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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

{ 49 comments… read them below or add one }

laurie July 8, 2011 at 5:03 am

That recipe truly annoints the hostess as the queen. It sounds so easy. Have you thought about adding calorie contents to your recipes?

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Marge July 8, 2011 at 7:36 am

Great point, Laurie. I have added the nutritional analysis to the recipe– for both skin on and skin off. And in the future, I will include the nutrition whenever possible.

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Amy Nieporent July 8, 2011 at 5:29 am

Could this be done with other cuts of chicken? Like breasts cut in half?

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Marge July 8, 2011 at 7:35 am

You can certainly use this spice rub on other cuts of chicken, though of course your cooking times will vary. (Chicken breasts need to be cooked to only 160F, by thwe way, or they will get dry). The spice rub is also very good on swordfish, salmon and flank steak.

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VIVIEN SIEGEL July 8, 2011 at 6:38 am

SOME MEMBERS OF MY FAMILY DO NOT LIKE CUMIN, IS THERE ANOTHER SPICE YOU COULD SUGGEST AS A SUBSTITUTE?

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Marge July 8, 2011 at 7:33 am

To replace the cumin, I would stick with some of the sweet spices: perhaps a pinch of cardamom and/or about 1/2 teaspoon of ground coriander. Or, you can take it in a slightly different direction and use curry.

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Roisin July 9, 2011 at 7:55 am

Roasted chicken thighs with cannellini beans & rosemary are our winter go-to, and we usually forgo the oven for the grill in summer. So we’re doubly excited to try this recipe on the grill. Can’t wait …. keep ‘em coming.

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Marge July 11, 2011 at 7:17 am

Roisin, your winter dish sounds great– maybe when the weather gets cool, you’ll share…

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Andrea @ From the Bookshelf July 9, 2011 at 11:27 am

This looks amazing! I have some thighs just waiting for this recipe!

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Toni Scott July 11, 2011 at 2:44 pm

Making these tonight! Funny, I never thought about “neatening up” my thighs. They look much better this way!

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sarah July 11, 2011 at 3:44 pm

Made these last night with b/s thighs. They were great, and I am excited to try them again soon with the curry substitution.
Thank you!

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Magpies Recipes July 11, 2011 at 4:46 pm

This looks delicious and really simple too! adding it to my collection of easy chicken dinner recipes :) thanks!

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Leslie October 8, 2011 at 4:17 pm

I was lokking for something quick to roast my thighs with curry i had curry power,paprika,garlic salt and powder,ginger,and cinnamon already so i didnt add anything else lets see how it turns out.

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Dee February 2, 2012 at 5:31 am

I must prepare baked chicken pieces for 20 – 25 people. Any tips on assuring they are moist and tender. After baking I plan to pour an alfredo sauce over them. I’d like to use boneless, skinless breasts and thighs.

Thanks,
Dee

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Marge February 2, 2012 at 6:29 am

Hi Dee. If I were preparing chicken for that many people, I would want to do it mostly in advance. To ensure the chicken stays moist and tender, your best bet is to use chicken thighs, not breasts. Breasts have very little fat, which means they dry out easily. Thighs have enough fat to allow you to first cook them to a safe internal temperature (170F) and then re-heat them– and they won’t be dry.
Also, when cooking for that many people, if you make the thighs on the bone, diners can pick them up (the bone is like a handy handle!); boneless meat (will require a knife and fork.
No matter what you decide, the key to keeping it tender and tasty is to cook chicken to the correct internal temperature (160f for breasts, 170f for thighs). For details on how to take the temperature and other cooking guidelines, please see this post on how to cook thighs and this one on cooking breasts.

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Erin June 27, 2012 at 3:31 pm

Does this recipe work equally as well with Chicken wings? Would you cook them at a different temperature?

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Marge June 28, 2012 at 11:08 am

You can certainly use the spice rub on wings. You’ll have to make a lot more rub, though, because wings have more surface area per pound than thighs. I would suggest tripling the rub: if you don’t need it all, store the leftover (that has not come in contact with the chicken, obviously) in a plastic bag or bottle in your spice drawer.

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Cindy July 10, 2012 at 7:44 am

Is there any issue with this rub falling off the chicken skin through the grill grates when grilling skin-side down?

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Marge July 11, 2012 at 4:53 am

Cindy– Pat the rub (so why don’t we call it a “pat” instead of a “rub”?!) on the chicken and coat the grill grates with cooking spray or oil (before you heat the grill. I have never had a problem with losing all that delicious rub.

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Colleen July 27, 2012 at 6:31 am

Hi Marge,

Looks yummy! I too am preparing for around 30 people and was thinking I might add a yellow rice under for the chaffing dish to try to keep it warm and moist with the steam from the rice. Also, is it very spicy (hot) as it will serve children as well. Thanks!

