If you’re looking for an easy recipe for grilled chicken with skin, you’ve come to the right place. First thing’s first, let’s talk about skin. Now, I know that when it’s on your chicken it has a thicker texture. But once cooked, it will become nice and crispy. I like to start by marinating my chicken in some tasty spices!
This Super-Simple Trick for Crispy Chicken Skin Is a No Brainer You’ll Use for the Rest of Time
We’ve all been there. You put hours into marinating your chicken only to end up with sad, flabby, who-wants-to-eat-this skin. Well, fret no more because we have an incredibly easy, no-brainer tip for getting flavorful grilled chicken with extra-crispy skin.
It’s this simple: keep the skin out of the marinade. To do this, pour the marinade into a shallow baking dish. Arrange your chicken skin-side up in the dish, making sure the skin is not submerged. The meat is the part that absorbs the flavor of the marinade anyway, so you aren’t losing anything by keeping the skin away from the marinade.
Then, let your chicken marinate—uncovered—in the refrigerator, so the skin is exposed to the air and can dry out a little. This extra step will help it crisp up during cooking.
Before grilling, remove your chicken from the marinade, letting any excess drip back into the baking dish, and gently pat dry. Season the chicken skin with salt and grill skin-side down over moderately-low heat until the fat has rendered and the skin is nice and crisp. Keep the heat low—if it gets too high, the fat will sear and not cook slowly and melt away. Flip the chicken and grill for a few minutes skin-side up until cooked through.
If you’re trying to do this with barbeque sauce and still want to have a slathered, saucy piece of chicken, follow these same steps, and right before you flip your bird for its final sear, give the meat-side a generous coating of sauce. The skin should stay pretty crispy after all of that careful rendering, and the sugary sauce won’t have time to cook down or scorch.
And there’s one last thing: When it’s time to take the chicken off the grill, let it rest for at least 10 minutes, but do not cover it with foil. The foil will trap in any steam rising from the meat, softening that crispy crust you just worked so hard for.
How to Get Crispy Chicken Skin on the Grill
Who doesn’t love crispy chicken skin? But how many times has it come out moist and rubbery? Learn how to get crispy chicken skin, by combining and ‘stacking’ some of the methods below that will all but guarantee crispness every time.
Today we’re going to chat chicken — which is like talking turkey, only smaller. Specifically, we’re going to look at how to get crispy chicken skin on the grill and get it right every time.
We spend a lot of time talking about getting the perfect sear on a steak, what kind of sauce to mop on your ribs, or how to smoke a brisket to tender perfection. Sometimes it is easy to forget that there’s more for the ‘cue than pork and beef!
Grilled chicken is absolutely delicious, and it’s a favorite with a long history. In fact, it’s where many people start their BBQ journey. Try telling me a juicy grilled chicken breast isn’t a classic worth celebrating!
Still, for as easy as it is to prepare, grill, and enjoy chicken, getting the skin crispy is elusive as heck. What’s the secret, or secrets, behind chicken skin that isn’t either dried out or rubbery?
All is about to be revealed. Chicken lovers, this one’s for you.
Start with a Dry Bird
You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to understand that something wet can never be crispy. So, the first step towards crispy chicken skin is getting rid of unnecessary moisture.
If not frozen, then first unwrap your chicken, whether it’s whole or in pieces, and pat it dry on all sides with paper towels. Don’t rub hard; just press the towel against the skin and let it wick the water away.
Next, let the chicken air-dry in the fridge. Leave it unwrapped on a platter for at least a couple of hours, but preferably as long as overnight. It’s perfectly safe, and the trace bits of surface moisture remaining will evaporate.
Stretch it Smooth
Time to channel your inner plastic surgeon and give your chicken a facelift and a tummy tuck! A raw, skin-on chicken can be an ugly, wrinkly thing, and all those folds trap moisture and cause uneven cooking.
Since the skin sits loosely, it’s possible to pull it and stretch it and smooth it out until it’s tight. You can use scissors to remove excess flaps and toothpicks or skewers to pin down edges. That drum-tight skin will cook evenly and without pockets of moisture.
Salt Your Way to Success
If you’ve ever read up on brining, you know that salt effectively draws moisture out of meat. Even if you haven’t, you may have noticed that bathing in salt water dries out your skin. The same thing applies to chicken.
As an add-on to drying the chicken in the fridge, try sprinkling salt on the skin to help pull moisture from inside. Don’t use table salt, though; for this, you’ll want to use kosher or flaky sea salt.
Some people suggest rubbing the salt in a bit, so it penetrates the surface. Be gentle, though, or you’ll just tear the skin to shreds. Dab the chicken with paper towels again when you’re ready to add your favorite chicken rub for smoking, then put it on the grill.
Searing and Separating
Here’s an interesting technique worth trying. We tend to keep chicken away from direct heat because we’re so afraid of burning it or drying out the meat. But, a carefully monitored sear may be exactly what you need to crisp up the skin.
Start by super-heating your grill before placing the chicken on the grate. Don’t place it directly above the flames, though; either turn off a burner and put it there, or shove aside some charcoal and plunk it down. This reduces the chance of flare-ups from dripping juices.
Sear each side for 3-4 minutes and then move it to a true indirect heat zone to continue cooking. After a few minutes, carefully remove the skin with tongs and lay it directly on the grate, either in that same “cool” zone or even further from the flame.
