We Tried 6 Methods for Making Crispy, Juicy Chicken Thighs and Found Our New Go-To

published Oct 19, 2022
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Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman | Food Stylist: Jesse Szewczyk

Bone-in, skin-on thighs are a simple dinnertime staple, especially paired with a salad or roasted vegetables. Achieving juicy, flavorful meat is relatively easy — the bone-in cut is one of the most forgiving in terms of cook times. But achieving crispy skin was always more of a challenge, until I was asked to test out six methods of baking chicken thighs to find out which would result in the juiciest meat and the crispiest skin. Much to my surprise, I found a new way of baking chicken thighs that far exceeded my expectations. Turns out, baked chicken thighs can rival fried chicken when it comes to flavor and crispiness.  

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman | Food Stylist: Jesse Szewczyk

A Few Notes About Methodology

Chicken: For the tests, I purchased bone-in skin-on chicken thighs. I chose air-chilled, all-natural chicken, averaging around 8 ounces per piece. 

Tests: Each method was tested on two thighs. Prior to cooking, all thighs were brought to room temperature for 20 minutes, patted dry with paper towels, and trimmed of excess fat and skin. For each method, the chicken was seasoned simply with salt and pepper and baked on a foil-lined sheet pan on the middle rack of the oven. After cooking, each piece of chicken rested for 5 minutes before being taste tested.

Timing: Listed times cover time in the oven, but don’t include prep time and resting time. Your actual cook time might vary based on the size of the thighs you are cooking and other factors, like your oven’s calibration. The best way to judge doneness is with an instant-read thermometer

Ratings: Ratings, from a scale of 1 to 10, are based on taste, whether the chicken was cooked through but still juicy, the ease of the technique, and the crispiness of the skin.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman | Food Stylist: Jesse Szewczyk

Baked Chicken Thigh Method: Sprinkle with Baking Powder

  • Timing: 35 minutes
  • Rating: 3/10

About this method: Baking powder, which is alkaline, raises the pH levels in chicken skin, breaking down protein and, in theory, creating crispier skin. For this test, the thighs were sprinkled with salt and pepper along with about 1/4 teaspoon baking powder per thigh. (If you choose to try this method, a light sprinkling will do the trick — you don’t want to coat the chicken with baking powder.) They were then baked at 425°F for 35 minutes.  

Results: While I have a similar technique that works well for wings, this method wasn’t as successful when used on chicken thighs. There were crisp edges on the skin, but the middle portion was pale and not as crunchy as I’d liked. I wondered if the oven temperature was to blame, so I retested the recipe in a 450°F oven. The new method yielded in a less pale version, but the texture of the skin was the same.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman | Food Stylist: Jesse Szewczyk

Baked Chicken Thigh Method: Brush with Egg Whites

  • Timing: 30 to 35 minutes
  • Rating: 4/10

About this method: I was immediately intrigued when I came across this technique from the blog Modern Proper, which recommends brushing the skin with beaten egg whites before baking the chicken for 30 minutes. The recipe calls for the oven to be preheated to 450°F but turned down to 425°F when you put the chicken in. The chicken was not quite done at the 30-minute mark, so I added another 5 minutes to the cook time.  

Results: This was one of the most disappointing methods. The skin was pale and rubbery, although the meat was cooked through. I wondered if it was an anomaly, so I decided to test it again, this time by beating the egg whites until they were super frothy and baking the chicken at 450°F for 30 mins. The result was less pale — but still chewy — skin.  

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman | Food Stylist: Jesse Szewczyk

Baked Chicken Thigh Method: Without Oil

  • Timing: 30 minutes
  • Rating: 6/10

About this method: This was the easiest technique I tested. I simply sprinkled the chicken with salt and pepper and baked it for 30 minutes in a 450°F oven. 

