Looking for a quick and delicious meal to conquer those busy weeknights? Look no further than these irresistible lemon pepper chicken thighs! Packed with flavor and requiring minimal effort, these juicy thighs are coated in a tantalizing lemon pepper spice rub, featuring the zesty freshness of lemon zest, the aromatic kick of cracked pepper, a hint of garlic powder, and the fragrant touch of thyme leaves. As if that wasn't enough, they are then seared to perfection and served with a mouthwatering pan sauce crafted from butter, tangy lemon juice, aromatic minced garlic, savory chicken broth, and an extra sprinkle of cracked pepper and salt.
Table of Contents
The ingredients for this recipe are straight forward and readily available. The only part you may not be familiar with is the addition of cracked pepper. I made this by pulverizing (within reason!) a few black peppercorns with my mortar and pestle.
If you don't have a mortar and pestle, you can replicate this process by placing the peppercorns in a zipper sandwich bag and smashing them with a hammer. I left the pieces fairly chunky so that they resembled the texture of red pepper flakes.
Spice Rub for Thighs
- Lemon zest. Freshly zested. One large or two small lemons should give you what you need for this recipe.
- Cracked pepper. From black peppercorns. It's important to use cracked black pepper because it gives a lot of flavor. Pepper from a pepper grinder will work in a pinch. Definitely avoid using ground pepper. The flavor won't be there. I used a mortar and pestle to break up a few peppercorns into chunky bits. If you don't have a mortar and pestle set, you can place a few peppercorns into a zipper sandwich bag and break them up with a hammer. Don't go too crazy here. Try to leave them a bit chunky, similar to the texture of red pepper flakes.
- Garlic powder.
- Dried thyme leaves.
- Chicken thighs. Bone in and skin on. Don't use boneless, skinless thighs. Save those for another recipe. Leaving the bone in and skin on drastically increases the juiciness and flavor of the chicken.
- Olive oil. I used extra virgin. Try to use the best quality olive oil that you can afford.
- Salted butter.
- Freshly minced garlic. Avoid using the prepared minced garlic that you find in the grocery store. Mince the garlic first, then measure. It should be about the size of short grain rice, maybe a little smaller.
- Chicken broth.
- Freshly squeezed lemon juice. See note above regarding the lemon zest.
- Salt and pepper to taste. Prepare a little extra cracked pepper from the spice rub and throw that in here.
- Fresh thyme or curly leaf parsley. Optional garnish. I recommend including the garnish if you're using thyme. It's going to give you another layer of flavor. The parsley I could take or leave. If you're serving this dish to company, then add it. 😀
See recipe card for quantities.
- Skillet. I used my handy dandy, use-for-everything, favorite-tool-in-my-kitchen 12 inch nonstick skillet by Le Crueset. If you're using cast iron or ceramic, time and/or temperature may need to be adjusted.
- Instant read thermometer. I highly recommend that you take the time to check the internal temperature of your chicken thighs for doneness. I've had my ups and downs with cooking chicken on the skillet. This little tool has helped me to feel confident that I am serving chicken that is neither over nor under cooked.
- Gas stove. I cook on a gas stove and wrote the recipe based on my results. If you are cooking on an electric stove or hot plate, please bear in mind that the time and/or temperature may need to be adjusted.
All of the other gadgets and equipment you will need to make this recipe are listed on the recipe card below.
If you're a family of four, you will not have leftovers. If you are cooking for one or two, I recommend freezing individual leftovers right away. If you're okay with eating the same thing two nights in a row, you can go ahead and store the leftovers in an airtight container in your fridge and enjoy them the next day!
Cover the chicken thighs with a skillet lid while they are cooking to help them cook through and prevent splatters. Check them periodically to make sure they are not getting over cooked.
The recommended internal temperature for cooking chicken thighs is 165°F (74°C). This ensures that the chicken is cooked thoroughly, safe to eat, and retains its juiciness. Using a meat thermometer to check the internal temperature is the most accurate way to determine when the chicken thighs are properly cooked.
Looking for other recipes like these lemon pepper chicken thighs or to go with them? Try these:
Watch How to Make It
Lemon Pepper Chicken Thighs
- Mortar and pestle optional
- 1 tablespoon lemon zest Freshly zested. Note 2.
- 2 teaspoons cracked pepper From peppercorns. Note 3.
