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Grilled or Roasted Spice-Rubbed Chicken Thighs: My Go-To Easy Dinner

by Marge Perry on July 7, 2011


I am handing you the keys to the Queendom. Spice-rubbed chicken thighs is the dish for all those times this summer you’re having friends over for a barbecue– and all the times year-round you need a meal you can get on the table with about 5 minutes of prep.

This is the chicken dish that everyone loves. Perhaps it is a slight exaggeration to say “everyone loves it”, because I am fairly certain vegans and vegetarians wouldn’t, and maybe one or two chicken lovers. No, I take that last part back: I have never met a chicken eater who doesn’t like these.  That’s actually saying a lot, considering the number of people for whom and with whom I have made this chicken, both at home and in my classes at ICE.

Wow, that sounded like a sell job. Really, if you don’t want to try this particular recipe, that’s your business and I don’t want to be a recipe-pusher. But no matter what, this post should make it easy for you to roast and grill chicken thighs to perfection. Even if you don’t use this knock-your-socks-off, killer-good spice rub…

Before I get to the actual recipe, here’s my run-down on what you need to know to cook moist, tender and safe chicken thighs. (If after reading this you still have a question, write it in the comment form at the bottom of the post)

  • Thighs stay moist even when they’re a little over-cooked. This makes them stress-free to serve to company, because you can make them ahead and re-heat. Also, if you have a glass of wine while you’re cooking and get involved in a conversation with a friend, and then realize oh-my-god-the-chicken! you might still be okay. The same cannot be said of chicken breasts, fish, steaks, or burgers. (Disclaimer: if the conversation goes on for, say, 30 minutes, you may need to make alternate plans for dinner).
  • Thighs come with their own built-in handle, making them ideal for walk-around gatherings. The single bone that runs down the center sticks out a bit at either end, which makes thighs easy to pick up and eat without utensils.

  • Figure on two thighs per person, or three thighs for big eaters. But they vary in size, so use your judgement.
  • The raw, on the bone weight is about double the cooked yield. So buy 2 pounds of bone-in thighs to yield 1 pound of cooked meat.
  • Make them prettier. Thighs come out of the package looking like a cartoon splat. Or a Rorschach test. You need to pretty them up by pulling the skin evenly over the meat and folding the sides under.

messy splat-shaped thighs

neat prettied-up thighs

  • You cut 40-50 calories and 1-2 grams of saturated fat per thigh by removing the skin. Yup, but you also lose the golden, crisp skin.  It’s a choice. (I go both ways, depending on how dedicated I am to dieting at the time.)
  • Don’t freak at the sight of pink. Thighs can be cooked to a safe internal temperature and still be pink (or even have a red bloody-looking spot) near the bone. That has to do with blood vessels and protein structure, not “rawness”. Use a thermometer and cook thighs to 170-175F. The thermometer should be parallel to but not touching the bone and the tip should be in the thickest part of the meat.

Thermometer inserted parallel to the bone

Okay, go cook.

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Grilled or Roasted Spice-Rubbed Chicken Thighs

2 tablespoons brown sugar

2 teaspoons ground cumin

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon cayenne

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

3 – 3.5 pounds chicken thighs (bone-in), about 12 thighs

  1. If you are grilling, coat the grill rack with cooking spray and heat the grill for direct heat cooking. If you are roasting, preheat the oven to 425F and coat a large baking sheet pan with cooking spray.
  2. Combine the sugar, cumin, salt, garlic powder, ginger, cinnamon, cayenne and black pepper in a bowl, working the mixture with your fingertips to get rid of any lumps.
  3. Shape and trim the thighs. Pat the mixture over the entire surface of the thighs.
  4. To roast: place in the oven, skin side up, and cook until the largest thigh reaches an internal temperature of 170-175F, about 30-35 minutes depending on the size of the thighs. To grill: place on the grill skin side facing down and cook 15 minutes. Turn and cook until the largest thigh reaches an internal temperature of 170-175, about another 15 minutes.

Makes 6 servings

Nutritional analysis per serving:

With skin: 322 calories, 19 g fat, 5 g sat fat

W/o skin: 237 calories, 11 g fat, 3 g sat fat

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