Results: I was surprised by how crispy this version was — especially with no oil involved. The skin wasn’t chewy like the versions with baking powder or egg whites, and the meat was cooked through and juicy. I also discovered the perfect temperature and time to cook 8-ounce bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs: 450°F oven for 30 minutes. I even went back to retest previously tested recipes with the new time and temperature and noticed slight improvements.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman | Food Stylist: Jesse Szewczyk

Baked Chicken Thigh Method: With Oil

  • Timing: 30 minutes
  • Rating: 6.5/10

About this method: I was curious to find out whether adding some extra fat would result in even crispier skin, so I did a side-by-side test of this version with oil and the no-oil method above. For the oil version, I seasoned the thighs with salt and pepper and rubbed each thigh with about 1/2 teaspoon olive oil before cooking it in a 450°F oven for 30 minutes.

Results: The skin was slightly browner and a tad crispier than the version without oil. I took several bites, comparing it to the oil-less version. To be honest, the difference was very slight. Was it better? Yes, but if you’re looking to cut down on added oil, you probably will be just as happy with the no-oil version.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman | Food Stylist: Jesse Szewczyk

Baked Chicken Thigh Method: Poked with a Skewer, Then Broiled After Baking

  • Rating: 8/10
  • Timing: 22 minutes

About this method: I’m a huge fan of America’s Test Kitchen and was excited to try their method for crispy baked chicken. The technique was more laborious than the others, so I had high expectations. First, you poke the skin side of the chicken thighs with a metal skewer about 10 times. Then you spray the skin with vegetable oil and bake skin-side down for 20 minutes in a 450°F oven. Lastly, you flip the chicken and broil it skin-side-up on the middle rack. Per the recipe’s instructions, I put the chicken under the broiler and set my timer for 5 minutes. The smoke alarm started ringing around 3 minutes later.

Results: After I opened all my doors and windows to let the smoke out, I tried the burnt chicken. The part of the skin that wasn’t charred was crispy and reminded me of chicken cooked in an air fryer — in other words, it was perfect. The meat was still moist but slightly firmer than the others that I tested. I decided to try again, this time keeping a close watch on the chicken while it broiled. I set up a stopwatch, and after 2 minutes, the skin turned a beautiful golden-brown. I took the chicken out of the oven, let it rest, and gave it a taste. The meat had retained its moisture without being tough and the the skin was evenly crisp. The only reason this wasn’t the ultimate winner was because it required more steps and attention. For weeknight dinners, ease wins out over taste. But I’ll definitely use this aesthetically pleasing method when I’m hosting a dinner party.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman | Food Stylist: Jesse Szewczyk

Baked Chicken Thigh Method: Dry Brine

  • Rating: 9/10
  • Timing: 30 minutes

About this method: I’ve always been enamored of the critically acclaimed roasted chicken from Zuni Café. And I wondered if chef Judy Rogers’ technique of dry brining a whole chicken would work for chicken thighs as well. Theoretically, the salt would soak into the meat and season it throughout, as well as dry out the skin so it would get nice and crispy as it baked. I generously salted each chicken thigh with 1/2 teaspoon coarse Hawaiian salt (you can also use kosher salt), and then placed the thighs in a bowl lined with paper towels to absorb any extra moisture. I covered the bowl loosely with foil and let it sit in the refrigerator for 24 hours. The next day, I baked the chicken, skin-side up, in a 450°F oven for 30 minutes. 

Results: This was by far the most well-seasoned chicken with crispy, crackling skin. I didn’t have to add any additional seasoning after it was cooked, and I liked how easy it was because the prep work was done the day before cooking. All I had to do was heat up the oven and place the chicken in. The only reason I didn’t give it a 10 out of 10 is that it didn’t have the crispiest skin (the broiler wins by a hair) but it was by far the easiest with the best results. Dry brining is definitely my new go-to method.

This post was originally published on Kitchn. Read it there: We Tried 6 Methods for Making Crispy, Juicy Chicken Thighs and Found Our New Go-To