5 Things You Need to Know About the Dark Meat on a Chicken

Dark chicken meat, rich in myoglobin, offers a flavorful and juicy experience with higher fat content. It’s forgiving to cook and packed with essential nutrients.

Grilled quails carcasses with potato wedges on black plate. Close up view

Chicken, a global staple, features in numerous dishes, whether fried, grilled, baked or as a filling. Each cut holds unique qualities, and here we’ll focus on dark meat. Let’s explore the essentials of dark chicken meat.

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Dark Meat: What You Need to Know

Chicken thigh with vegetables on a wooden background. chicken leg on a plate

Dark meat in chicken is found primarily in the legs and thighs – parts of the bird that get a lot of exercise. This type of meat is so-called because it appears darker than the breast and wing meat due to its higher myoglobin content. Myoglobin, a protein found in muscle cells, helps transport oxygen necessary for muscle activity.

The more muscle is used, the more myoglobin it contains, resulting in a darker color. Thus, since chickens use their legs for walking and standing, these parts have a higher concentration of myoglobin, making them darker.

flavor and texture

Grilled chicken legs with rosemary served on white plate. Dinner background .

The exercise that these muscles get doesn’t just affect the color. It also plays a role in the flavor and texture of the meat. Dark meat is often described as having a fuller, richer flavor compared to white meat. This is due to more fat and connective tissue in these areas, contributing to a juicy and tender texture when cooked correctly.

Dark meat is also more forgiving to overcooking, maintaining its moisture even when cooked longer. This makes it particularly suited for slow-cooking methods like braising and stewing, where the low and slow heat can break down the connective tissue, leading to mouthwateringly tender meat.

nutritional content

When it comes to nutrition, dark meat has a slightly higher fat content compared to white meat. However, don’t let this discourage you from enjoying it. According to the USDA, a 3-ounce skinless serving of dark chicken meat contains around 9 grams of fat, 3 grams of which are saturated, and provides 170 calories.

While this is indeed more than the 140 calories and 3 grams of total fat found in a similar serving of skinless chicken breast, it’s still within the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommendations for fat intake. Plus, dark meat contains essential nutrients like iron, zinc, riboflavin, thiamine, and vitamins B6 and B12.

White Meat: What You Need to Know

Grilled chicken fillets on slate plate. Gray concrete background

On the other side of the spectrum is white meat, which includes the breasts and wings of the chicken. These parts are utilized less frequently by the bird, resulting in fewer muscle fibers and myoglobin. The lower myoglobin content gives the meat its characteristic light color. Just like with dark meat, the amount of exercise these muscles get also influences their texture and flavor.

flavor and texture

Partially sliced grilled chicken breast with black pepper and rock salt isolated on white.

White meat is known for its mild flavor and leaner texture. It has less fat than dark meat, making it drier if not cooked properly. To maintain its moist texture, it’s essential to cook white meat at the right temperature and for the appropriate amount of time. Grilling, roasting, and pan-frying are popular cooking methods for white meat, but care must be taken not to overcook it, as it can become tough and dry.

nutritional content

Nutritionally speaking, white meat is a powerhouse. A 3-ounce serving of skinless chicken breast provides about 140 calories, 3 grams of total fat, and only 1 gram of saturated fat. It’s also an excellent source of protein, offering around 26 grams per serving. Moreover, it contains a good amount of vitamins and minerals like niacin, selenium, and vitamin B6. Because of its lower fat content, white meat is often recommended for those who are watching their calorie or fat intake.

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