Timothy Woods
Published by Timothy Woods
Last Updated On: April 25, 2022

Chicken is a great grilling and smoking meat, but the challenge for many with poultry is how to get the skin crispy.

We have some advice from our expert grillers and smokers that will have you delivering crispy skin chicken every time at your cookouts!

Quick Summary

The challenge to achieve crispy chicken skin can frustrate some aspiring outdoor cooks.

Our expert tutorial will guide you and include the following:

  • Preparing the chicken to promote crispy skin.
  • Smoking and grilling tips for crispy chicken skin.
  • How to marinade chicken and still have crispy skin.

Grilling or smoking chicken with the skin on helps keep the meat moist and adds flavor, but rubbery or soggy, slimy skin does nothing for the final product.

Follow our guidelines to get the skin on your chicken crispy and delicious on the grill or in the smoker!

How to Get Crispy Chicken Skin on a Grill?

Chicken close up image on grill

Grilled chicken is one of the easiest ways to get the skin crispy, but the biggest challenge is going too far on the opposite end of the scale and charring the skin to the point that it is inedible!

Some of the steps to get crispy chicken skin come from preparing the meat correctly before cooking, and some are during the cooking process, so let’s get started with some crispy skin chicken on the grill!

1. Defrost Your Chicken Properly

Raw chicken legs

If the chicken has not defrosted completely, moisture will be locked into the skin, which will prevent it from becoming crispy on the grill.

It is best to defrost your chicken overnight in the refrigerator. A medium-sized whole bird will take about 12 hours to defrost in the fridge.

Larger birds will take longer, up to 24 hours in the refrigerator, to completely defrost, so you will need to plan ahead.

Chicken pieces take about 6 hours to defrost, but our experts recommend that you should still defrost them overnight in the fridge or throughout the day if you intend to grill the chicken that evening.

Towards the end of the defrost cycle, sprinkle the skin with some sea salt to draw out any moisture. Wipe the salt off after the defrosting process.

2. Dry the Chicken Skin off Before Grilling

The chicken skin should have as little moisture on it as possible.

Pat any condensation or moisture off the chicken skin using a paper towel. It is unnecessary to rub the skin; a basic pat-down is sufficient.

Removing as much moisture on the skin as possible will promote crispy skin when the chicken is placed on the grill.

3. Grilling Chicken for Crispy Skin

Grilling chicken with tomatoes

The next step is the actual cooking of the chicken on the grill. Dust the chicken with your favorite spices or rub.

Place the chicken on a hot section of the grill to get direct, medium-high heat. Sear the skin on this medium-high heat for 3 to 4 minutes.

This tightens in the skin and removes moisture quickly. Turn the chicken frequently, watching out for fire flare-ups when the fat drips out of the chicken skin.

After the initial searing, place the chicken on a cooler section of the grill where the meat can cook slowly and retain internal moisture.

4. How to Get Crispy Chicken Skin After Marinating

Freshly cooked chicken on top of vegetables

If you intend to marinate your chicken before cooking it, this tip will help you to get crispy skin while allowing the meat to absorb the marinade flavor.

When chicken is steeped in a marinade, the skin does not absorb any flavors.

Consequently, submerging the chicken skin in the marinade is not necessary.

Only fill the bowl with marinade to cover the meat and leave the chicken skin exposed above the liquid.

This is not possible with chicken legs or drumsticks, but you can use this tip with thighs and chicken breasts with the skin on.

When you take the chicken out of the marinade, pat the skin dry with a paper towel and generously cover the skin with a sprinkling of salt.

Cook the chicken on the grill as usual, and the marinade will not affect the crispness of the skin.

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How to Get Crispy Chicken Skin in a Smoker?

If you are smoking the chicken, attaining a crispy finish on the skin is considerably more challenging than on the grill.

The biggest problem when smoking chicken is that the skin turns out rubbery and rather unpleasant to eat.

Chicken is considered lean meat, which means it does not have much fat embedded in the meat fibers.

The majority of the fat on chicken meat is in the skin. This is why the skin turns rubbery in a smoker, but the meat does not.

Traditionally, cooking meat in a smoker is a low and slow process at between 200 to 250°F [1]. However, this is the main problem when smoking chicken.

The fat in the chicken skin does not react well to a low and slow cook. The heat is insufficient to render the fat and allow it to escape the skin.

The lower temperatures allow the fats to solidify in place in the chicken skin, resulting in tough, rubbery skin.

The only way to avoid rubbery chicken skin in a smoker is to abandon the low and slow cook method and crank up the heat!

Chicken should be cooked in a smoker at temperatures between 300°F and 350°F which will cause the fat in the skin to render, drip out and crisp up the skin.

Increasing the heat will reduce the cook-time in a whole medium-sized bird smoker to between 1 and 2 hours.

More Tips for Crispy Chicken Skin in a Smoker

Tasty chicken breasts on smoker and on a black stone table

If you are familiar with smoking other meat but just starting out with chicken, some practices that benefit other meats will be detrimental to crispy chicken skin in the smoker.

  • Avoid spritzing the chicken. Spritzing is another smoking practice used to keep red meat cuts, like brisket, moist in the smoker. When smoking chicken, you should avoid spritzing altogether since this will prevent the skin from drying out.
  • Use a dry rub. To add flavor, use a dry rub rather than a wet sauce.
  • Don’t wrap the chicken. Other smoked meats are often wrapped in paper or foil during parts of the process. Don’t do this with chicken; it will turn the skin soft and mushy, and the final cook will make the skin rubbery.

Cooking chicken in a smoker requires different techniques and strategies compared to red meat and pork done in the smoker.

You cannot apply the same strategy to chicken that you have used on other meats in the smoker.

However, tweaking the process to the best way to smoke chicken will reward you with delicious smoky meat with crispy outer skin!

Conclusion

Crispy chicken skin is achievable on a grill or a smoker, but you need to apply different cooking techniques to these appliances. So it is important to know the type of smoker or grill you are going to use.

The changes are not difficult or detailed, so you should try our methods out and step up your game cooking crispy skin chicken on your grill or in your smoker!


References:

  1. https://bbq.tamu.edu/cooking-smoking/

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