Crispy chicken skin - not how, but when?

Discussion in 'Grilling Chicken' started by brazosbrian, Jan 12, 2015.

  1. brazosbrian

    brazosbrian Smoke Blower


      I've been working my way through Gary Wiviott's low and slow book (not a bad book, but he's a bit narrow minded) and he has you cooking a lot of chicken at first ...mostly so you learn your smoker, how to create a nice thin-blue smoke bed of charcoal and to maintain temperatures from 225 F and up.  Good stuff.  He says that low and slow makes the skin 'rubbery', but I'd call it more 'kinda hard' ...not crispy.  OK, I'm past those chapters and almost done with the book.

      I BBQ'd a spatchcock chicken for the first time last night, Cajun rub and apple smoke ...turned out great, and I cooked it the 'hot and fast' way instead of low and slow ...but I was still disappointed in the skin.  I'm wondering WHEN is the best time to crisp it up, e.g. by putting it directly over the coals?  Anyone experimented with this?  Here's what I did and what I question:

    - Used my Weber Kettle, big drip pan on one side so I could use a full can of lit coals as indirect heat on the other side.  Here in Alaska, this time of year, the full can only produced 310 F in the kettle (all vents wide open) and it dropped to 300 F by the time the chicken was done - total 70 minutes cooking time on a bird that was 5-1/2 lbs dressed and spatchcocked.

    - I put the bird skin side up on the indirect heat side for 25 minutes, flipped it to skin side down for another 25 minutes.  Then I checked the temp (160 F).  Flipped it back to skin side up and I left it in for another 20 minutes.  Skin looked fairly dark, so I didn't crisp the skin (say, by putting it skin side down over the coals for a few minutes), and final temp in the breast or thigh was 178 F - a tad overdone.

      The skin looked good, but was NOT crispy, and was kind of tough and stiff.  I'd prefer the skin more delicate and certainly more crispy, and a bit of black here and there would be fine with me/us.

    Question:  Should I start the chicken skin side down over the coals to get a seal and the start of a crisp before I move it to the indirect side for general cooking?  Skin side down halfway through the cook over the coals before the skin toughens up?  Would the skin be less tough if I crisped it up as a final step before taking it out?  And no ...not interested in breaking out the propane torch ...with hot coals right there, there's no need for gimmicks (in my book).

    Thanks, any advice on how to get the perfect crispy chicken skin while cooking fast and hot would be appreciated ...the chicken meat itself was falling-off-the-bone tender (a whole leg fell off when I picked it up) and juicy, and the smoke penetration was perfect (one large-ish block of wood place on the coals at start).  No complaints on the meat ..just the skin!

    Last edited: Jan 12, 2015
  2. If you don't get the smoker temp up to 325° or above your not going to get crispy chicken. The skin gets crispy in the last little bit so you must get your temps up. Add more fuel to make heat.

    Happy smoken.


  3. brazosbrian

    brazosbrian Smoke Blower

    It was cold outside ...50% of the grate was filled with coals up to the bottom of the grill, sigh.  Can't add much more fuel.  Probably need to rig up an insulated enclosure around the grill... 

    And it sounds like your advice is (in addition to getting HOTTER) is that crisping is done last, or at least occurs last, naturally.  Do you put the chicken over the coals at all?  Or will it crisp up on the indirect side?

  4. timberjet

    timberjet Master of the Pit

    One important step you may have overlooked to good crispy skin is to start with a dry bird. I usually brine whole chickens for a night, wash them off real good and the air dry in the fridge uncovered the next night. The drier the skin is to start with the better off you will be. I do always throw it on the coals skin side down for a little while before taking it to the kitchen. You can pull it a little early like say 160 breast temp and then broil it in the oven. You are working on perfecting this in some pretty extreme conditions there. I always spatchcock and find the skin turns out better doing it that way. Your rub if too sugary will turn black before the skin even has a chance to crisp. So there is that. Sounds like you are getting there. Just keep at it. Happy smoking and stay warm up there. timber
  5. brazosbrian

    brazosbrian Smoke Blower

    What I usually do is to rinse the bird in cold water, cut it up (or not) as preferred, then dry it up as good as I can with paper towels ...but then I brush on a coat of olive oil.  My reasoning was that the oil helped keep the moisture in the bird I wrong?  Plain dry skin is better?  What if I oil the meat side and leave the skin dry?   BTW, we've gotten so used to the really good results from brining (and secondarily, from marinades), that we really don't like a plain ol' unbrined chicken anymore ...tastes so plain!  I have a favorite, albeit slow, brine that we like ...but it takes about a day to a day and a half for a chicken, and 3 days (or 4 for a big bird) for turkey... fresh herbs, celery, carrots etc.  Love the herb/veggie flavor that soaks in clear to the bone, and the extreme juiciness too.  Don't brine a turkey like this and expect to be able to stuff it and bake it ...the stuffing will be half liquid due to all the moisture in the meat - don't ask me how I know!  Stove Top... is your friend when baking brined birds!

