Wingstop vs. Thighstop: Which part of the chicken deserves your love?

Are thighs worthy of their own dedicated restaurant concept, or should we just stick to wings?

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chicken wings on a platter
Glorious, right?
Photo: Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times (Getty Images)

The other day, I decided to give Thighstop, Wingstop’s new virtual kitchen focused on fried chicken thighs, a whirl. Even though I’m exposed to a barrage of food-related press releases every day, I’m not immune to the siren call of good advertising. The news about Thighstop hooked me, and for a full day, I couldn’t stop thinking about fried chicken thighs.

So I placed a pickup order from my local Wingstop. I prefer picking up fried chicken because it gets me out of the house briefly, and the shorter transit time all but guarantees crispy food. I placed an order for two types: dry-rubbed lemon pepper and a sauced buffalo.

Chicken thighs are my absolute favorite piece of chicken. I love everything about them: the meatiness, the rich fattiness of the dark meat, the juiciness. The skin’s always thick, and you can count on lots of rich poultry flavor because of the fat. I don’t understand how anyone could pass up chicken thighs for boring chicken breast. (What kind of cruel, joyless world do you live in?) But in the grand scheme of things, do chicken thighs merit their own restaurant concept the way wings do?

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What’s sad is that a lot of the chicken thighs we produce actually go overseas to the highest bidders, meaning a whole lot of resources are expended just to send delicious chicken thighs far away from us. Thinking of that, I sink to my knees in the rain and wave my fists at the sky, shouting, “Why?! Give them all to me!”

Then my neighbor shouts, “Hey, Dennis, are you okay?”

Obviously, there are compelling arguments for serving wings over thighs. Wings are good for either a snack or a full meal, they taste good both dipped and coated in sauce, they’ve got great flavor, and the skin-to-meat ratio can’t be beat. You’ve had chicken wings, you get it. They’re awesome. And considering that they were once regarded as a cut of scrap and are now practically considered gold, they’ve come a long way. Good for you, little wingies!

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That being said, how do bone-in thighs stack up to wings?

Thighs vs. wings: The consideration

buffalo sauce chicken thighs from Thighstop by Wingstop
Photo: Dennis Lee
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When I opened the Thighstop box, I swear I heard angels singing. The thighs glistened with Buffalo sauce and they smelled glorious. I counted them, because something seemed off, and heh—they’d given me five thighs instead of the four I ordered. I would not let that positive turn of events sway me.

I took a big bite and all the skin came off in one go and immediately smeared sauce all over my face. I ate the skin happily in its crisp but rapidly-getting-soggy glory. And then I came to a sad realization: Now that the skin was gone, that meant half the chicken thigh was undressed. That was very sad, and I almost cried. Then I realized that I still had some blue cheese dressing on the side.

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(By the way, Wingstop’s blue cheese dressing is absurdly good. So’s the ranch. They both put packaged dressings to absolute shame. I’m telling you, it’s so good that it’s worth getting extra to use for dressing on other stuff. Wedge salad, anyone?)

Here’s where I came to another disappointing realization: You can’t dip a chicken thigh into a condiment cup. If you’re lucky, you can get maybe a corner of meat in there, but you’re better off pulling the chicken off by hand and putting chunks in separately, or pouring dressing all over your chicken, which led me to yet another epiphany:

Eating a sauce-coated thigh is an absolute disastrous mess. Yes, I’m well aware of the fact that chicken wings are messy, but this is on a whole new level! I mean, with a wing, you can at least position most of the meat in front of your mouth. But with the wider, fully dressed thigh, you’ll be wearing that sauce like it’s a whole application of makeup all over your cheeks. Expect to look like Bozo the Clown. Don’t even get me started on your hands. It’s a murder scene.

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And now, my last realization: Compared to wings, chicken thighs are huge. If you’re at a party and they’re serving wings, that’s one thing. You can take a few and then move onto the next snack, like those weirdly delicious grape jelly meatballs. However, if you want more than one chicken thigh, you’re pretty much committed to that being your whole meal. Who snacks on one chicken thigh?

Thighs vs. ings: The redemption arc

Dry-rub chicken thighs from Thighstop by Wingstop
Photo: Dennis Lee
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“But Dennis,” you ask, “what about the lemon pepper thighs?”

Those were a whole different story. Wingstop’s lemon pepper seasoning is very good, and though I’m a Buffalo wings person at heart, I think that for thighs, the dry seasoning is where it’s at.

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The dry-seasoned thighs were consistently coated with a generous amount of tart lemon pepper flavor and didn’t require a support gunner of extra dip, which surprised me. Plus, they kept well in the fridge. The next day when I had some cold chicken for lunch, I was pleasantly surprised to find that they were still pretty crisp on the outside. Which leads to my final conclusion.

Can chicken thighs replace chicken wings?

In short: Unfortunately, no. My hopes were lofty. Well, I thought, we’ve solved the wing shortage! Let’s all eat thighs! But I have fallen back down to earth, crashing from the heavens. And it hurts. For all the reasons detailed above, I just don’t think a thigh-only place is capable of satiating your craving for chicken wings.

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Here’s the solution: Thighs should be an option added to the menu of chicken wing restaurants. I’d like the choice, you know? Combine the glory of sauced-up wings as an appetizer and bigger pieces of chicken as an entree. I can see it now: combo meals of two or three wings, paired with two or three thighs. Chicken with a side of chicken. Now wouldn’t that be something.