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Why use chicken thighs instead of breasts?

Chicken is one of the most popular and versatile proteins. It can be cooked in endless ways and pairs well with many flavors. When it comes to choosing between chicken breasts and thighs, both have their advantages. Chicken breasts are lower in fat and calories, but chicken thighs have more flavor and tend to be juicier. Here’s a detailed comparison of why you may want to opt for thighs over breasts in many cases.

Nutrition Differences

The biggest difference between chicken thighs and breasts is their nutritional profiles. Let’s look at the numbers:

Nutrition Facts Chicken Breast (100g) Chicken Thigh (100g)
Calories 165 209
Fat 3.6g 13.5g
Saturated Fat 1g 3.9g
Protein 31g 18g
Iron 1mg 1.2mg

As you can see, chicken breasts are significantly lower in calories and fat compared to thighs. Breasts are 31g of protein per 100g while thighs have 18g. However, thighs contain more iron, providing 1.2mg vs 1mg in chicken breasts.

Both are considered good sources of lean protein. If you are trying to limit fat and calories, breasts are the better option. But thighs can fit into a healthy diet that has room for more fat. The extra fat also makes thighs much more flavorful.

Flavor Differences

One of the biggest advantages chicken thighs have over breasts is they contain more fat, which leads to much more flavor. The fattier dark meat has a richer flavor than lean white meat. Chicken thighs are very juicy and tender, while breasts can easily dry out during cooking.

Skinless, boneless breasts have a very mild flavor. They absorb marinades and spices well, but on their own can be a bit bland. Thighs have a more chicken-y, savory taste. The extra fat ensures every bite is moist and full of flavor.

If you enjoy very juicy, tender chicken with flavor in every bite, thighs are likely the better choice. You may find yourself needing to add extra oils, butter or sauce to keep chicken breasts from drying out.

Cost Differences

Chicken thighs are generally cheaper to buy than chicken breasts. There are a few reasons for this:

  • Chicken thigh has more usable meat per pound compared to breast. More of the weight is edible meat vs bone.
  • Breasts are considered more desirable and versatile. Since thigh meat is fattier, some people prefer to avoid it.
  • Breast meat is easier to cook evenly since thighs are thicker.

As a budget-friendly protein, chicken thighs give you more edible meat for less money. While the price difference varies, thighs can be up to $2/lb less expensive than boneless, skinless breasts.

Ease of Preparation

Chicken breasts are quicker and easier to cook since they are thinner. Thighs are thicker, so they take longer to cook through. Undercooking thighs risks not heating them to a safe 165°F internal temperature.

However, thighs are much harder to overcook since the fat keeps them moist. It’s easy to end up with dry, rubbery breasts if cooked too long. The fat in thighs makes them more forgiving.

Deboning thighs does take more time and skill than trimming breasts. If you don’t mind bones, cooking bone-in thighs is simpler. You can crisp up the skin while the meat stays very moist. Breasts need to have their skin removed to reduce fat and calories.

Uses in Recipes

Chicken thighs work well in almost any recipe that calls for chicken breasts. The main considerations are cook time and marinade or seasoning. Thighs may need:

  • Longer cooking time due to their thickness
  • Less marinade or spice rub since they have more natural flavor

Some good recipe substitutions are:

  • Stir fries
  • Curries
  • Salads
  • Sheet pan meals
  • Casseroles like enchiladas or pasta bakes
  • Soups
  • Sandwiches and wraps

Breasts work best for quick cooking preparations like grilling or pan frying cutlets. Thighs can dry out with high heat, fast cooking.


Chicken breasts have a uniform shape and size that makes portioning easy. Breasts can be cut into cutlets, butterfly shaped, diced or shredded easily.

Thighs have an irregular shape with more fat, skin and connective tissue. While they can be diced or shredded, achieving that uniform size for dishes like kabobs or skewers is harder. Their fattier texture also doesn’t absorb marinades the same way as lean breasts.

If you want an attractive presentation with even sizing, chicken breasts are the better pick. Thighs work well where appearance doesn’t matter as much, like casseroles or soup.

Health Benefits

As a lean protein, chicken breasts have some advantages for health:

  • Lower in calories and fat, especially saturated fat
  • Can be a healthier choice for weight management
  • Provide high protein with little fat

However, thighs have some of their own potential health upsides:

  • More iron than breasts
  • Higher in certain vitamins and minerals
  • Dark meat contains more zinc, B vitamins than white meat
  • Skin contains collagen, if left on

While thighs are higher in fat and calories, they can still be part of a healthy diet. Including some monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat from thighs provides nutrients and health benefits.

Which is Better?

So is one cut of chicken really better than the other? The answer depends on your specific needs and preferences.

Here are some general guidelines on when to choose each:

Chicken breasts are ideal if you:

  • Are limiting calories or fat
  • Prefer milder flavor
  • Want uniform size and shape
  • Prefer quick cooking

Chicken thighs work better when you:

  • Prefer juicy, tender meat
  • Want rich chicken flavor
  • Are cooking in liquid or slower methods
  • Want to save money

For the most flexibility, buying both breast and thigh meat lets you use each where it works best. Thighs can provide great value and flavor in stews, oven braises or stir fries. Save the breasts for when you want quick grilling or skillet meals.

With their differences in mind, you can pick the right cut for any recipe. A combination of thighs and breasts gives you the perfect chicken for any dish.


Chicken thighs and breasts each have their own strengths and best uses. Thighs provide juicy, flavorful dark meat at a budget price. Breasts are leaner with a milder taste and uniform shape. While breast meat is lower in fat, thighs have a place in a healthy diet and provide their own nutritional perks. Consider your priorities like cost, fat intake, cook time and flavor to decide which to use. With the differences in mind, both types of chicken can play a role in providing lean protein for a balanced diet.