Chicken Thighs and the Reduced Budget

Dear Home-Ec 101,

My husband was recently laid off -sound familiar?- and we really need to cut our food budget while he looks for a new job. In your opinion, what’s the most economical cut of meat or poultry I can get to feed our family? I pretty much stuck to boneless skinless chicken breasts before, but right now they don’t seem to be such a good deal.


Stretching in Stratton

Heather says:

First of all, I feel for you guys. I hope he finds something soon.

When budgets are tight, it’s really hard to beat chicken thighs as an economical cut of poultry. I’m not a huge fan of dark meat, but I’ve matured enough  (hush, peanut gallery) to know that sometimes my preferences just don’t matter that much.

Here are some recipes that work perfectly, without extra steps, for chicken thighs (even if they say chicken pieces, you can use a package of thighs):

Chili Honey Chicken Thighs

Garlic and Soy Chicken Thighs

Balsamic Marinated Chicken Thighs

Carmelized Brown Sugar and Garlic Chicken Thighs

Oven Fried Chicken

Italian Marinated Fried Chicken Thighs


Some people will try to argue that the thigh bone makes the difference in cost between BSCBs and chicken thighs acceptable. I completely disagree. Whether you first remove the thigh before cooking or separate them after cooking, those chicken thigh bones are valuable. Save the bones in a freezer bag and use them to make chicken stock.

If you’ve never made chicken stock before, here are two ways to make chicken stock, and Eugene in the comments offers his method for making stock in his slow cooker. Homemade chicken stock sounds like a luxury, but using it to make rice or vegetables can significantly improve their flavor and boost the nutritional value without adding a ton of sodium.

So what else can you make with these budget friendly chicken thighs?

Any recipe calling for boneless skinless chicken breasts can be made with skinless, boneless chicken thighs. Debone the thighs yourself.

Any recipe calling for a whole, cut up chicken.


Any recipe calling for leg quarters.


If you find a recipe for chicken and want to alter it specifically for chicken thighs, here is a guide to altering chicken recipes based on cut.


Whole chickens are economical in their own right. Here’s how to cut up a whole chicken. With a little practice, this takes about five minutes and gives you a break from only dark meat.

Don’t forget your side dishes.

When you are trying to reduce your overall food budget side dishes become extremely important. Ounce per consumable ounce, vegetables, grains, and legumes are often significantly cheaper than meat.

When planning your meals allot your 10 – 35% of the calories to come from protein. That leaves a LOT of room for vegetables and whole grains. Treat your protein source as the after thought and focus on filling your dinner plates with other lower cost items. This doesn’t mean only empty calories, sides like: lentil pilaf, rice and peas, roasted broccoli, collard greens with northern beans, and roasted vegetables all are filling, but not terribly expensive. -With the broccoli, peel and slice the stems so they don’t go to waste). And don’t forget the poor maligned potato, just keep them out of the fryer. Try your hand at roasted potatoes or ranch potato wedges. Don’t be scared to get creative.

Good luck.


  1. Faith Still on February 5, 2015 at 1:54 pm

    Actually, chicken thighs are my favorite. They have more fat and thus more flavor than other pieces. Here is a recipe for easy oven roasted chicken
    And here is a delicious and economical Chicken noodle soup
    Seriously the best Chicken and Dumplings ever:

    And beans are so good and budget friendly too.
    We love these Slow Cooker Cuban Black Beans (Leave the chorizo out to save $, they will still taste great.)

    One more favorite is Butter Bean Soup. So easy, inexpensive, and delicious.

  2. Lisa on February 9, 2011 at 12:47 pm

    Maybe being raised vegetarian has biased me, but meatless meals can be much more inexpensive and just as nutritious as a meat-based meal. Heather recently posted a recipe for lentil patties that we love here–cheap, easy, tasty. A meal of rice, beans, tortillas (corn) and salsa is inexpensive and tasty. Cheese can give flavor for a fraction of the cost of meat if you use it in moderation. I’m not saying you have to be vegetarians, but just consider being part-time ones to save money. It’s worth considering, anyhow. 🙂

  3. Toy Lady on February 9, 2011 at 9:31 am

    I frequently buy leg quarters on sale for 49 cents a pound – then I stock up! Last weekend, I spent about $5 on two packages of chicken – wound up with bones and trimmings for stock, two packs of boneless, skinless thigh meat (each will be about 3 servings), and 2 packages of drumsticks. Not bad for 5 bucks. . .

    Also, as to the breasts, I also buy bone-in breasts (on sale, 99 cents a pound), bone & skin them, then trim them. From each breast half, besides bones and skin for stock, I also get a separate chicken tender, a nicely trimmed breast cutlet in a size I want (generally 4-5 ounces), and an additional chunk of breast meat to be used either as chunks, a small cutlet, or added to the tenders. In general, when I buy $10 worth of breast that way, it provides about 14 servings.
    My recent post Git ‘Er Done

  4. @MusicCityFoodie on February 9, 2011 at 7:16 am

    We've started buying the family packs of legs and leg quarters. They're an unbelievable deal. I bought a pack of 15 legs for under $6. I also buy skin-on bone-in breasts in bulk at Sam's Club and Costco and they're much cheaper than getting them at the grocery store.

    • HeatherSolos on February 9, 2011 at 8:21 am

      Let's not forget that chicken cooked on the bone is MUCH more flavorful and moist. I know the bscbs are fast, but really people are missing out on a lot of flavor.

  5. Katie Gregg on February 8, 2011 at 4:03 pm

    Chicken leg quarters are our meat of choice right now. Super cheap, and the bones make fabulous stock.
    My recent post So Big

  6. Stacy on February 8, 2011 at 3:32 pm

    My favorite part of the chicken is the thigh, so I'm making a note of all of these recipes–thanks. Some I've tried, but others I've missed. The one you have on your list of 10 that I've made a number of times is the Garlic Soy Chicken Thighs; my husband and I both really like that one.

  7. marnellicious on February 8, 2011 at 2:15 pm


    When I went on what I affectionately called, "The Food Stamps Diet", chicken leg quarters were my primary source of meat (but not protein – that award goes to black beans).

    Even now that I'm employed again, chicken leg quarters are on the menu. Tonight we're subbing them in for turkey thighs in this recipe from Dad Cooks Dinner: Slow Cook Turkey Thighs with Beer and Onions
    (not my blog, but one of my favorites).
    My recent post Curley’s Cherry Bomb

  8. Amanda@HighImpactMom on February 8, 2011 at 1:39 pm

    Wow. I also am not a fan of dark meat, but in an effort to save more money this year the husband I have made a pack to try new things in favor of saving a bit of money and eating more healthfully. Thanks for sharing these ideas! I'm excited to try some of them with the chicken breasts I have the freezer first!
    My recent post Money Games – Go Fish II with some adjustments

  9. SoRefined on February 8, 2011 at 2:12 pm

    Chicken thighs and whole chickens == win.

    I switched to boneless, skinless thighs from boneless, skinless breasts a few months ago. Recently breasts were on sale so I grabbed a pack. After months of thighs, the breasts tasted so bland.

    Also, for my partner and I, thighs go a lot further than breasts because we will basically eat one breast apiece. When I first started using thighs, I was generally making us two each because breasts tend to be about twice as big. I found we were really only eating one thigh each at a meal. As a result, a pack of thighs (which at my market means 12 pieces/circa 3 pounds) lasts 6 meals, whereas a pack of breasts of the same weight contains 6 pieces and lasts us three meals.

  10. shanamama on February 8, 2011 at 12:50 pm

    Those were all great ideas thanks for sharing your tips.

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