How to Debone a Chicken Thigh

Removing the bone from chicken thighs is a useful culinary skill that’s quick to learn. Here’s how. Here we show you how to remove the bone to create either skin-on or skinless, boneless thighs that are quick-cooking and delicious.

Overhead view of deboning
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Recipes often call for boneless chicken thighs, yet finding them in supermarkets can sometimes be hard. You're far more likely to find bone-in thighs or even whole legs. Knowing how to take that bone out yourself will save you some hassle and provide you with good bones that you can save for the stockpot.

I've tried dozens of methods of boning chicken thighs. As it turns out, the easiest is also the one that provides the best yield: Cutting and scraping every last bit of meat from the bone. Here are the steps to remove the bone to create either skin-on or skinless, boneless chicken thighs.

If using skin-on thighs that you want to be skinless, peel the skin off the thighs using your hands (you can also use the side of your knife to hold the thigh down as you go). Otherwise proceed with the skin attached.

Removing skin from a Chicken thigh
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

On a work surface, set the thigh rough side up and locate the single bone that runs through it just under the flesh. Your goal is to remove this bone with minimal damage to the meat.

Overhead view of locating the bone
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Keeping the fingers of your non-knife hand curled for protection (raw chicken can be slippery!), and using the tip of the knife, score a line through the meat along the length of the bone.

Overhead view of scoring the thigh along the bone
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Continue to carefully work the knife along the bone until the bone is fully exposed.

Overhead view of cutting meat away from the bone
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Grasp one end of the bone with your non-knife hand (a little piece of paper towel can help if it's very slippery), then, scrape and cut the meat off of the bone in short, firm flicks; a boning knife should have a curved bolster at the base of the blade designed for this task.

Overhead view of pulling the thigh bone away from the meat
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

When the meat has been mostly scraped off the bone, separate the end of the bone completely from the meat. Trim away any gristle or bits of bone or cartilage that may have remained on the meat.

Overhead view of deboned chicken thigh
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Trim off any excess fat and/or skin and discard.

Overhead view of trimming fat off chicken thigh
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez


If you have whole chicken legs, begin by using a sharp knife to split the drumsticks from the thighs at their natural seam; if the knife meets resistance, reposition it until it slides through easily—you want to go through the joint, not the bone. Reserve drumsticks as needed or for another use.

Chinese Stir-Fried Tiger-Skin Peppers

Blistered in a dry wok, these stir-fried green chile peppers are fragrant, tender, and hot, hot, hot.

Tiger peppers on a serving platter with ground pork
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

I remember driving through Hatch, New Mexico, during chile season one summer on a cross-country road trip. The area is famous for the quality (and heat level) of the various cultivars of New Mexico chile it grows, and every summer during chile season you’ll find chiles tumbling around inside iron cages like bingo balls as farmers, gas station attendants, grocery store clerks, and families roast the chiles over open gas flames for sale or for their freezers. The smell that permeated the air was intoxicating. Smoky, charred, sweet, grassy, and hot.

A few summers later, on the opposite side of the planet, I smelled the same aroma again at a restaurant in Chongqing, where I’d asked the chef to prepare their specialties. I was working my way through a delicious salad of chopped rabbit with chiles and peanuts, dutifully popping pieces into my mouth, sucking off the succulent, chile-laced meat, and depositing the tiny bones in a bowl, when the server dropped the next dish at my little table, his back already turned to me as he hurriedly made his way back to the kitchen. As soon as the smell hit me, I was transported back to that summer driving through New Mexico. I guess charred, blackened chiles are a universally appealing aroma.

Green chiles on a work surface, stems removed

The dish was hupi qingjiao, or “tiger-skin peppers,” so called because of the way pepper skins will split as they char, forming stripes like a tiger’s coat. Just as the best way to enjoy Hatch chiles is in chile-forward dishes like New Mexico chile verde, so too tiger-skin peppers is a simple, chile-forward dish with only a few auxiliary ingredients to complement the pepper flavor. In Chongqing, the dish was made with small, moderately hot Hunan peppers called xiao qingjiao (literally “small green pepper,”) but back here in the United States I use whatever I can get my hands on. When Hatch chile season rolls around and I can find them locally in California, I snatch them up. Otherwise, regular old Anaheims (a milder California cultivar of the same New Mexico chiles) or long green peppers from the Asian supermarket work well. If you are a chile-head who can handle the heat, even serrano or jalapeño chiles will work in this recipe.