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Marge July 27, 2012 at 6:57 am

Hi Colleen– The spice rub is a balance of savory and sweet flavors with very little heat. I think it is very kid- friendly– but all kids (and adults) are different. You can omit the cayenne entirely if you would prefer, but I don’t think it’s necessary. Hope your party is a blast!

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Kate July 31, 2012 at 7:32 am

I made this last night and it was delicious!! I used skinless chicken thighs with the bone in, and roasted in the oven per the recipe. I only used 4 chicken thighs, but used the same proportions and cooking times as instructed by the recipe, and it came out great. Thanks for posting this yummy recipe!!

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Marge July 31, 2012 at 7:48 am

Glad you liked it, Kate! I do the same when I want to watch my fat and calorie consumption. I take the skin off before I cook them. For one thing, I don’t have willpower enough to remove the crispy cooked skin, and for another– if I put the rub on the skin instead of the meat, I would lose all the flavor by pulling the skin off.

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Andrea August 1, 2012 at 11:03 am

I made these last night and the rub only covered 6 thighs. I did put it on both sides of the thigh and it wasn’t too much. The flavor was delicious! I’ll be making them again and just double the rub. Thanks for the great recipe!

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Marge August 1, 2012 at 11:13 am

Hi Andrea–
I wonder why the rub covered only half the thighs– were your chicken thighs big? The recipe says 12 thighs should weigh 3 to 3 1/2 pounds, which gives you an idea of the size.
I am very happy you liked the end result. That rub can be made in multiples and kept on hand in your spice cabinet. It is also quite handy (and delicious!) to use on grilled steak-like fish, such as tuna and swordfish and on steak (such as flank steak).

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Isabel August 13, 2012 at 6:49 pm

I love this recipe! I made it for my boyfriend and he was blown away. Seriously delicious- not too sweet, which is normally what I worry about brown sugar rubs. Great job!

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Kerie September 25, 2012 at 4:33 pm

Thanks for the humorous, simple yet clear directions. Yum!

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Nette November 8, 2012 at 3:38 pm

I have NEVER left a comment on a food recipe. I usually just lurk! I’m very much looking forward to trying this rub because I followed your instructions for the chicken breast and was blown away. My ‘trained chef’ fiancee loved it. He just keeping eating it before I put it on his plate. I love the way you give instructions with humor and pics. Thank you!!!! ;) ;) ;) ;).

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Marge November 8, 2012 at 6:16 pm

Thanks, Nette, and I am glad you and your fiancee liked the chicken breasts. I love these thighs. Honestly, they are our go-to meal.
Enjoy! (And thanks for “coming out”!)

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lecie December 12, 2012 at 1:34 pm

Hey Marge, My family and I love this dish. I have prepared it several times now and am planning to have it for dinner tonight. When I told my family what we’er having I received high praise and was questioned as to when it would be ready! Thanks for such a wonderful and easy recipe it truly has made me queen of my kitchen.

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Marge December 12, 2012 at 3:16 pm

Wow– thank you for taking the time to write and let me know. It’s so nice to hear!

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Angela January 20, 2013 at 5:10 pm

I’m trying this tonight! I also wanted to add that the FDA has just changed the internal cooked temperature for pork to 145 degrees.

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Angela January 20, 2013 at 5:54 pm

Please ignore my previous comment. I don’t know why I was thinking of pork while planning to cook chicken! I will let you know how it turns out when done.

I’ve also used your, “How To”, cook chicken breasts 4 times now, also using your, Lemon, Butter, & Capers chicken recipe. My body thanks you for the protein and I thank you for tasty dinners.

I’d sure love to see you write more recipes like those. I’ve tried a couple other cook books but nothing compares to how you write directions.

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Marge January 20, 2013 at 6:15 pm

I must say, you had me baffled, Angela. I even went back to see if I had mentioned pork somewhere on the post! But while we are talking about pork, I will mention that you can actually cook it safely to 140 degrees and let it sit 5 minutes before serving (the temp will continue to climb a bit). But you have inspired me: I will do a post on pork, I think. And given your very flattering remarks, I think I’d better make it a post like the chicken one: How to Cook Pork tenderloin to Moist, Tender and Juicy Perfection. I think that is another protein that is easy to overcook.
Are there other How-To’s you’d like to see? I’d love to know! (I assume you’ve seen the others on my site: Artichokes, Mussels, Turkey, Rugelach, Eggs, Chicken stock, etc)
And, while I am making the most of your flattery (!) I will tell you that I am in the early stages of doing my next cookbook…I will certainly announce something on my blog when it is more definitive.

