Do you know why boneless, skinless chicken tends to be more expensive than its bone-in counterparts — especially when we’re talking about organic, free-range options? Do you know the difference between a boneless, skinless chicken breast than a chicken tender? How about chicken thighs, should you buy them boneless, or bone-in?
This guide to boneless and bone-in chicken will clear up any questions you may have when it comes to preparing chicken. You’ll learn just what pieces of chicken to use in a given dish, and how to best prepare each cut.
Boneless, Skinless Chicken
Cuts of boneless, skinless chicken have been a health food darling for quite some time. They’re of course leaner than their bone-in, skin-on counterparts, but they also offer quite a few benefits when it comes to cooking.
They’re ideal for quick-cooking meals that call for pieces of chicken, like soups, stews, pastas, curries, and more. They also turn out great when marinated and grilled or baked, but, they are a bit more prone to overcooking than their bone-in counterparts, where the bone helps to distribute heat evenly.
Boneless, skinless chicken is also typically more expensive than bone-in cuts of chicken — especially when it’s free-range, and organic — because all that extra processing is more labor.
Nevertheless, boneless, skinless chicken definitely has its place in the kitchen. Read on for a breakdown of the different cuts and how to prepare them.
Typical cuts of boneless, skinless chicken include breasts, thighs, and tenders.
Boneless, skinless chicken breasts are cut from the chest of the bird, with the tenderloin removed. They’re quick-cooking, tender and juicy if prepared correctly. They are also a leaner choice than other cuts of chicken. Without the bone, however, they are more prone to turning out dry and are a bit less intense in flavor without fatty, succulent skin.
Chicken tenders are cut from either side of the bird’s breast bone. They’re the quickest cooking of all cuts, as they’re quite small. They’re a great, low-fat source of protein and can be prepared in a multitude of ways. Bread them and bake them off for healthy “fried” chicken tenders, or cut them up and add them to a curry.
Boneless, skinless chicken thighs boast rich and moist dark meat taken from the leg of the bird. They’re a good bit juicier and more flavorful than breasts and tenders, but still leaner thanks to the lack of skin. They’re also typically more affordable. Use them in much the same way you use breasts; they hold up well to marinades.
How to Cook It
Any cut of boneless chicken is great in any dish that requires you to add pieces of chicken, like rice dishes, pastas, curries, soups, stews, and more. It’s much preferable to use a boneless cut for such preparations because cutting chicken from bone-in meat, while possible, is a hassle and will yield less chicken.
Boneless, skinless chicken breasts and thighs are also great for marinating and grilling, baking, and pan-frying. Try this garlic and lemon marinated chicken breast with brown sage butter or these smoky citrus grilled chicken thighs. Chicken tenders can even get in on the grilling action, like in this gyro chicken tenders recipe.
Cuts of bone-in chicken are versatile and varied; there are quite a few more than there are in the boneless, skinless category.
Of course, there is the whole chicken, which is all these pieces before they’ve been butchered, and whole chickens offer many culinary opportunities. Break them down for a cost-effective option, or roast them whole for a family dinner.
There are also split chicken breasts, chicken thighs, drumsticks, and wings. You’ll find these cuts of meat are typically cheaper than their boneless, skinless counterparts, and often a good bit juicier and more succulent.
Split Chicken Breast
Like the boneless version, these are the tender white meat cut from the chest of the bird with the tenderloin removed. Unlike boneless, skinless breasts, however, these keep the skin and still have the rib bone attached.
The bone helps keep these breasts moist and tender because they help distribute heat evenly through the meat. The skin also seals in moisture and juiciness.
Chicken wings contain three components: the drumette (where the white chicken meat is housed), the middle flat segment with two bones, and the tip, which is typically discarded.
They’re most often eaten in a bar food, snack food context. This is because American tastes began to shift toward chicken breasts in the 1980s, making chicken wings an inexpensive option for bar owners to serve alongside beer. And really, you can’t go wrong with a good Buffalo sauce-drenched chicken wing.
If you love dark meat, you’ll love drumsticks. They’re cut to include the lower portion of the leg quarter and are especially friendly for kids because of their handheld nature. They grill up great on the barbeque, or you can bake them for an easy, family-pleasing meal.
While the chicken drumstick is the lower portion of the leg quarter, the chicken thigh is the upper quarter. It contains quite a bit of rich, flavorful dark meat, made even more succulent with the skin that crisps up on top. These are excellent braised, as the bone lets them hold up well to a slow, saucy cook.
It seems silly to break down what the whole chicken is, because it’s all the aforementioned pieces before they’re turned into “cuts” of chicken. Still, it’s worth discussing, because there are so many things you can do with a whole chicken.
For one, if you’ve learned some simple butchering tricks, you can break down a whole chicken into all the components you’d like. It’s often the most cost-effective method to preparing chicken.
You can also cook the whole chicken, by roasting it, grilling it, and using the carcass for soups and homemade chicken bone broth.
How to Cook It
Bone-in cuts of chicken are often sturdier than their boneless, skinless counterparts, so they hold up to low and slow methods like braising and roasting. Here’s a foolproof, perfect roast chicken recipe to use a whole chicken in. Another way to use a whole chicken? Try breaking it down and frying it, like in this gluten-free chicken and waffles recipe.
For crispy drumsticks that are a tad healthier than a fried version, try these oven-baked fennel-rubbed drumsticks with spinach and apple slaw. And for a fun riff on Buffalo wings, try these coconut party wings with gluten-free ponzu dipping sauce.