- 1 teaspoon salt Or to taste.
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
- 4 large chicken thighs Bone in and skin on. See Note 1.
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 tablespoon salted butter
- 1 teaspoon garlic Freshly minced. Note 5.
- ¾ cup chicken broth
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice Freshly squeezed. Note 4.
- Salt and pepper to taste. Note 6.
- Fresh thyme or curly leaf parsley Optional garnish. Adds a little flavor, texture, and color.
- In a small bowl, combine the lemon zest, cracked pepper, salt, garlic powder, and dried thyme to create the rub.1 tablespoon lemon zest, 2 teaspoons cracked pepper, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon garlic powder, 1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
- Pat the thighs dry with a paper towel, rub the prepared lemon pepper rub mixture all over the thighs, making sure they are evenly coated.4 large chicken thighs
- Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the thighs, skin side down, and cook for about 6-8 minutes until the skin is golden and crispy. Flip the thighs and cook for an additional 6-8 minutes on the other side. Note 7.2 tablespoons olive oil
- Remove the thighs from the skillet and set them aside on a plate. Tent them with foil if desired.
- In the same skillet, melt the butter. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the chicken broth and lemon juice. Scrape the bottom of the skillet with a wooden spoon or silicone spatula to release any brown bits.1 tablespoon salted butter, 1 teaspoon garlic, ¾ cup chicken broth, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, Salt and pepper to taste.
- Let the mixture simmer for a few minutes until it reduces slightly. Season with salt and cracked pepper to taste. Cook for another minute to incorporate the flavors.
- Return the thighs to the skillet, nestling them in the pan sauce. Cook for an additional 2-3 minutes or until an instant read thermometer registers 165 F (74 C) to ensure that the chicken is heated through and coated with the sauce.
- Remove the skillet from the heat. Sprinkle with fresh thyme or curly leaf parsley for garnish, if desired.
- Serve the lemon pepper chicken thighs with the pan sauce drizzled over the top along with fresh lemon slices.Fresh thyme or curly leaf parsley
- Don't use boneless skinless thighs. Save those for another recipe. This recipe gets a lot of its flavor from the chicken itself. Leaving the bone in and the skin on increases by flavor factor by multiples! If a lot of skin is hanging off of the thigh, feel free to trim some of it off.
- One large or two small lemons should give you what you need for this recipe. If you're completely new to zesting citrus, I recommend using a micro plane. Hold the lemon in your hand, position the plane smooth side up over the lemon, and pull the plane toward you. Continue working your way around the lemon being careful not to zest any of the white part. The zest will rest on the smooth top part of the plane, and then when you're done, you simply push the zest into a small bowl with your finger.
- It's super important to use cracked pepper in this recipe. Don't rely on ground pepper. You will be disappointed by the results. Yes, you can use a pepper grinder. However, that will grind the pepper up too fine. The chunky texture and bold flavor of cracked pepper is what makes these chicken thighs stand out. To make cracked pepper, add a few peppercorns to a mortar and pestle or add them to a zipper sandwich bag. Then grind them out until they're broken up but still chunky. Sort of like the texture of red pepper flakes. If using the sandwich bag method, pulverize them with a hammer, but not too much! Make a little extra to throw into your pan sauce.
- The juice from the lemon you zested is all you need. To get the most juice out of your lemon, lay it on its side on your cutting board, lay your hand on top and place gentle pressure on the lemon, roll the lemon back and forth across the cutting board a few times. Then slice it in half and juice it using a citrus juicer or reamer.
- Definitely use freshly minced garlic. Don't use the prepared minced garlic that comes in jars. Garlic loses some of its essence when it's been sitting around in jars. Mince the garlic first, then measure. I don't measure by cloves because each clove can be a different size. If you are not sure how finely to mince the garlic, a good rule of thumb is to make the garlic pieces about the size of uncooked short grain rice, maybe even a little smaller. You don't need to go too crazy.
- Throw in some of your extra cracked pepper that you made for the chicken thigh rub.
- I like to cover the thighs with a skillet lid while they are cooking. This helps the chicken to cook through and prevents splatters. Check them with a thermometer periodically to make sure they are not getting over cooked. But don't be afraid of the char! That gives these thighs big flavor for weeknight meals. As you can see from my photos, I went big on the char and my husband and I loved the end result! 😍
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