Note: all nutrition based on a combination of chicken available at Wegman’s and Wild Fork. Calories & nutrition will vary based on the specific source.
However, not all chicken is the same. Depending on the part, the way it’s prepared, the size, and whether or not there is skin, the chicken calories can vary quite a bit!
While chicken is a great source of protein regardless of those variables, some are certainly better than others. Let’s break ’em down.
For the purposes of these breakdowns, we’re looking at grilled chicken only. Grilling does not add any oil (like with fried chicken) so the calories & nutrition will remain the same.
Also, note that we’re going to look at 4 ounces of raw chicken. The weight of meat changes once cooked (I have a handy guide for that here), so for ease of comparison, we’re going to stick with raw chicken weight. Here’s how cooking affects the final weight of grilled chicken, if you need a quick breakdown:
Calories in chicken breast
4 ounces raw chicken breast without skin:
4 ounces raw chicken breast with skin:
Chicken breast is the leanest part of the chicken you can eat, with very little fat (depending on how well it is trimmed, of course). Chicken breast is mostly all protein, so if you’re looking to maximize your protein intake, it’s one of the best options out there!
This nutrition breakdown is for 4 ounces of raw chicken. 4 ounces of chicken is one small chicken breast, and a “standard” size will typically be around 8 ounces.
In that case, a standard chicken breast will be around 220 calories and almost 50g of protein!
How does skin affect chicken breast calories?
The skin of the chicken breast is where you’ll find all of the fat. If you take the same-sized chicken breast WITH skin, the calories nearly double, and an extra 10g of fat is added. If you were to consume an 8-ounce skin-on chicken breast, it would be around 400 calories with 20g of fat.
Still, the protein remains the same, so you’d still be getting nearly 50g of protein! Depending on your caloric needs, the higher calorie skin-on option may not be a bad choice for ya considering the high amount of protein.
Calories in chicken thigh
4 ounces raw chicken thigh without skin:
4 ounces raw chicken thigh with skin:
Chicken thighs are generally considered less “lean” because they are dark meat. For the longest time, I would avoid chicken thigh at all costs and only opt for chicken breast because I considered dark meat to be significantly less healthy than white meat.
But as you can see by this breakdown, the chicken thigh is actually quite decent when it comes to nutrition!
Looking at a skinless chicken thigh (without the bone) we can see that it definitely has more fat than a chicken breast, but very similar protein content. If you were to have an 8-ounce portion of grilled chicken thigh, it would be roughly 340 calories, 16g of fat, and 48g of protein. While the fat and calorie content is slightly higher than chicken breast, it’s really not as different as you may have previously thought!
How does skin affect chicken thigh calories?
Unless you’re buying cut & trimmed chicken thigh from the grocery store, you’re likely used to seeing chicken thighs with the skin. If you order a bucket of chicken, whether it be grilled or fried, it’s going to be served skin-on.
In this case, the skin doesn’t alter the calories & nutrition too much. Since chicken thighs are comprised of a higher-fat dark meat, the fat content is already on the slightly higher side. Taking an equal-sized portion with skin ends up very similar nutritionally, albeit with slightly more fat and less protein.
Calories in chicken wings
4 ounces raw chicken wings without skin:
4 ounces raw chicken wings with skin:
Ah, chicken wings. One of my favorites!
Note that we’re looking at a full chicken wing here. If you go out to a sports bar and order wings, you’ll be getting “party wings” which are split into smaller drums and flats. This is the full wing that you’ll end up getting if you were to order a bucket of chicken.
For the more traditional, smaller wings, 4 ounces worth of chicken is likely going to be 3-4 wings if you’re not counting the bones. It’s tough to say exactly since the sizes can vary, but 3 small “party wings” is a solid estimate.
With wings, you’re almost always going to be eating the skin. I mean, that’s where all that flavor is! If you’re ordering from a restaurant, you’re likely eating skin-on wings. But if you were to remove the skin and eat just the meat inside, a 4 ounce portion of meat is quite lean- very similar to a chicken breast!
How does skin affect chicken wing calories?
You’ll find that the skin changes chicken wing calories & nutrition quite a bit.
When it comes to wings, you don’t get a ton of meat per wing. Because of this, once you take the skin into account, you’re really limiting the amount of meat, which is where all the protein comes from!
If you were to eat 8 ounces worth of chicken wings with the skin, you’ll be consuming over 400 calories, 28g of fat, and 40 of protein. Still a high amount of protein, but higher amounts of calories and fat as well.
Calories in chicken drumsticks
4 ounces raw drumsticks without skin:
4 ounces raw drumsticks with skin:
Chicken drumsticks are the other part of the chicken leg that is attached to the thigh.
If you compare the skinless drumsticks to skinless wings, you’ll be the nutrition to be very similar. Being darker meat, there is some fat involved, but still very high amounts of protein.
Sizes of drumsticks can be all over the map since chickens are obviously different sizes- for these purposes, we’re looking at a 4 ounce drumstick, which is rather larger. Smaller drumsticks will likely be about half the size of this.
How does skin affect drumstick calories?
Skin does not affect drumsticks nearly as much as the other cuts of chicken.
Why is that?
If you look at a drumstick, the bulk of the meat is in the thick part at the end of the leg. Otherwise, there is not a ton of meat throughout. Because of this, when you add the skin, it covers a smaller area than most other cuts of chicken and this affects the overall calories and fat slightly less.
How do other types of chicken stack up?
While these are some of the main parts of the chicken, there are obviously different ways to enjoy chicken. I put together a quick guide for different parts of the chicken, and different preparations, based on the KFC menu. Let’s check it out!
The biggest takeaway here is seeing how different fried chicken is to grilled or baked chicken.
Let’s look at the example of a chicken breast.
The fried chicken breast at KFC (original recipe) is 390 calories, 21g fat, 11g carbs, and 39g of protein.
The grilled chicken breast comes in at 210 calories, 7g of fat, 0g carbs, and 38g of protein.
As you can see, the calories and fat (including saturated fat) are significantly higher for the fried chicken, and the breading adds extra carbs as well!
So remember: not all chicken is created equally. The way it’s prepared and cooked, and the level of trimming done, can all greatly impact the final calorie counts.
Is chicken good for weight loss?
In short: absolutely!
On its own, chicken is an incredible source of protein. Even if we’re looking at a serving of dark meat with skin-on, the high protein is going to be sure to keep you full and satisfied, which is hugely important when you’re dieting and your calories are low.
Of course, some options will benefit you more than others when it comes to weight loss.
If you can help it, try to stick with grilled chicken. While chicken breast is your best option for low calories and high protein, the other parts of the chicken are certainly not bad to enjoy! As we discussed, just pay attention to the way they’re prepared.
When the goal is lower calories, it’s best to limit the consumption of fried chicken when possible, since it will come with extra, unwanted calories.
It’s also important to pay attention to what you pair your chicken with! Since chicken can be lacking flavor (unless you have a great recipe to spice things up) you may want to pair it with something very flavorful.
In a lot of cases, you’ll find chicken paired with mashed potato, corn, prepared as a sandwich, smothered with sauce, etc, so it’s important to be mindful of your pairings.
Vegetables make a great side to grilled chicken, and if you season it all up properly, you can have an absolutely delicious, low-calorie meal very easily!