How to Cook a Turkey Thigh in the Oven

Crispy and flavorful, turkey thighs are a delicious option for lunch, dinner and holiday meals. Due to their low fat content, they can fit into most diets. Cook them in the oven and serve them with baked potatoes, salads or sautéed veggies for a healthy feast.

Oven-roasted turkey thighs are a juicy, easy-to-prepare entree.
Credit: Nataliia Sirobaba/iStock/GettyImages

Tips

Cooking turkey thighs in the oven couldn't be easier. Just place the thighs in a baking dish greased with oil or filled with a half-cup of water, cook for up to two hours and enjoy. Add herbs, spices and vegetables beforehand for extra flavor.

Is Dark Meat Healthy?

The debate on white versus dark meat has been around for ages. Dark meat, including turkey thighs, has more calories and fat than white meat, such as turkey breasts and wings. However, this doesn't necessarily mean it's unhealthy. On the contrary, dark meat is loaded with protein, iron, zinc and vitamin B12.

Myoglobin is what makes the difference between the two. This protein stores oxygen in cardiac and skeletal muscles, which in turn, stimulates energy production within the cells. Dark meat is higher in myoglobin and other nutrients than its white counterpart. This applies to both turkey and chicken meat.

Turkey thighs are higher in fat than turkey breasts, but that's why they taste so great. One serving (3 ounces, roasted) provides the following nutrients:

  • 140 calories
  • 23.6 grams of protein
  • 5.1 grams of fat
  • 58 percent of the daily value (DV) of vitamin B12
  • 27 percent of the DV of zinc
  • 7 percent of the DV of iron
  • 5 percent of the DV of magnesium
  • 49 percent of the DV of selenium
  • 90 percent of the DV of tryptophan
  • 60 percent of the DV of leucine
  • 93 percent of the DV of lysine

Each serving of roasted turkey breast (3.5 ounces), by comparison, supplies:

  • 125 calories
  • 25.6 grams of protein
  • 1.8 grams of fat
  • 13 percent of the DV of zinc
  • 6 percent of the DV of magnesium
  • 3 percent of the DV of iron
  • 47 percent of the DV of selenium
  • 87 percent of the DV of tryptophan
  • 58 percent of the DV of leucine
  • 90 percent of the DV of lysine
  • 14 percent of the DV of vitamin B12

As you see, turkey thighs are slightly higher in calories than breasts, but they also boast larger doses of vitamins, minerals and amino acids. Turkey breasts, on the other hand, are slightly higher in protein. The difference is negligible, though.

Tryptophan, one of the most abundant amino acids in turkey meat, plays a key role in protein synthesis. After ingestion, it is converted to melatonin, serotonin, niacin and other key nutrients and neurotransmitters, according to a September 2018 review published in the International Journal of Tryptophan Research. Furthermore, this amino acid may improve mood and mental performance during times of stress, due to its ability to raise serotonin levels.

Turkey meat is also rich in leucine, an essential amino acid. Your body cannot produce this nutrient on its own, so it needs to obtain it from food.

A research paper featured in Advances in Nutrition in July 2016 states that leucine supports immune function and metabolic health. It may also inhibit protein breakdown, reducing muscle loss and atrophy. Athletes take leucine supplements to preserve lean mass and recover faster from training. Protein, a key nutrient in turkey, has similar effects, as the American Council on Exercise points out.

Read more: 7 Popular Protein Myths Totally Busted by Science

How to Roast Turkey Thighs

Clearly, dark turkey meat is a powerhouse of nutrition. There's no reason to avoid turkey thighs unless you're a vegan or vegetarian. However, it's important to cook it the right way to keep the calorie count low.

Start with a basic recipe like roasted turkey thighs. The USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service recommends keeping the turkey frozen, thawing just before cooking. This type of meat can be stored in the freezer indefinitely.

Thaw it in cold running water in the sink, in the microwave oven or the fridge. Once it's ready, preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Place the turkey thighs in a pan filled with a half-cup of water. If your pan doesn't have a lid, put an aluminum foil over the meat for the first 60 to 90 minutes to keep it moist.

Another option is to use an oven bag. Check the manufacturer's instructions beforehand. You may also add veggies, herbs and spices in the bag, so go ahead and try new recipes.

According to the USDA, turkey thighs should be cooked in the oven for one hour and 45 minutes to two hours. Refrigerate any leftovers for up to four days or freeze them for later use.

Read more: 7 Leftover Turkey Recipes to Be Thankful For

For extra flavor, marinate the turkey thighs overnight. Let them soak in red wine or buttermilk mixed with ginger, coriander, rosemary, garlic cloves, salt, pepper and other spices. When you're ready to cook, drain the marinade, place the meat in a greased dish and bake at 325 F for up to two hours.

Experiment with different herbs and spices. Turkey meat goes well with basil, paprika, chili powder, cayenne pepper, thyme and more. You might also add bay leaves, cumin, mustard seeds and other seasonings. Cook the turkey thighs with potatoes, carrots, tomatoes or even citrus fruits for extra flavor and nutrition.

Warning

Roasted turkey thighs are relatively low in calories. However, their calorie count will go up as you add other ingredients to the mix.

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