    Last edited: Jan 12, 2015
  6. timberjet

    timberjet Master of the Pit

    I don't use olive oil on mine but some guys do. You might try oil on the bird but not the skin like you said. I do like that golden brown you get when I use oil though. The only time that is is when I am doing Italian dressing marinaded thighs..
  7. bmaddox

    bmaddox Master of the Pit

    My understanding is that browning will not occur until the moisture is removed from whatever you are cooking. So if you are trying to brown the skin so it will be crisp then you need to start with as little moisture as possible. I use olive oil on the skin when roasting chickens but that is at 425 degrees. At lower temps the oil might be messing you up.
  8. dirtsailor2003

    dirtsailor2003 Smoking Guru OTBS Member

    No need to oil the bird to keep in moisture. If you are cooking at lower temperatures oil will actually make the skin even mo rubbery. I truly believe that high temp smoking is the best way to get a crisper skin. as was mentioned anything above 325°. Still at that you aren't going to fried chicken crispy. In order to get that you would need to fry the bird at the end. There are several things mentioned that can help get better skin besides the high temp. Dry the skin. Air drying for 8-12 plus hours in the fridge is the best method. If you don't have that much time hit the bird with a hair dryer on low right before cooking. You can hit the bird on the coals directly skin side down at the end of the cook too if you like. I would do that right when the bird hits an IT of 155°160°, be careful as it doesn't take long to burn it up. Which brings up another point if you are going to do that don't use a rub with sugar or you'll end up with a burnt bird.

    Another method you may consider is to do a smoker fried chicken. This method is one that I stole from doing oven fried chicken. It works great, on pork chops too.
  9. Oiling the outside of the skin can actually contribute to it retaining moisture  and rubbery skin.  One trick I have used is to spread some butter (usually mixed with some finely minced herbs) UNDER the skin, while keeping the outside as dry as possible.  Separating the skin allows heated air to flow better under it, breaks the direct contact between the fat on the skin and some of the fat under the shin, and the butter (you could also use olive oil - but lightly) does two things - it moisten's the meat, and helps "fry" the skin.  A crispy skin is one that the moisture has been removed from, hence starting the outside as dry as possible, helps the heat do it's thing.
  10. brazosbrian

    brazosbrian Smoke Blower

    Tucson BBQ Fan:  Thanks!  Makes perfect sense.  On the next trial, I am going to do the following:

    -  Brine or marinate the bird (just because we like it that way)

    -  Dry completely by hand and then put it in my mini-fridge to dry the skin overnight (this fridge is dedicated to brining, marinating, and now ...drying)

    -  Oil bottom (meat side) of bird before BBQ'ing

    -  Shelter the kettle, if necessary, to obtain at least 350 F, aiming for 350-375 F

    -  Q like always, but flip the bird to crisp the skin over the coals for a couple of minutes when done.

    After this trial, I'll do the same thing again, but try the 'butter or light oil under the skin (w/herbs etc) so I can compare the results.

    BBQ every weekend... yeah!


    PS: And of course, I'll continue to doctor up and tune my own Cajun rub ... :)
    Last edited: Jan 13, 2015
  11. grillmonkey

    grillmonkey Smoking Fanatic

    Like Dirtsailor said, you aren't going to get fried chicken crispy unless you fry it. Smoked chicken is so moist that it is hard to get the skin crispy, or a better description might be "crunchy", without burning it. As everyone has said, high heat is the best way to keep it from being rubbery.

    These two beauties were brined overnight in a salt/water mixture, then marinated for a few hours in a marinate that contained EVOO. They were smoked at 350 with the skin-side up for the entire smoke. The only time I opened the smoker was to insert the meat probe when I figured the chicken was getting close to 140. The skin wasn't crispy/crunchy, but it was tender, not rubbery. You can see where it ripped when I removed it from the smoker at 170 degrees.

    The EVOO adds a good flavor and also keeps the chicken from sticking to the grate.
  12. brazosbrian

    brazosbrian Smoke Blower

    Grillmonkey, Dirtsailor et al ...thanks for the feedback.  It not only answers my questions, but also tells me what to reasonably expect.  I suspect some improvements are coming my way ...


Share This Page