There are a number of different techniques I’ve found for how to cook this. Some recipes recommend stir-frying the chiles in a little oil. Some suggest deep-frying until the chiles split open. My favorite technique is the one that produces the most char: cooking the chiles in a dry wok, pressing on them firmly with the bottom of my wok spatula to get really good contact between the chiles and the metal. When the wok is the right temperature, you should be able to feel the vibrations in your spatula (just like a video game rumble pack) as the chiles bubble and split under the heat and pressure.

Once the chiles are tender and charred, the rest is a quick stir-fry of garlic seasoned with soy sauce. The recipe includes directions for adding pork to the stir-fry, but the pork is completely optional. I leave it out most of the time. The chiles are the real star here.

Heat a dry wok over medium-high heat until lightly smoking. Add the chiles, spread them into a single layer, and cook, tossing and turning occasionally and pressing firmly on the chiles with a spatula to make good contact between the chiles and the wok, until the chiles are blistered and browned on all sides and slightly softened, about 8 to 10 minutes total. Transfer the chiles to a bowl and set aside.

Charring the green peppers in the wok while pressing down with a spatula for good contact

Return the wok to medium-high heat until lightly smoking. Add the oil, swirl to coat, and immediately add pork (if using). Stir-fry, using the spatula to break up larger chunks, until the pork is no longer pink, about 30 seconds, then immediately add the garlic. Stir-fry until fragrant, about 15 seconds. Return the chiles to the wok and toss to combine. Splash in the soy sauce around the edges of the wok and season with a pinch of salt and sugar. Toss to combine, transfer to a serving platter, and serve with steamed rice.

A collage showing the sequence of stir-frying the pork (if using), then adding the garlic, the peppers, and finally the finished peppers on a serving plate

How to Cook Asparagus

All the basics you need to know before buying, prepping, storing, and cooking asparagus.

Overhead view of asparagus on a plate
Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

If ramps are the harbingers of spring, then asparagus is certainly its king. Among the vegetables that are available year-round from the supermarket, there are very few that show as drastic a change in flavor between the imported, year-round stuff, and the fresh-from-the-earth spring variety. Like peas and corn, asparagus contains a lot of sugar at the moment of harvest. As it sits around waiting to be cooked, this sugar quite rapidly begins to form starch molecules, turning a once tender and sweet stalk bland.

But the best part of asparagus is how darn easy it is to prepare. It's a great gateway vegetable for anyone who has been too intimidated to get into vegetable cookery (I know you're out there). There's almost no way, short of incinerating or canning it, to completely mess it up. And even if you do manage to mess it up, it's still pretty delicious.

Tips for Buying Asparagus

Whether you choose bright green stalks, mild white stalks (which are grown underground to prevent chlorophyll development), or any one of the purple varieties, you should always look for the same things: firm, crisp stalks with tight, fully closed budding tips. As the asparagus ages, the petals on the tip will slowly open up, dry out, or fall off. Asparagus should appear moist, but not wet. Fresh cut and bright, not dry or woody.

Your best bet for good asparagus is at a local farmers market or direct from a farm. The asparagus you get in most supermarkets, even during peak season, have been out of the earth for too long to really let their flavor shine. Unless it comes direct from the farmer, asparagus' point of origin is always written either on a label or rubber band affixed to the bunch. Do me, your farmer, and your tastebuds a favor: if you live in North America, don't buy Peruvian asparagus in the middle of May—there's surely a more local source with much better asparagus available then.

Side view of a bunch of asparagus
Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

Asparagus comes in all sizes, from slim, pencil-width stalks to big fat ones as thick as your thumb, and believe it or not, the size has nothing to do with their age (I would believe it). Asparagus stalks grow from an underground base from which scores of stalks shoot forth. It takes about three seasons for this crown to begin producing edible stalks, and after that, it'll continue to produce stalks for at least a couple of decades. It's the age and variety of this crown that determines the thickness of a stalk—that is, a farmer can't simply wait for a thin stalk to grow into a thicker one. It won't happen.

