a little longer than leaner parts of the chicken such as the breast.
Checking The Chicken Temperature
When checking the done temperature of a whole chicken, first probe the breast, and then probe the thigh. Aim for 165° F in the breast—and try not to go over. The breast is lean, so it will dry out if overcooked.
An important thing to remember when cooking whole chicken is to face the thighs and the legs towards the hottest part of your grill/smoker. The thighs and the legs contain more blood vessels and fat—so they can handle more heat than the breast. The chicken breasts are difficult to manage because they have a tendency to dry out. This is because the breast contains very little fat, so there’s nothing inside the meat to keep it moist.
Where To Probe Chicken
If you are cooking a whole chicken, probe the meat in the thigh and the breast. Avoid probing close to bones and try insert a few inches if possible. With most thermometers, you only need to go 1/4 of the way. Make sure you go in far enough so that the sensor can read the temperature.
Bacteria In Chicken
Chicken contains harmful bacteria like salmonella, staphylococci, and E coli. For chicken to be safe, it needs to be consumed at 165° F, otherwise the bacteria will multiply.
Bacteria are killed between 40° F and 140° F—so keep the chicken outside this range. So when cooking, don’t let the chicken drop below 140°F. When storing or defrosting chicken, don’t allow the temperature to go above 40°F.
Best Temperature For Cooking Chicken
If you want a crispy skin, cook chicken in the 300° F range. Any lower than 275°F, the skin will be soft and rubbery. You can go as high as 350° F, but careful not to dry out the chicken.
Why Is Smoked Chicken Pink?
If you are smoking the chicken, you will notice a pink ring from on the outer layer of the meat. This can be deceiving and looks raw. However, this is not the case. This is why it’s so important to probe your chicken with an instant-read thermometer. The smoke ring is a chemical reaction that occurs on the surface of the meat. The smoke preserves the pink pigment of the chicken—making it look raw.
The best way to verify the temperature of meat is with a quality instant-read thermometer—but it’s important to buy one that’s accurate. What’s the point of using a thermometer if it’s inaccurate? There are dozens of cheap-and-nasty thermometers in stores and online—but most are a waste of money. Do your research and buy a good thermometer that is guaranteed to give fast and accurate readings.
Some of the common cheap thermometers give readings in 10 seconds or longer, whereas high-quality thermometers give readings within 2 or 3 seconds. Speed is one thing but accuracy is the most important feature of the instant-read thermometer. You can check your accuracy of your thermometer by doing an ice bath test, or a boiling water test. Check out this article on how to calibrate a thermometer, and I’ll walk you through the entire process.
How To Test A Thermometer For Accuracy
A quick-and-easy way of checking the accuracy of your thermometer is by performing a couple of tests. The first is a boiling water test and the second is an ice bath test.
- Take a jug of water and fill it with ice and water.
- Place the thermometer into the water.
- Ice water should give a reading of 32.0°F within ±0.1°F.
The other test you can perform is the boiling water test. Water boils at 212° F°.
What To Do If Your Thermometer Is Inaccurate?
After testing your thermometer, you may notice that its out by 10⁰ or 20°. So if your chicken thighs are reading 165° F, they could in fact only be 150° F—which could put you and your family at risk. You can continue using the thermometer, as long as you are aware of the temperature difference.
When it comes to instant-read thermometers, the Thermapen is the gold standard. The Thermopen is the thermometer used by chefs, celebrity cooks and YouTube barbecue gurus. However, the Thermapen is expensive (about $100). There are several Thermapen alternatives that give fast and accurate readings for 1/4 of the price.
The best Thermopen alternative is the TP19. This instant-read gives 2-3 second readings, has great accuracy and durability. It has many of the features seen in the Thermopen, but is far more affordable. Other excellent products include the Lavatools Javelin Pro—a popular Amazon thermometer. Thermoworks also sell so many thermometers called the Thermopop and the Dash, which are highly accurate and sell for around about $30.
