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Chicken thighs vs. chicken breasts: Which are ‘better’? Food experts weigh in

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“National Fried Chicken Day” on July 6 celebrates one of American cuisine’s most coveted and classic foods. 

When it comes to eating chicken, there are two main options: white meat and dark meat. 

White meat, or the breast and wings, is largely considered a “better” and healthier food choice than dark meat – the thigh and drumstick – for several reasons. 

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But what are the details, what do nutritionists and chefs say — and which type of chicken is the “better” choice?

Several experts shared their input to try to settle this delicious debate. 

fried chicken meal

Fox News Digital asked chefs and nutritionists to weigh in on a classic debate: Chicken thighs or chicken breasts?  (iStock)

Calories count

Four ounces of boneless skinless chicken breast have about 120 calories, Michelle Rauch, a registered dietitian and nutritionist based in New Jersey, told Fox News Digital in an email.

Conversely, “a 4-ounce chicken thigh (skinless) contains approximately 150 calories,” she said. 

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So if you’re counting calories and that’s your primary deciding factor, the chicken breast may be your better choice. 

But there’s so much more to this equation — including how the chicken is prepared and what ingredients are used in its preparation.   

Fat matters

Chicken breasts have much less fat than chicken thighs, Rauch said. 

Four ounces of skinless chicken breasts have less than a gram of fat, but a chicken thigh of the same size has nine grams of fat, including 2.5 grams of saturated fat.

fried chicken

Chicken thighs have more fat content than chicken breasts, said one chef — but that is only part of the story.  (iStock)

Yet that is not the entire story, Dennis Littley, a fine dining chef in Wyoming and owner of AskChefDennis.com, told Fox News Digital. 

Although chicken thighs have more fat than breasts, “this extra fat brings a lot of advantages, especially when it comes to flavor,” he said. 

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“Nutritionally, the fats in chicken thighs include healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats — which are beneficial for heart health,” Littley added.

Protein in the picture

One type of chicken has more protein than another, said Molly Miller, lead registered dietitian nutritionist for research at Tyson Foods, headquartered in Springdale, Arizona. 

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“Three ounces of fully cooked chicken breast contain 21 grams of protein,” she said via email.

The same amount of chicken thighs, she said, “contains 18 grams of protein.” 

air fried chicken thighs split with fried chicken tenders

Chicken breasts are leaner than their dark meat counterparts — which makes them less than ideal for frying, experts note.  (iStock)

Nutrients to know about

While chicken breasts are lower in calories and fat than chicken thighs, Rauch said chicken thighs have their advantages, too.

“A chicken thigh has almost twice the amount of iron and more than twice the amount of zinc of the same size chicken breast,” she said. 

The taste test

“If thinking only in terms of flavor, choose dark meat (thighs) when frying, as they will likely be moister and juicier when cooked at high temperatures,” Rauch said.

Chicken breasts tend to “dry out or become tough” when fried, she noted. 

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“Additionally, frying a chicken breast may mask the flavor of the meat itself depending on the type and thickness of the breading and seasoning,” she said.

Littley concurred, saying that he personally would “recommend chicken breasts for dishes where you want the flavors of marinades or sauces to shine through, since their mild taste and lean nature easily absorb other flavors.”

fried chicken plate

Both chicken thighs and chicken breasts have their nutritional pluses and minuses — and that’s especially compounded when frying is added to the equation. (iStock)

Chicken thighs, he said, are “more forgiving” than breasts. 

“Their higher fat content makes them less prone to drying out, which is a common issue with chicken breasts, especially for less experienced cooks,” he said. 

So, the preference is personal

Both chicken thighs and chicken breasts have their nutritional pluses and minuses, and that is especially compounded when frying is added to the equation.

“Frying adds extra fat and calories, which can negate some of the health benefits of choosing a leaner meat like chicken breast,” Littley said. 

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“However, frying can also enhance the flavor and texture, making it a popular cooking method despite the trade-offs.”

This can be combated, he said, by using a healthier oil – or even pan-frying or air-frying chicken instead of deep-frying it. 

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“Air-frying, in particular, can give you that crispy texture with just a fraction of the oil,” Littley said. 

“And if you marinate your chicken thighs beforehand — the flavor can really shine through, even with less oil.”

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