While both can be fantastic, I do generally choose one size over the other depending on how I'm going to cook it (or, more likely, I choose my cooking method based on the size of asparagus I happened to pick up from the farmers' market).

  • Thin spears about 1/3 of an inch or less tend to be more intense in flavor and less watery. They're also a little bit tougher and snappier, due to their higher ratio of fibrous skin to softer interior. This makes them ideal for blanching, serving cold, stir-frying, or even just as a raw snack. Higher-heat methods like broiling or grilling tend to dry them out a little too much, though if you like that charred asparagus flavor, you might still consider cooking them with these methods.
  • Fat spears thicker than 1/3 of an inch are considerably more tender than small stalks, but can get a little watery if you steam or boil them. High heat cooking methods like grilling, broiling, stir-frying, and pan-searing are best, allowing you to get them nice and caramelized on their exterior while still maintaining a bit of bite. I always use large spears for braising.

How to Prep Asparagus

Depending on its age, the bottom part of a stalk of asparagus can get unpleasantly woody or fibrous, and usually needs to be trimmed. But what's the best way to do this?

Traditional wisdom will tell you that the best "foolproof" way is to simply grasp the stalk at both ends and snap it. The asparagus will magically break exactly where it needs to. This question is often debated, and generally most people come down on the side of snapping. But is it really the best method, or merely an old wives' tale?

After some pretty extensive testing, I've come to realize that it's all a bunch of hokum. Depending on exactly how you apply force to the stalk, you can get it to snap pretty much anywhere along its length, even when your hands are in the exact same position. Check this out:

Asparagus lined up, showing the stalks snapped off unevenly.
Serious Eats

I snapped every one of these stalks with my bare hands, holding each of them at the exact same point, and was still able to make them break wherever I wanted to along their length—quite easily, I might add. For a method to be foolproof, it cannot be so strongly dependent on user input. How do I know I'm going to snap my stalks the same way my wife will? Or even if I snap stalks the same way day after day? The bigger problem than variations from user to user is that you're more likely to accidentally remove too much good asparagus stalk with this method. The goal is simply to remove the woody bottom part, nothing more, and snapping is not a reliable way to do that.

Far easier is to simply line them up, visually examine where most of the stalks appear to become woody (the stalk will begin to fade to white at that point), then slice them all at once, picking out any outliers and trimming them as necessary on a case-by-case basis.

Does this mean that you can't snap them? Of course not. There's more than one way to trim a stalk. Just know that you don't have to, and that most likely, you're not actually doing a better job of finding the "sweet spot" than you would do with a knife.

Overhead view of asparagus
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

If you want to get extra fancy with your asparagus, you can peel the stalks in order to improve their texture. Even when properly trimmed, the outer layers can have a fibrousness that is apparently upsetting to the palates of people who do things like write Michelin guides.

For me, it's a skinless vs. skin-on hot dog thing. Sometimes I want that decisive snap and thin film-like layer that skin-on asparagus gives me, just like biting into a good Sabrett's. Other times, I'm content for tender, skinless franks. If you do decide to peel, don't throw them out! The peels are still plenty flavorful and can be used to make a creamy asparagus soup or in a vegetable stock.

How to Store Asparagus

The best way to store asparagus is to not. As I said, its flavor dramatically diminishes over time, so the sooner you get it in the pan and into your belly, the better.

If you absolutely must store asparagus, treat it like you would a bunch of flowers.* Place the trimmed ends into a cup of water with the stalks standing straight up, then loosely cover the tips with a plastic bag to prevent evaporation. Set the whole thing in the fridge.

Some people recommend adding salt or sugar to the water the stalks are held in, but I've never been able to detect any difference in flavor when you do this. Don't bother.

*Which it in fact isn't, despite what you may have read. Asparagus "flowers"—the part you eat—are actually modified stem structures. True asparagus flowers are six-tepaled (not to be confused with petaled, though they are, in fact, also six-petaled), bell-shaped affairs with poisonous red berries.