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Phil July 7, 2013 at 3:58 pm

Hey, so I recently tried this recipe and I must say that it was truly irresistible. However, the question that I have for grilling is that the brown sugar seems to burn on the grill in less than the suggested 15 minutes. Do you suggest turning down the heat when you put these on?

Thanks again. I did boneless thighs and they came out amazing, and I just tried it on steak and it was equally delicious.

Phil

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Marge July 7, 2013 at 4:41 pm

Hi Phil– I am wondering if your grill is very hot. No matter– if the chicken seems to char too much, simply move it over to indirect heat on the grill and finish cooking it that way. Happy grilling! -Marge

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Candice July 17, 2013 at 11:28 pm

Hi Marge, so excited to try out your recipes I am so poor a cooking chicken that i have almost completely turned myself off it for good lol. :D Simply because i hate nothing more than dry tasteless chicken. For dieting purposes I would like to eat chicken during the day but its for work so i have to re heat it or it it cold later, i know the chicken thighs you mentioned maintain the moist tenderness better, do you recommend cooking with the skin on then after reheating or even just before eating taking the skin off, so as to retain the moisture but lose the calories of the skin? Cheers

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isgunr September 8, 2013 at 2:01 pm

Do not leave unattended for even a minute. Fire consumed the sugar and left a nice black char. Sigh. Waste of 12 beautiful chicken thighs.

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Marge Perry September 9, 2013 at 6:54 am

Oh, I am so sorry to hear that! Perhaps, also, the fire on your grill was a little too high. Try cooking over a medium heat on your grill.

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Macleod80 October 5, 2013 at 8:02 pm

Great recipe. Everybody I have cooked it for loved it. I do mine with boneless skinless thighs and grill over medium heat on the grill. Thanks for the great recipe.

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Marge Perry October 5, 2013 at 8:26 pm

Thanks so much for letting me know! My husband and I are in our final days of developing recipes for our upcoming cookbook (I use the term “upcoming” loosely– it will be out in 2015, but our deadline for recipes is this month). Getting comments like this helps keep our creative juices flowing. Tonight was rack of lamb, buttermilk ice cream and spatchcocked oven roasted chicken with rosemary and potatoes. But now I am thinking…we ought to do a spice rub tomorrow :) Thank you!

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Kenna October 26, 2013 at 7:00 pm

I made this minus the ginger and cayenne and my family LOVED it! I was wondering, could I rub a whole chicken with this also? I like to cook whole birds often and we could not get enough of the flavor this rub had.

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Marge Perry October 27, 2013 at 9:28 pm

You absolutely can use this rub on a whole chicken. In fact, next time you make the rub, double, triple or quadruple it, and keep the extra in a zip top bag or closed bottle in your pantry. Enjoy!

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Krisztina January 1, 2014 at 8:57 am

This method sounds great.
Do you have any tutorials on baking chicken breast / thighs in a roasting bag?
I have tried it many times but the meat dries out all the time. How would you use the thermometer in this case?
ps. Your blog is great!

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Marge Perry January 8, 2014 at 4:02 pm

Hi Krisztina– I somehow missed your comment earlier (must have been the holiday celebrations). My apologies for the delay in responding!
I am curious why you want to cook in the bags if you haven’t had good luck with it– is it because they make clean-up easy? If so, I might suggest some alternatives.
As for using a thermometer while cooking in a bag, the only way would be to open the bag or pierce through it, which defeats the purpose. Essentially, the bags steam the food…All food gives off moisture as it cooks, and the moisture is trapped in the enclosed bag, which means you are cooking with steam. That is great for some foods (fish) and less good for others (like if you want crisp skin on your chicken). I think your chicken may dry out using this method because you are cooking it too long.
If you want to make clean-up easier, I would suggest coating your pan with cooking spray then lining it with foil. It isn’t clean-up free, but it will make quick work of it.
Hope that helps!

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Susan July 11, 2014 at 4:35 pm

I have made this recipe a couple of time and will be grilling it tonight for the first time, we love it, thank you. I also lift the skin and pat some of the rub directly on the meat, yum!!

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Marge Perry July 11, 2014 at 4:43 pm

I’m so glad you like it! It’s one of our go-to recipes too. We even put a version of it in our upcoming book. Thanks so much for letting me know– and Enjoy!

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rammy August 4, 2014 at 5:12 pm

I’m on a diet. Can I use a cooking approved sweetener like splenda instead of the Sugar?

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Marge Perry August 5, 2014 at 10:01 pm

Are you trying to lower calories or blood sugar.? To lower the calories, I would suggest you do the recipe with the skin off– you will save up to 60-80 calories per thight. The sugar will save you far, far less– in the teens!

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