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I love a perfectly cooked chicken thigh! My recommendation for a normal chicken thigh or leg is 148ºF (64.4°C) for 4 to 6 hours, or you can go up to 176°F (80°C) if you prefer a shreddable one.
While I eat a ton of sous vide chicken breasts, the thigh is actually my favorite part of the chicken. They are rich, full flavored, and much easier to cook without drying out. Using sous vide removes any guesswork from the process, making any meal a snap.
This guide works for all dark chicken meat, not just thighs. It can also generally be applied to other types of poultry.
There are a few types of sous vide chicken thighs, namely tender thighs and shreddable thighs. You will want to use different time and temperatures for each one.
For tender sous vide chicken thighs the temperature used is normally 141°F up to 156°F (60.6°C to 68.9°C) and I personally like 148°F (64.4°C) the best, usually for 4 to 6 hours.
For shreddable chicken thighs, the range goes much higher but is often between 160°F to 170°F (71.1°C to 76.7°C). I usually split the difference and use 165°F (73.9°C). They are cooked longer as well to allow for more breakdown, usually for 4 to 12 hours, depending on how fall-apart you want it.
When going for a tender and juicy thigh, they don't need to be tenderized much, if at all. The time range is typically 4 to 6 hours, depending on how tender you want the meat, but you can also pasteurize them by thickness if desired for a quicker cook time.
When you aiming for shreddable chicken thighs, you will want to cook them at a higher temperature for a longer time, usually 4 to 12 hours. The meat will start to become fully tenderized and begin to easily pull off the bone.
Once cooked, sous vide chicken thighs can be easily chilled and saved for later. I usually use the three step chilling process to quickly get them out of the danger zone.
It's easy to follow and maximizes your safety. Once the thighs are done, take them out of the water bath and let them cool on the counter for about 10 minutes. Then place them in cold tap water for another 10 minutes. Finally, you can place them in an ice bath until fully chilled.
At this point, they will last in the refrigerator for a week or two.
The biggest benefit of using sous vide for chicken thighs is that it removes any concern about cooking the safely. It also allows you to cook them to a lower temperature while still being safe.
Chicken thighs generally aren't too hard to cook traditionally, so I have found less benefit than some other types of meat, but it is still super convienent and always turns out perfect!
Cooking frozen chicken thighs is easy, just increase the sous vide time by 30 to 45 minutes and you should be all set. They can tend to float when frozen though, so I recommend doing something to hold down the sous vide bag. Quickly reheating frozen foods while you sous vide them is a definite advantage to the technique!
Similar to cooking frozen foods, sous vide works great to reheating already cooked chicken thighs. This can be part of your sous vide food prep process or just separating out the stages of your cooking for convienence.
If you reheat them in the waterbath, then make sure to cook them at a lower temperature than you originally used. This will ensure they stay nice and moist. I usually use a temperature 10 to 15 degrees lower so I can get a longer sear on them.
You can also just sear the chicken thighs back up to temperature. They are usually on the thing side and the sear will often be enough to heat them though.
You can also reheat the chicken thighs by smoking them. I go into a lot of details about using sous vide with a smoker and you can apply the same principles to chicken or any other cut. Just make sure during the smoking process that you don't raise the temperature of the chicken above the original temperature.
You can definitely overcook chicken thighs with sous vide. You will never raise the temperature above what the waterbath is set to, but the meat will continue to tenderize over time.
Eventually, the thigh will lose all of their bite and they will take on a mushy texture. Sous vide is still very forgiving though, and while I usually cook my thighs about 4 to 6 hours, or up to 12 for shreddable thighs, they will still be good for several more hours.
When it comes to chicken thighs, the biggest benefit to sous vide is that you can hold it long enough at a lower temperature to fully pasteurize it. Because it is at a lower temperature, the meat it more moist while still being very tender. It's very, very hard to do this with traditional methods.
Here is my basic go-to recipe for sous vide chicken thighs. First, season the thighs with salt and any spice rub or sauce you would like.
Set the sous vide machine to the temperatre you want, I prefer 148°F (60°C). Add the pouches to the sous vide machine and let them cook until pasteurized, and potentially tenderized. Usually 2 to 4 hours.
Remove the thighs from the bag and dry them off really well.
Sear the thighs for 30 seconds, flip them and sear for another 30 seconds. Repeat another few times until the crust is brown and crispy. You can also use a sous vide torch.
You are now all ready to eat!
I usually sear my chicken thighs, especially if they still have the skin on them. I love a good pan sear or grilled thigh, and I want to add those flavors when possible.
However, I do sometimes skip the sear and the thighs are still really good. This is especially true if I am using them in a stir fry or other dish when they are not front and center.
You can also easily sear with a sous vide torch. It works pretty well to give the thighs some color and crisp up the skin slightly.
I personally never brine sous vide chicken but some people really like it. I feel like it just dilutes the flavor of the chicken thighs while not making them any more moist.
That said, if you really like to brine your chicken thighs, then go right ahead, I won't judge you!
Trying to get crispy chicken skin with sous vide can be really challenging, especially with thighs. I usually just sear or grill them and deal with the less crispy than normal skin, though it's still pretty good.
If I'm doing something upscale or really am in the mood for some cripsy skin I'll take it off the chicken first. I'll then pan fry it by itself or cook it in the oven, it's pretty similar to cooking bacon. It results in some nice and crispy skin that you can take in several different directions.
I don't find a huge flavor difference in sous vide using bone-in or bone-less chicken thighs. I usually use bone-in since they are more common in my area, but you can do either one.
The big exception to this is if you are planning on using the sous vide juices. This can be in a soup or a sauce, but if there is a bone and skin on the thigh they will have a lot more flavor, especially at the temperatures commonly used on chicken thighs.
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Here are several of the Chicken Thigh recipes that I recommend trying out.