How to Cook Asparagus

Asparagus is an extremely versatile vegetable and can be cooked in dozens of ways, though unlike, say, onions or spinach, it pretty much always takes center stage in whatever preparation you use it in. For a while, the fashion was to barely cook it so that the exterior was bright green while the interior was still essentially raw. Thankfully, we've passed that stage and have once again embraced asparagus in all its forms from raw and crunchy to braised, olive-green, and totally tender.

However you cook it, it almost always benefits from a period of hard, fast cooking which can then be followed (or not) by a slower-paced session to tenderize it. Like many vegetables, asparagus is high in sugar (even more so when it's completely fresh), and high heat takes advantage of this by caramelizing those sugars and adding complexity to its flavors.


If your stalks are slender enough, you're in luck. You can just chop them into segments and toss them directly into a salad dressed with a light, lemony vinaigrette, but if you've got big fat stalks, you've got to do a little more work (don't worry, the end result is worth it). Slice the stalks lengthwise using a vegetable peeler or a mandolin (be very careful if you do this) into strips about as thick as a piece of card stock. If you then store these in a bowl of iced water for about 30 minutes, they'll curl up into beautiful tangles that you can toss with other greens, or simply dress and eat on their own (or top a pizza with it.)


Blanched or Steamed

Blanched or steamed asparagus is a great way to let its natural, delicate flavors come through, and it's what I usually do to very thin stalks (such as in this vibrant spring salad). You can eat it hot, but I actually prefer it cold, dunking it in a bowl of ice water direct from the boiling pot as soon as its hit the tenderness level I'm looking for. When boiling asparagus, use a large amount of well-salted water at a rolling boil. The goal is to tenderize the stalk through to its center before naturally occurring enzymes have enough to time rob it of its bright green color. Unless you're going to serve your asparagus hot and immediately, shocking it in ice water* right after cooking will prevent these same enzymes from continuing to work.

* Despite what a certain six-volume cookbook says, an ice water bath does indeed prevent blanched green vegetables from turning drab (try it out for yourself!).

I'm also a fan of using the microwave to rapidly steam asparagus. The technique works well because of asparagus' high water content.


Grilling some steaks and don't know what to serve on the side? Asparagus is a no-brainer. It cooks in the time that it takes for your steaks to rest, it's healthy, and it's dead simple to do. The high heat of a grill instantly starts caramelizing and charring asparagus' sugars while allowing the bulk of it to remain crisp and sweet. Smoky + sweet + crisp + easy = huge win for all backyard chefs. In order to make sure that they cook relatively easily and don't dry out on the grill, it's essential to toss them with a thin coating of oil before they hit the grates. Oil is not only a better heat-distribution medium that the naked air, it also keeps the stalks lubricated, filling in all the microscopic nooks and crannies left behind by evaporating moisture and preventing the 'gus from turning shriveled or leathery.

J. Kenji Lopez-Alt

You can serve them any number of ways, such as drizzling with melted herb butter or lemon juice, or grating cheese on top, but in all honesty, the best way to eat them is straight off the grill with your fingers.

Another grilling-adjacent method worth having in your toolbelt is "charcoal-chimney" grilling, in which the asparagus is set atop a grate directly on top of a charcoal chimney starter instead of the grill itself. The chimney starter has a conical design that generates a terrific blast of extremely intense heat flowing right up to the asparagus. The effect is rapid and impressive, with a deep char combined with a still-fresh green hue, thanks to the quick cooking time.

Broiled, Oven-Roasted, or Air-Fried

Very similar to grilling, the key here is to use crazy high heat to maximize caramelization while still maintaining a pleasant crispness. The best way to do this is to use a relatively heavy rimmed baking sheet which you allow to preheat for at least 10 minutes or so in a 500°F oven on the bottom rack. Toss your asparagus with a bit of olive oil, salt, and pepper, and throw it on the pan. If everything went right (and there should be no reason it didn't), the asparagus will sizzle and start browning as soon as it hits the pan. Alternatively, place the stalks on a rimmed baking sheet a few inches away from a broiler element heated to high. A few minutes in the oven, and you're good to go. Sprinkle with some lemon or a good cheese, or try it with a fried egg.

