The America's Test Kitchen recipe for Chinese Orange Chicken calls for chicken thigh, explaining that it has a better taste and texture for the recipe. It does not explain why, however.

So that has me wondering: how do chicken thigh and breast differ in taste and texture and how do you decide which to use in a particular recipe?

2 Answers 2


Well, as to the difference in taste, I suggest the best way to find out is to try both (cooked, of course). If you have access to Cooks Illustrated (as opposed to just watching the TV show on PBS), they have recipes for both roast chicken breast and roast thighs—make both, and the flavor differences should be readily apparent.

As far as cooking goes, chicken breast has very little fat and very little collagen. Typically, chicken breast is cooked to 165°F/74°C (USDA recommendation for food safety), which is actually a little on the overdone side taste-wise. So various tricks like brining are needed to keep it juicy.

Chicken thigh has more of both fat and collagen, which allows it to take a higher temperature without drying out. Cooking chicken thigh to 175°F/80°C is fairly common. It also is much more suited to slow cooking, which allows the collagen to convert to gelatin (which gives a moist feel to the meat and also a nice flavor).

In this particular case, checking two Cooks Illustrated recipes for orange-flavored chicken (one deep-fried, one baked) they both note boneless, skinless breast may be substituted, but they prefer the flavor of thigh.

So you can use either. Use whichever one you think tastes better.


@derobert posts an excellent, accurate answer. +1

For me it depends on the dish being made, generally determined by two attributes: how long is the chicken being cooked for and does the dish require the chicken to be in a certain shape?

I cook a few Chinese recipes using chicken and I prefer to use breast meat for those. The chicken is marinated then cooked for barely any time (usually around 2 minutes total in a ridiculously hot wok). It tastes tender and flavourful.

If I'm looking at breadcrumbed chicken, I use breast, purely because the shape is better suited to the task and somewhat more aesthetically pleasing.

On the other hand, if I'm cooking a paella, I use thigh meat - breast meat seems to dry out much quicker than thigh when it's being cooked over a period of time. This appears to be alleviated when cooking in a pie or something which surrounds the meat with liquid.

As a sidenote, in the UK, the only edible piece of KFC (in my humble opinion!) is the deep-fried thigh joints; even the drumsticks taste awfully dry.

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