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Deboning Chicken Thighs: Is removing the skin and bones yourself really cheaper?

Deboning chicken thighs may be a chore for some, but are you really saving money by doing it yourself? We compared both and the results may surprise you!

Stuffed Chicken Thighs with Prosciutto Mozzarella and Quick Tomato Sauce showing cheese melted at centre.

Need a great recipe for those deboned chicken thighs? Try Stuffed Chicken Thighs with Prosciutto Mozzarella and Quick Tomato Sauce

2017 UPDATE: I’ve now conducted this experiment on deboning chicken thighs several times. The results each time are remarkably accurate to the results from the first couple of times I carried out the comparison for this article.

I’ve stood there a hundred times I’m sure; halted in my tracks, standing in front of the supermarket chicken display, staring at chicken thighs wondering whether it’s best to buy the boneless skinless variety or buy the parts on the bone and do the work myself. The question of which is more economical has always caused me to hesitate and have that internal debate.

In my cooking, I use chicken thighs as much as I do breasts. I actually prefer their richer flavor and much better ability to be slowly braised in stews, curries or for pulled chicken so that debate naturally happens quite frequently. With the boneless skinless variety most often being at least twice the price, is it worth the extra cash?

Convenience aside, the real question in terms of value though, has to be: How much of that chicken thigh is actually skin, bone and fat and how much is usable meat? I set out to find the answer.

I purchased 3 pounds (1.36 kg) of untrimmed bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs and broke them down myself. Having probably bought a ton of the things over the years, I would have to say that this package was pretty typical in terms of lack of trimming. I find that, in supermarkets particularly, there is little to no attempt to trim any excess skin or fat from chicken thighs when packaged.

When deboning chicken thighs, some markets even appear to hide as much unnecessary excess skin and fat as possible by folding it under the thigh when packaging but thankfully that was not the case with the thighs that I worked with on this occasion. I’d say they were pretty typical but I point out that it is entirely possible based on my experience, that the skin and fat content in some packaged chicken thighs could conceivably be even higher than those used here.

I removed bones, all the skin and as much as the visible fat as I could from these chicken thighs for the purposes of this comparison. I should note that part of the backbone was still attached to the chicken thigh joints in those I used.

Deboning chicken thighs can be a chore but does it save money?

On to the results. Here’s the breakdown:

Starting weight               3 pounds (1.36 kg)
Usable meat                    1 pound 3.6 ounces (0.56 kg)
Bones                               14.6 ounces (0.41 kg)
Skin and trimmed fat    13.8 ounces (0.39 kg)

So that means that of the starting weight of the chicken:

  • 41% was usable meat
  • 30% was bone
  • 29% was skin and trimmed fat

My conclusion is that the numbers support buying the boneless skinless chicken thighs. For example if you needed to buy 1 pound or kg of boneless, skinless chicken thighs you would need 2 1/2 times that amount of thighs that have not been deboned and skinned.

I know that some supermarkets and big box stores do remove the backbone portion of the bone when packaging but this does not affect the usable meat portion. In my own experience of buying bone in thighs with just the centre bone, these are the ones that are more likely to have the untrimmed extra skin folded under to make up the weight.

I believe you would still be better off buying the boneless skinless thighs…plus you save all the time and trouble. Just let the butcher do it.

My new rule of thumb is that if the boneless skinless thighs are 2 to 2 1/2 times the cost, I will choose to but them from now on…now, what about chicken breasts? Stay tuned.

Now, how about some recipe suggestions for those chicken thighs. Here are a few of my favorites:

Quick & Easy Butter Chicken 

Low Fat Tomato Tandoori Chicken Curry

Apple Braised Pulled Chicken Sandwiches with Pink Peppercorn Pickled Red Onions

Easy Chicken Korma

Onion and Fennel Braised Chicken with Brown Butter and Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes

Want even more chicken recipes?

You’ll find hundreds of other great ideas in our Quick & Easy Dinners Category and even more in our Chicken Recipes Category.

To keep up with the latest home style cooking & baking ideas from Rock Recipes plus daily recipe suggestions from decadent desserts to quick delicious weekday meals, be sure to follow Rock Recipes Facebook Page and follow us on Instagram Instagram.

One last boneless chicken thighs suggestion! Tomato Fennel Braised Chicken Thighs.

Tomato Fennel Braised Chicken Thighs

Tomato Fennel Braised Chicken Thighs

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Lana P

Monday 26th of October 2020

Thanks so much for this info! I often substitute bone-in/skin-on thighs for boneless/skinless and vice versa - it's so helpful to know the percentage of meat to bone and skin. Like you and others, if I debone myself, I save the bones to make stock. At my market, the boneless/skinless thighs come out to be much less expensive, even if making stock. That said, I usually ignore the higher cost and do not remove the bone because the bone-in meat is much moister and more flavorful.

Marcin Artur Mazurek

Friday 10th of May 2019

Bone-In Every Time for me.

1 - The meat on Bone-in thighs tends to be nicer compare to the excessively trimmed deboned ones.

2 - I'm an economical cook. 1 lb of bones? Add it to my next stock or soup.1 lb of chicken skin? Save up to 3 lbs, rend them down and you have a wonderful schmaltz to saute, spread or add to soup, and the skins from making the rendered fat are delicious with beer as well.

Two 2 lb packs of Bone in Thighs gets me two full dinners, a start on a third dinner and something to enjoy on the weekend, all for the price of 1 2lb pack of bone-in thighs.

Tove

Tuesday 14th of November 2017

Hello Barry, your post is almost 4 years old, but I came upon it while researching if I should by bone in or boneless thighs. Doris Italian Market where I live has if for $1.99 a pound, and since I have plenty of homemade chicken stock in the freezer, I do not need the bones. It was interesting to read that only 40% + contain meat. Most chicken thigh I buy has a lot of fat tucked in, and I will buy boneless as long as it is 1.99 a pound. I am glad I came across your blog and look forward to read your recipes.

Sonya

Tuesday 17th of May 2016

Thank-you so much for this!!!

Les

Sunday 1st of March 2015

My question / concern about buying the deboned ones is a higher chance of contamination. I feel the less they have been "tampered" with the more likely they will be safer.

Barry C. Parsons

Wednesday 25th of March 2015

I'd be more concerned with cooking temperature in terms of food safety. I mostly use thighs for braising so it isn't an issue for me.

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