Pat LaFrieda Jr. can't get enough chicken thighs. If his family business featured on Food Network's Meat Men orders 100 cases of thighs, his supplier might deliver only 60. That's because consumers are discovering something chefs have long known about dark meat: "It was always the least expensive protein that you could buy, but it had the most amount of flavor," LaFrieda says. Thighs and drumsticks are climbing the pecking order as Americans join consumers abroad in seeking flavor that isn't found in ubiquitous, boneless, skinless chicken breasts.
The poultry industry used to have trouble finding a market for dark meat, but TV food shows are helping to spur demand, and chains such as Whole Foods are getting in on the trend. Dark meat is more forgiving than white and doesn't dry out as easily, LaFrieda says, so thighs are great on the grill, while ground dark meat works well shaped into burgers, stuffed into ravioli, or stirred into a Bolognese sauce. "If you're looking for what the next trend is ... always ask the butcher what he takes home," he says.