Glaze For Chicken Thighs
It’s always good to apply a glaze to chicken thighs in the last 10 minutes of the cook. You need to allow about 10 minutes for the glaze to set. You don’t want to add the sauce too early. Barbecue sauce can burn because it contains a lot of sugar, so only put the sauce onto the chicken during the last 10 minutes. You can use just about any barbecue sauce, just use your favorite.
Best Rub for Chicken Thighs
There are dozens of rubs on the market, but my favorite would have to be Harry Soo’s Slap Yo Daddy or Malcolm Reed’s Killer Hogs. These rubs are made by barbecue gurus, so they are guaranteed to be good. Always watch the salt content in your barbecue rubs. I always prefer to salt my meat separately. There are dozens of homemade recipes, but this one has to be my favorite, check the ingredients. The thing I like about this recipe, as you can add and remove some spices. I always remove the salt from this recipe, and salt my chicken separately prior to smoking or grilling.
How to Get Crispy Skin
- If you want to get crispy skin on a chicken, always cook above 300° F.
- Dry the chicken as much as possible using a paper towel.
- If smoking, remove the water pan and do not spritz the chicken.
- If you are smoking or grilling, spray the chicken with olive oil during the cook.
- Don’t soak the chicken in a brine, otherwise this will make the skin soft and rubbery.
How To Cook Chicken Thighs On A Grill
- Cover the chicken thighs in your favorite barbecue rub.
- Set the temperature of your grill or smoker it to about 300° F.
- Cook the chicken wings for about 45 minutes one side.
- Flip the thighs and cook for another 30 minutes the other.
- Baste the chicken thighs with barbecue sauce, then cook for another 10 minutes to allow the glaze to set.
- Cook until the thighs to reach an internal temperature of 170° F.
- Allow the thighs to rest in foil for 10 minutes. The thighs will come up to 175° F.
How To Smoke Chicken Thighs On A Kettle Grill
You need about 100 charcoal briquettes to cook chicken thighs in a kettle grill. Pre-light 30 and pour them over the unlit coals. This should give you enough heat to maintain a 300° F temperature for 2- hours.
My Favorite Meat Smoking Tools
Thanks for checking out this article. I hope you learned a few things. Here are some of my favorite tools I use when smoking brisket that may be useful to you. These are affiliate links, so if you decide to purchase any of these products, I’ll earn a commission. But in all honesty, these are the tools I recommend to my family and friends who are just starting out.
Meat Thermometer: There are dozens of fancy thermometers on the market, but I still use my trusty TP20. For around $50, I have a high-quality meat thermometer with two probes, and can track the temperature of my smoker with one probe, and my meat with the other probe. The ThermoPro TP20 is an Amazon Best Seller because it’s the easiest thermometer to operate, is durable, highly accurate, and comes with pre-programmed meat settings.
Instant Read Thermometer: Arguably, the second most important tool you need is a fast and accurate instant-read thermometer. These tools play an important role in the latter stages of the cook when the meat needs regular checking in multiple areas. I use the ThermoPro TP19 because it can do everything a ThermaPen can do, but for a fraction of the cost. You can check out the TP19 on Amazon here.
Butcher Paper: Wrapping brisket in butcher paper has become a huge trend in barbeque thanks to Aaron Franklin. Wrapping your brisket in paper will give you a nice brisket bark. However, you can’t just use any old paper, it has to be unwaxed, food grade paper. You can find it on Amazon here.
Advanced Thermometer and Automatic Temperature Controller: Once you’re ready to take things seriously, the FireBoard 2 Drive is a six-channel Bluetooth/Wi-Fi thermometer that can monitor up to 6 pieces of meat, control and graph your cook sessions on your smartphone, and attaches to an an automatic blower that will convert your charcoal smoker to a set-and-forget. This is one of the most advanced meat thermometers on the market. You can check it out on the FireBoard website here.