Overhead view of broiled asparagus
J. Kenji López-Alt

An air-fryer is another great tool for a similar high-heat roasting effect. Since an air-fryer doesn't actually fry, but instead roasts using a powerful convection fan (relative to the small cooking chamber), the food inside roasts and browns deeply and evenly.

Pan-Roasted or Stir-Fried

Another high-heat method that is wonderful when applied to asparagus, pan-roasting asparagus becomes wonderfully tender inside while developing a deeply woodsy char outside. It's essentially a form a sautéing, but the "roasting" verbiage here is meant to really impress upon you the importance of not being shy with the heat, as you really want the asparagus to blister and char where it's in contact with the pan. Similarly, don't crowd the pan, which will generate more steam than is ideal for this method.


Seen through another lens, this is also closely related to the high-heat approach of stir-frying, except that I often pan-roast asparagus whole, while stir-frying is easier done with the asparagus cut down into shorter lengths.


This is my absolute favorite way to prepare it, and the one that was looked down upon for so many years. Why would you want to eat drab green vegetables?, people would say. Because they taste as awesome as MacGyver was cool, that's why. I sear my stalks in a bit of oil first to develop flavor, then deglaze the pan with either water or stock, add a big knob of butter, put a lid on the whole thing, and let the asparagus cook in the liquid as it reduced. By the time the stalks are tender, with good luck, your stock and butter will have emulsified into a slick, stalk-coating sauce that adds richness and sweet flavor to each bite—you can find my recipe here. It's awesome.

One last thing that you probably notice after your asparagus has been done eaten: That haunting smell—haunting as in it comes back and surprises you long after you thought it was gone—is caused by S-methyl thioacrylate and S-methyl 3-(methylthio)thiopropionate, chemicals identified in 1975 at the University of California at San Diego. It's not known exactly why some people seem unable to digest it, but it is known that the degree of Post-Asparagus Stinky-Urine Disorder (PASUD) is related to your genealogy. Fewer than half of Britons suffer from it, while almost 100% of the French do.

I know which country I'd rather be in for sporting matches during asparagus season.

Blanched Asparagus

In a large bowl, prepare an ice water bath. In a large pot of salted boiling water, blanch asparagus until crisp-tender, about about 30 seconds to 1 minute for thinner asparagus and 1 to 2 minutes for thicker asparagus. Immediately transfer asparagus to ice bath to chill.

Grilled Asparagus

Light one chimney full of charcoal. When all the charcoal is lit and covered with gray ash, pour out and spread the coals evenly over half of the coal grate. Set cooking grate in place, cover grill and allow to preheat for 5 minutes. Clean and oil the grilling grate. If using a gas grill, preheat half the grill to high.

Toss asparagus with 2 tablespoons olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Add asparagus to hot side of grill and cook, turning occasionally, until well-charred and tender, 5 to 8 minutes.

Broiled Asparagus

Preheat broiler and position rack about 4 to 6 inches from it. On a rimmed baking sheet, drizzle asparagus with oil and toss to coat. Season with salt. Broil asparagus, shaking and rotating pan occasionally to cook them evenly on all sides, until asparagus is blistered, about 6 minutes.

Pan-Roasted Asparagus

In a large cast iron, carbon steel, or stainless steel skillet, heat 1 tablespoon (15ml) vegetable oil over high heat until shimmering. Add half of asparagus and cook, tossing, stirring, and rotating the spears frequently, until browned all over, charred lightly in spots, and crisp-tender within, about 10 minutes; lower heat if necessary to prevent burning. Using tongs, transfer each spear as it's done to a plate and keep warm. Repeat with remaining vegetable oil and asparagus. Season with salt and pepper.

Braised Asparagus

Heat oil in a 12-inch straight-sided sauté pan over high heat until lightly smoking. Add asparagus in as close to a single layer as possible, season with salt and pepper, and cook without moving until lightly browned, about 1 1/2 minutes. Shake pan and cook until browned again, 1 1/2 minutes longer. Add 1 cup chicken or vegetable stock and 3 tablespoons butter to pan and immediately cover.

