The best way to get crispy chicken skin in the oven or in the smoker or on the grill

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Tender rotisserie chicken with good crispy skin is one of the most satisfying bites in the carnivorous universe. But it’s also hard to achieve because things that add moisture to meat can lead to rubbery skin.

Whether you cook this chicken on the grill, in the oven or in the smoker, the road to crispy skin begins hours before the bird reaches heat. Preparation is key and moisture is the enemy.

The chicken in a meat market or grocery store has probably been injected with brine to keep the meat juicy. This brine can represent up to 25% of the total weight.

And while moist meat is great, moist chicken skin is not. So hours before cooking the chicken, or the night before, you want the skin to be as dry as possible.

Starch, salt, and cold air from the refrigerator will all help wick moisture away from the skin.

“This starch will harden the skins before the cooking process and make it easier to handle,” said Clarence Joseph, a champion cook at the San Antonio barbecue contest. “It makes a huge difference.”

When you take the chicken out of the fridge to cook, leave the cornstarch and seasonings in place.

Left to right: Grilled, oak-smoked, oven-roasted chicken quarters with crispy skin are seen at Chuck’s Food Shack.

Josie Norris / Staff Photographer

San Antonio Express-News food editor Chuck Blount pulls crispy-skinned grilled chicken quarters from the grill at Chuck's Food Shack.

San Antonio Express-News food editor Chuck Blount pulls crispy-skinned grilled chicken quarters from the grill at Chuck’s Food Shack.

Josie Norris / Staff Photographer

The next step is a matter of debate. I recommend adding a layer of fat – butter or olive or vegetable oil – to the skin. No, it will not help the skin become crispy; the heat will. But it will add great flavor and help the skin brown to that gorgeous George Hamilton bronze.

I like to use butter because I love that flavor. “I’m also a butter guy,” said Jeff White, executive chef at The Palm in San Antonio. “I like the added benefit of coloring.”

So melt some butter and paint it thickly on each part of the bird. Like the end, great Antoine Bourdain told Oprah Winfrey, “Butter is pretty much the first and last thing that goes into a pan. That’s why restaurant food tastes better.

You’re now ready to cook, and below are the best ways to get that moist meat and crispy skin in the oven, smoker, and grill.

Crispy Skin Grilled Quarter Chicken as seen at Chuck's Food Shack.

Crispy Skin Grilled Quarter Chicken as seen at Chuck’s Food Shack.

Josie Norris / Staff Photographer

I cooked chicken thigh wedges because the dark meat is my favorite – so much more flavor – and it’s great value at around $1 a pound. Your cooking time will be a little shorter if you cook white meat. If you’re cooking a whole chicken, cut into thigh and breast quarters before cooking (anyone at the meat counter can do this for you) and wrap the wing tips in foil, uncovering them during the last 10 minutes of cooking if using the oven or grill.

The chicken is done when its internal temperature reaches 165 degrees.

Oven-roasted quarter chicken with crispy skin

Oven-roasted quarter chicken with crispy skin

Josie Norris / Staff Photographer

Oven

Place chicken in a roasting pan on a raised rack, skin side up. The grill will allow heat and air to circulate evenly over all the meat. Roast for about an hour at 450 degrees, basting with more butter about every 20 minutes.

Crispy Skin Grilled Quarter Chicken as seen at Chuck's Food Shack in San Antonio

Crispy Skin Grilled Quarter Chicken as seen at Chuck’s Food Shack in San Antonio

Josie Norris / Staff Photographer

Grill

The high heat of the grill will give you the crispiest skin. Set up your grill for indirect cooking with all the coals on one side. With a gas grill, light the burners on one half of the grill.

Bring it to about 500 degrees and place the chicken in the fridge. Cook with the lid closed for about 45 minutes, basting and turning every 10 to 15 minutes.

Oakwood smoked chicken quarters are seen at Chuck's Food Shack

Oakwood smoked chicken quarters are seen at Chuck’s Food Shack

Josie Norris / Staff Photographer

Smoking

You can’t beat the flavor of smoked chicken, but the low temperature means you’ll never get crispy skin from the smoker alone. Set your smoker to about 300 degrees and cook the chicken for about an hour and a half, removing it when just undercooked to about 155 degrees.

Finish the chicken over direct heat on a grill for about 5 minutes, turning once, or under the broiler for three to five minutes, turning once.

[email protected] | Twitter: @chuck_blount | Instagram: @bbqdiver


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