For reasons I cannot fathom (‘80s and ‘90s diet culture), many people my age started their chicken-cooking journey with boneless, skinless breasts. In their defence, breasts do look simple, almost sterile — it’s a piece of pure meat without bones or fat to “deal with.” But bones and fat are what make meat taste good, and removing them greatly increases a novice cook’s margin for error.
You might think whole, roasted chickens are a good poultry launching pad, and they certainly are a big improvement. They are, after all, on every “X Things Every Adult Should Know How to Cook” listicle, but they also aren’t quite the right form of chicken to start with, either. Whole birds are a thermodynamic challenge, with two types of meat that need to be cooked to two different end points. There are many ways to achieve that, of course, but there’s nothing more discouraging than cutting into a beautiful looking roasted chicken only to reveal underdone dark meat and dry white meat, and your first cooking projects should be more affirming and encouraging than that.
This is where bone-in, skin-on thighs come in: They are the perfect chicken cooking project for beginners.
The aforementioned diet culture of the 80s and 90s did quite a number on meat, as well as what we perceive as “good” and “good for you.” Fat was shunned, skin was removed, leanness was glorified, and taste was lost. But bones, skin, and fat are your friend. They provide flavour, but they also act as built-in “cushions” that provide moisture and mouth-coating collagen, which makes bone-ful, fat-ful, skin-ful cuts much more forgiving and harder to desiccate.
Chicken thighs taste best when cooked to an internal temperature of 75-85C, as opposed to breasts, which start to dry out — and dry out quickly — above 70C. Thigh meat is shielded by a thick layer of skin, which also happens brown beautifully. (Another benefit of thighs: You only have to temp one part of the chicken.)
Cooking whole chickens is less wasteful and often cheaper, but starting out cooking one portion of the bird allows you to get more comfortable with cooking meat — not to mention touching skin and bone, which many beginners have a problem with initially — before tackling the larger project of a whole bird. (Plus, if you mess it up, it’s just a few thighs, not an entire animal, which somehow feels sadder.)
As far as recipes go, there’s a whole internet full of them, but these buttermilk powder dry-brined thighs are quite forgiving. They’re brined overnight, then roasted in one pan at one temperature with no flipping or futzing, and they come out juicy and full of flavour. Once you’ve nailed a few thighs, you can move on to poaching or roasting whole (hopefully buttermilk- or labneh-brined) birds. Set yourself up for chicken wins, is what I’m saying — life is challenging enough as it is.