Continue to cook until asparagus is completely tender and stock and butter have emulsified and reduced to a shiny glaze, 7 to 10 minutes. If stock completely evaporates and butter starts to burn before asparagus is cooked through, top up with a few tablespoons of water. Serve immediately.

Shack Sauce

A Shake Shack Shack Burger wouldn’t be complete without creamy, tangy Shack Sauce. This versatile condiment is a great fit for a variety of burgers, though, or even a grilled chicken or vegetable sandwich.

Four toasted burger buns open on a baking sheet, each one with three lines of homemade Shack Sauce on the top half of the bun, and lettuce and tomato on the bottom half of the bun.
Serious Eats / Andrew Janjigian

I would argue that Shake Shack's Shack Sauce is almost as important on a Shack Burger as the patty itself—it's what differentiates the Shack Burger from Shake Shack's regular cheeseburger. It's by all accounts a "secret" recipe that was going to take a bit of hard-core investigative journalism to uncover.

My first attempt was to play the Shack-virgin card. When I got to the front of the line at the Upper West Side location one Monday afternoon, I innocently asked the cashier, "So, what's the Shack Sauce?"

Her response: "It's mayo-based. Sweet, sour, hot."

I went fishing: "How spicy is it? Like it's got hot sauce in it or something?"

But she didn't take the bait: "A little spicy. But also sweet and sour."

One last try: "So, sweet like thousand Island? Like it's got relish in it?"

She's an inscrutable blank wall: "No, no relish. Mayo-based, sweet, sour, hot."

I give in: "Okay, give me a Shack Burger, extra Shack Sauce on the side."

Upon tasting it, my immediate thoughts are mayo, ketchup, a little yellow mustard, a hint of garlic and paprika, perhaps a touch of cayenne pepper, and an elusive sour quality that I can't quite pinpoint. It's definitely not just vinegar or lemon juice, nor does it have the cloying sweetness of relish. Pickle juice? Cornichon? Some other type of vinegar? I can't figure it out. This was going to take a little more effort.

My next strategy was a little more drastic: "accidentally" walking through the hidden door in the downstairs rec-room that leads to the kitchen in the hopes of taking a sneaky glance at their pantry for hints. No good. I got halfway through the door, only catching a glimpse of a few cans lining the right-hand wall before it was pointed out to me by a friendly employee that the restrooms were actually behind the doors clearly labeled "restroom."

I sat on the bench outside contemplating a bit of dumpster diving when a thought struck me: Maybe I was going about this all wrong.

I walked back into the restaurant, went straight up to the manager, and asked point blank: "Is the Shack Sauce a secret, or can you tell me what's in it?"

A little laugh, and then, "It's mostly mayo, with some ketchup, mustard, a few spices, and pickles blended in."

"So, pickle relish, or pickles?"

"Actual pickles—the sliced pickles we serve with the burgers. I couldn't give you exact tablespoon measure or anything because I don't know them off hand, but that's the general idea."

Note to self: Always ask nicely before moving on to breaking-and-entering.

Two white ceramic ramekins holding homemade Shack Sauce and Shack Sauce from a Shake Shack.
Serious Eats / J. Kenji López-Alt

The rest was easy: I brought the extra sauce home, then tinkered around with a blender and my spice rack until I got a pretty damn-close approximation. Can you pick out which is the real sauce in the pic above?

As for applying the sauce, the key here is generous, even coverage. For the sake of absolute authenticity, I transferred the sauce to a squeeze bottle, and squeezed out three lines onto the top half of the bun, going back and forth three times along each line.

Four toasted burger buns open on a baking sheet, each one with three lines of homemade Shack Sauce on them.
Serious Eats / Andrew Janjigian

Combine all ingredients in a countertop blender jar and blend on high until smooth, scraping down sides of blender with rubber spatula as necessary, 30 seconds to 1 minute. Transfer sauce to an airtight container and refrigerate until ready to use (sauce can be refrigerated for up to 5 days).

A two-image collage. The left image shows the Shack Sauce ingredients in the bowl of a blender, not yet combined, and the right image shows the blended sauce.
Serious Eats / Andrew Janjigian

Make-Ahead and Storage

Store sauce in an air tight container and refrigerate until ready to use. Sauce can be refrigerated for up to 5 days.

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