Baking chicken thighs was a staple of my low-carb, keto diet. The simple, bone-in, skinless thighs were a great dinnertime choice, often paired with a salad and roasted vegetables. After a long day at work, I just had to put the thighs in the oven. The best part was that I didn’t have the hassle of cleaning up oily stovetops.
It was easy to achieve juicy and flavorful meat. The bone-in cut is the easiest in terms of cooking times. However, crispy skin was more difficult until I was asked to try six different methods of baking chicken legs to determine which one would yield the best results. I discovered a new method of baking chicken legs that exceeded all my expectations to my delight. Baking chicken thighs is a great way to enhance the flavour and crispiness of the fried chicken.
A few notes about methodology
Chicken: I bought bone-in, skin-on chicken legs for the tests. I selected all-natural, air-chilled chicken at a weight of 8 ounces each.
Tests Each method was tried on two thighs. All thighs were chilled for 20 minutes before being dried with paper towels. The chicken was seasoned with salt and pepper and then baked on a foil-lined sheet pan on the middle shelf of the oven. Each piece of chicken was allowed to rest for five minutes after being cooked.
Listed times include time in the oven but do not include rest time. The actual cooking time will vary depending on the thighs and other factors such as the oven’s calibration. An instant-read thermometer is the best way to determine doneness.
Ratings are based on the taste of the chicken, whether it was cooked through but still tender, and how easy the technique was. They also consider the crispiness of their skin.
Baked Chicken Thighs: Sprinkle with Baking Powder
- Timing – 35 minutes
- Rating: 3/10
This method: Baking powder, an alkaline ingredient, raises chicken skin’s pH level, breaking down protein and creating crisper skin. The thighs were seasoned with salt and pepper, along with 1/4 teaspoon of baking powder per thigh. This method is possible, but you won’t want to cover the chicken in baking powder. The chickens were baked at 425°F for 35 minutes.
Results While I have a similar method that works well with wings, it wasn’t as effective for chicken thighs. The skin was crisp at the edges, but the middle was not as crispy as I would have liked. I was curious if the oven temperature caused the problem, so I tried the recipe again in a 450F oven. Although the new method produced a lighter version of the recipe, the skin’s texture was still the same.
Baked Chicken Thighs: Brush with egg whites
- Timing: 30-35 minutes
- Rating: 4/10
I was instantly intrigued to see this technique on the blog Modern Correct. It recommends brushing the skin with beaten eggs whites and baking the chicken for about 30 minutes. The oven should be preheated at 450F, but the temperature should be lowered to 425F once the chicken is in. I cooked the chicken for another 5 minutes because the 30-minute mark didn’t do it.
This was the worst method. Although the meat was cooked through, the skin was pale and rubbery. It might have been an anomaly. I decided to try again. I beat the egg whites until super frothy and baked the chicken for 30 minutes at 450F. The skin was lighter but still chewy.
Baked Chicken Thighs: No Oil
- Timing – 30 minutes
- Rating: 6/10
This was the simplest method I tried. I sprinkled salt and pepper on the chicken and baked it in a 350F oven for 30 minutes.
Results I was surprised at how crisp this version was, especially considering there was no oil. The skin was not as chewy as those made with egg whites or baking powder, and the meat was tender and succulent. The perfect temperature and time to cook eight-ounce bone-in, skinless chicken thighs were 450°F for 30 minutes. I also retested previously tried recipes at the same temperature and time and found slight improvements.
Baked Chicken Thighs: With Oil
- Timing – 30 minutes
- Rating: 6.5/10
This method: I was curious to see if adding more fat would make the skin crispier, so I ran a side-by-side comparison of the oil-based version and the non-oil version. To make the oil version, I season the thighs with salt & pepper. Then, I rub each thigh with 1/2 teaspoon of olive oil and bake it for 30 minutes in a 350F oven.
Results The skin was slightly darker and crispier than the oil-free version. I tried several bites and compared them with the oil-free version. The difference was not significant, to be honest. Is it better? It was better, but you will probably be just as happy with the non-oil version if you want to reduce your oil consumption.
Baked Chicken Thighs: First, poke with a Skewer and then broiled after baking
- Rating: 8/10
- Timing – 22 minutes
This method: I’m a big fan of America’s Test Kitchen and was excited to use their method to make crispy baked chicken. This technique was more difficult than others, so I had high hopes. You first poke the skin of the chicken thighs 10 times with a metal knife. Next, spray the skin with vegetable oils and bake for 20 minutes at 450°F. The chicken should be flipped over and then broiled on the middle rack. Following the instructions for the recipe, I placed the chicken under the broiler. The timer was set to 5 minutes. Three minutes later, the smoke alarm began to ring.
Results I finally tried the burned chicken after opening all of my windows and doors to let out the smoke. The crispy part of the skin that wasn’t charred reminded me of chicken that had been cooked in an air fryer. It was, in other words: perfect. It was moist but slightly firmer than other meats I tried. I decided to give it another go, but this time I was careful to keep an eye on it while it broils. The skin became a lovely golden-brown after two minutes. I took the chicken from the oven and let it cool before tasting it. The meat was tender and not too tough, while the skin was perfectly crisp. This was not the best dish, but it did require more effort and attention. Easy wins over quality for weeknight meals. This is a very attractive way to host a dinner party.
Baked Chicken Thighs: Dry Brine
- Rating: 9/10
- Timing – 30 minutes
This method: I’ve always loved the roasted chicken at Zuni Cafe. I was curious if Judy Rogers’ dry brining technique for whole chickens would also work with chicken thighs. The theory is that the salt would penetrate the meat, season it, and dry the skin. This would allow the meat to become crispy and moist as it bakes. To absorb extra moisture, I lightly salted each chicken leg with 1/2 teaspoon of coarse Hawaiian salt (or kosher salt). The bowl was covered with foil, which was left in the fridge for 24 hours. The chicken was skin-side-up in the oven at 450 degrees for 30 minutes.
This was the best-seasoned chicken I’ve ever tasted with crisp, crunchy skin. It was ready to cook the next day, so I didn’t need to season it. The only thing I had to do was heat the oven and put the chicken in. It didn’t have crisp skin, so I gave it a 10. My new favourite method is dry brining.