Nothing against boneless, skinless breasts, but chicken thighs are where the party is at. They’re juicy, tender and really hard to mess up, and they go with everything from corn and poblano salsa to apricots and fresh herbs. Our favorite way to prepare chicken thighs, though, is on the grill. It’s low effort, calls for minimal cleanup (not even a dirty sheet pan!) and adds a ton of smoky flavor. Luckily, learning how to grill chicken thighs is easy—it’s all about preparing the grill, cooking at the right temperature and knowing when the chicken thighs are done. Here’s exactly how to do it.
How to Grill Chicken Thighs
A quick aside: Our instructions are for bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs, which have the most flavor and won’t dry out on the grill.
Step 1: Season the chicken thighs.
How you season them will depend on the flavor you’re after, but you’ll at least want to season the meat with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper. You can flavor the chicken with a spice blend (like jerk seasoning) or a marinade (soy sauce and ginger, perhaps?) too, but salt is essential. Barbecue sauce is also tasty, but you’ll want to baste it on throughout the cooking process so it doesn’t all cook away.
Step 2: Prepare your grill for direct heat on one side and indirect heat on the other.
Essentially, you want to create one warmer zone (direct heat) and one cooler zone (indirect). On a gas grill, this means setting the burners to high on one side only and preheating for 10 minutes, covered. On a charcoal grill, you’ll light a chimney full of charcoal and wait until it’s all lit and covered with ash before dumping into the grill on one side, covering and preheating for 5 minutes. Once your grill is preheated, clean and lightly oil the grate.
Step 3: To grill the chicken thighs, start on indirect heat.
Using tongs, place the chicken skin-side up on the cooler side of the grill and cook until the fat starts to render, about 5 minutes. Flip the chicken over and cook for another 20 minutes.
Step 4: Use the tongs to move the chicken thighs skin-side-down to direct heat.
Continue to cook until the skin is crispy and the chicken registers 190 to 195°F on an instant-read thermometer. Remove the chicken thighs from the grill and let them rest for 10 minutes before slicing or serving.
How do you grill boneless, skinless chicken thighs?
With no skin to crisp and no bone to account for in the cooking time, boneless, skinless chicken thighs will grill up in almost no time—about 4 minutes per side over direct heat. Keep in mind, though, that they won’t be as tender as bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs cooked over low heat.
How long does it take to grill chicken thighs on a gas grill?
As a general rule, cooking isn’t about minutes as much as it is about visual cues, and how long it will take to grill chicken thighs on a gas grill (or a charcoal grill) will depend on a few factors: how large the chicken pieces are, whether they’re bone-in and whether you’re cooking over high or low heat. There’s no exact amount of time, but it can take close to 45 minutes over indirect heat. That’s a while to wait for chicken, but the low and slow method will yield more tender results. Aside from the internal temperature (more on that in a sec), you can tell the chicken is done when its juices run clear and the meat is fully opaque.
Do you close the grill when cooking chicken thighs?
Again, it depends! If you’re grilling chicken thighs over indirect or low heat, sure, you can close the grill to trap in heat. If you’re cooking boneless, skinless chicken thighs over high or direct heat, you probably won’t need to close the grill, since it will take less than ten minutes.
How do you grill chicken thighs without burning them?
The easiest way to not burn chicken thighs on the grill is to cook them slowly over indirect heat, so the fat won’t cause major flare ups and the flames won’t have a chance to burn the meat. Also, make sure you’ve oiled the grill grate with neutral oil or grilling spray before cooking so the chicken doesn’t stick.
How do you know when the chicken is done?
The best, most accurate way to know when the grilled chicken thighs are done is to use an instant-read thermometer to check the internal temperature. (For the record, we swear by the Thermoworks Thermapen.) The USDA maintains that all poultry should reach a minimum internal temperature of 165°F for safe eating, but chicken thighs are actually tastier at a higher temperature—anywhere from 175 to 195°F. According to the pro chefs at America’s Test Kitchen, this gives the extra collagen and fat a chance to melt and render, yielding juicier, more tender results.
What can you serve with grilled chicken thighs?
Grilled chicken thighs are about as versatile as they come, so you can pair this entrée with almost any sides you want. We’re partial to the classics: potato salad, grilled or roasted vegetables and a cool, crisp salad. If you want to switch things up, why not try sweet-and-salty watermelon skewers or a batch of savory melted onions?