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Why are my baked chicken thighs tough?

Baked chicken thighs are a delicious and juicy way to prepare chicken. However, sometimes chicken thighs can turn out unexpectedly tough after baking. There are a few common reasons why baked chicken thighs may turn out tough.


One of the most common reasons for tough baked chicken thighs is overcooking. Chicken thighs have a mix of white and dark meat. The dark meat takes longer to cook than the white meat.

Overcooking chicken thighs causes the moisture to evaporate completely, leaving the meat dry and tough. The proteins also contract more, resulting in a tougher texture.

Chicken thighs should be baked until the internal temperature reaches 165-175°F. Cooking them beyond this point will cause them to toughen up. Undercooked chicken is unsafe to eat, so it’s important to ensure chicken reaches a safe internal temperature.

Tips to prevent overcooking

  • Use an instant-read meat thermometer to check internal temperature.
  • Avoid cooking chicken thighs over 375°F, as higher temperatures will cause faster moisture loss.
  • Bake just until chicken thighs reach the minimum safe internal temperature, then remove immediately.

Not brining

Brining is soaking chicken in a saltwater solution before cooking. Brining chicken thighs before baking helps them stay juicy and tender.

The salt in the brine lightly seasons the chicken and helps it retain moisture. This prevents the chicken from drying out excessively while cooking.

Chicken thighs brined for even just 30 minutes will turn out noticeably more moist and tender. For best results, brine chicken thighs for 1-2 hours before baking.

Simple brine recipe

  • 1 quart water
  • 1/4 cup kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon black peppercorns

Whisk all brine ingredients together in a bowl until salt and sugar dissolve. Submerge chicken thighs in brine, cover, and refrigerate for 1-2 hours. Rinse chicken and pat dry before baking.

Overcrowding the pan

When baking multiple chicken thighs, it’s important not to overcrowd the pan. Having too many thighs touching will steam the chicken, preventing it from properly browning.

Steaming chicken while baking causes it to cook unevenly. The moisture also has nowhere to evaporate, which can make the chicken soggy.

For optimum results, bake chicken thighs in a single layer without overcrowding. Leave at least 1/2 inch of space between each piece to allow air flow. This encourages even cooking and browning.

If needed, divide chicken between two pans instead of cramming it all into one. Avoid stacking chicken thighs on top of each other during baking.

Using the wrong bakeware

The type of pan used when baking chicken thighs can affect how evenly they cook and brown. This in turn impacts moistness and texture.

Dark metal bakeware like aluminum or nonstick pans will cause the most browning, as they conduct heat well. Stainless steel and glass dishes won’t promote browning as effectively.

For tender baked chicken thighs, use a metal baking sheet or pan. The dark surface helps the chicken thighs develop a nice sear and caramelized exterior while retaining moisture.

A wire rack placed inside the baking pan can also promote air circulation under the chicken for even cooking. Elevating thighs allows hot air to circulate completely around each piece.

Not letting chicken rest

It’s important to allow baked chicken thighs to rest for 5-10 minutes before cutting into them. If you slice into hot chicken straight out of the oven, the juices will leak out quickly.

Resting gives the juices time to reabsorb back into the chicken. This keeps the thighs moist and prevents drying.

Cover chicken thighs loosely with foil as they rest to retain heat. The short rest makes a significant difference in the moisture content of the meat.

Cooking frozen chicken thighs

Cooking chicken thighs straight from frozen can also create a tough, dry texture. Frozen chicken requires extra time to thaw and cook through properly.

The outer surface of frozen thighs may brown too quickly before the interior cooks. This leaves you with tough, underdone chicken.

For best results, thaw chicken thighs overnight in the fridge before baking. If you need to bake frozen chicken thighs, use a lower temperature (325°F) and extend cooking time.


Lack of flavorful seasoning can also contribute to dry, tough baked chicken thighs. Seasonings add flavor and help retain the chicken’s natural moisture.

Use a rub containing salt, herbs, spices, and seasoning blends like garlic powder, paprika, pepper, and chili powder. Oil or butter also keeps chicken thighs juicy.

Generously season both sides of chicken thighs before baking. Baste with pan juices during baking to keep the exterior from drying out.

Cooking with the wrong side up

Chicken thighs have skin on one side and exposed meat on the other. Which side you place up when baking affects moisture.

For tender, juicy chicken thighs, place them skin-side up in the baking pan. This allows the fat under the skin to render and baste the meat.

Baking with the skinless side up will cause the exposed meat to dry out quickly. Moisture evaporates rapidly from the uncovered meat before having a chance to disperse.

Flip chicken thighs over halfway through baking to evenly cook and brown both sides. Just be sure to finish baking skin-side up.


Baked chicken thighs that turn out unexpectedly tough are disappointing. Thankfully, the common causes are easy to remedy with some simple tweaks.

Be careful not to overcook thighs beyond 175°F. Allow enough space between pieces to prevent steaming. Always brine chicken thighs before baking to boost juiciness.

Rest cooked thighs before slicing, use flavorful seasonings, and bake skin-side up in dark metal pans. With the right techniques, you’ll be rewarded with fork-tender baked chicken thighs every time.

Cause Solution
Overcooking Use a meat thermometer and don’t exceed 175°F internal temperature.
Not brining Soak chicken thighs in a saltwater brine before baking.
Overcrowding the pan Bake thighs in a single layer with space between pieces.
Wrong bakeware Use a dark metal baking sheet or pan.
Not resting chicken Let thighs rest 5-10 minutes before cutting.
Cooking from frozen Thaw chicken thoroughly before baking.
Under-seasoning Generously season thighs with herbs, spices, and oil/butter.
Cooking skin-side down Place chicken skin-side up in the pan.