The Internal Temperature Your Recipe Requires For Chicken Thighs Is Probably Wrong

We're all aware of the importance of checking food temperature for safety, especially when cooking chicken. To avoid illness from any bacteria that might be present, the Food and Drug Administration recommends that you cook chicken to 165 degrees Fahrenheit, which is the typical advice you'll see in most poultry recipes, too. (To accurately check that temperature you'll want to use a reliable meat thermometer.) What might be surprising to hear is that chicken dark meat is actually better when it's cooked to a slightly higher temperature – not for food safety, but for better texture.

Dark meat is loaded with extra connective tissue and just begins to tenderize at 165 degrees Fahrenheit. It really becomes more succulent and juicy when it reaches higher temperatures, from 170 degrees Fahrenheit to 200 degrees Fahrenheit. The extra heat melts the collagen in the tough parts of the meat into gelatin, which gives dark meat its signature moist texture.

Higher temperatures make cooking dark meat more flexible

The good news is that this temperature guideline gives you flexibility when cooking your chicken thighs, unlike chicken breast, which can dry out quickly when the temperature goes too high. Use your meat thermometer to ensure the thighs have reached a minimum of 175 degrees Fahrenheit, but there's no need to worry about exceeding that level by a few degrees — which can happen in a moment over high heat.

Knowing you not only can but actually should cook chicken thighs to a higher temperature also gives you some room to experiment with timing when you cook. For example, sheet pan chicken recipes can spend a few extra minutes in the heat of your oven so the chicken can become extra brown and crispy with no worries of drying out and ruining the meat. And when you've got a recipe for thighs that calls for pan searing followed by oven roasting, you'll have the confidence to keep the pan in the oven a bit longer to allow the sauce or glaze to flavor the chicken completely during that braising time.