Once the chicken is ready, remove it from the grill, but keep cooking the skin. Once it’s golden and crispy, remove it from the grate and drape it over your chicken.
Crank Up the Heat… for a Bit
Similar to searing, you might try putting your chicken on the grill at a much higher temperature than you normally would. Think 400F or higher, but still away from direct heat to reduce flare-ups. The high temperature will dry the skin, but the skin will protect the meat.
Once you see the skin starting to turn brown, you may wish to move the chicken to a cooler zone to finish cooking and keep it from drying out inside. Remember: cook to temperature, not to look or time! When your instant read thermometer reads 165F, it’s safe to eat.
Open the Tent Flaps when Resting
Resting meat after it’s off the grill allows time for carryover cooking to finish and for protein strands to tighten up. Tight proteins hold in moisture, so when you cut into the meat, it doesn’t lose its flavorful juices.
Tenting foil over chicken keeps the moisture inside, but it can also turn the skin soggy. Be sure to allow some of the heat and steam to escape out the ends to stop this from happening.
Leave Your Chicken Alone on the Grill
We fuss because we care! Many grillers have a bad habit of constantly poking, prodding, flipping, and moving meat around the grill.
It is always a good idea to just leave the meat be and let it do its thing. This is especially true of skin-on chicken. The more you move it, the more likely you are to wrinkle or tear it and interfere with the crisping process.
Use your eyes, your intuition, and your thermometer to know when it’s the right time to handle your chicken.
The Boiling Water Trick
This one may sound a bit crazy and definitely counter-intuitive. The secret to crispy chicken skin may be more water and not less!
Follow the fridge-drying technique described above and also salt the chicken for even more moisture elimination. When you’re ready to take the chicken out of the fridge and cook it, fill up the kettle and set it boiling.
Place the chicken in the sink and pour the boiling water over every inch of the bird, taking care not to scald yourself. You should notice the skin actually contract and tighten to the contours of the chicken frame. Once finished, pat dry the chicken again, and it’s ready for the grill.
Check out this video from FudeHouse to see the process in action. Skip ahead to about 00:40 if you want to get to the boiling part.
Separate and Poke Method
I probably made that name up, but it’s descriptive, at least.
I originally saw this technique on a Facebook group, added as advice to a question on getting crispy chicken skin by David over at barbecuelogic.com.
Under the skin of a chicken, there’s a layer of fat. Fat adds moisture as it renders, so we love it for juicy steaks. We don’t love it for soggy chicken skin.
Carefully work a knife between the skin and the meat to separate the two, but without tearing the skin or actually removing it. Then, poke some holes here and there with a fork.
As the chicken cooks, the fat will render as usual. However, between the holes and the separation, most of the fluid will leak out. This should help the skin crisp up nicely. It’s not an easy technique, so be sure of your knife skills before taking it on.
Baking Powder For the Win
You’ve probably got a box of baking powder in the pantry, right? Time to put it to use!
Baking powder is mildly alkaline, according to the wise people at Epicurious. Thanks, to that property, it will cause proteins to contract, kind of like the boiling water.
So, if you add baking powder to your salt or rub and let the chicken sit in the fridge to dry, the baking powder will tighten as the salt extracts.
What to Avoid When Aiming for Crispy Chicken Skin
So what are the no-nos when it comes to crispy chicken skin? Here’s a not-to-do list for you:
Miss the Marinade
Yes, a good dunk in a marinade adds a lot of flavor to any meat. But, with chicken, it’s a recipe for soggy skin. Save it for skinless cuts.
Belay the Baste
Applying a baste too early will add moisture to the skin before it has a chance to get crispy. Add it just minutes before you’re ready to take it off the grill.
Save the Sauce
As with a baste, that yummy BBQ sauce will add moisture you don’t want. It’s like putting lotion on dry skin.
Instead, either use it as a dip, or apply it just as you’re about to remove the chicken from the grill, so it has a minute or so to char a bit.
Skip the Smoker
Smoked chicken is fantastic. But it’s never crispy. Smokers are great for making tough meats edible by rendering fats slowly at low temperatures and adding moisture from a water pan.
For crisp skin, you need high temperatures and the shortest possible cook times. You can still add some smoking wood to flavor your chicken, just do so at higher temperatures in your gas or charcoal grill.
Of all these techniques, what’s the best? It’s probably a combination of several.
Try mixing and matching methods until you get the skin to the level of crispiness you most enjoy. As so often happens in BBQ, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer. There are just guidelines, tips, and a chance for you to experiment!
As always, your questions and comments are welcome, just like you’re welcome to share this and any article from the site with friends. Speaking of friends, come join the crowd on our social channels — you’ll find links on this page.
Thanks for reading, and I wish you well with your next batch of birds on the barbecue!
GRILLED CHICKEN – HOW TO GRILL PERFECT CHICKEN EVERY TIME!
This easy Grilled Chicken comes out perfect every time. Follow these simple steps to get great flavor, crispy skin, and juicy texture for the BEST grilled chicken! Stop overcooking chicken and learn the tips and tricks that pros use!
Grilled chicken can be a little intimidating for people. Too often people are afraid of under-cooking chicken, which instead results in overcooked, dry, and boring chicken. With the right dry rub, techniques, and an understanding of how to grill chicken, you can make fantastic grilled chicken every time. Plus we link to a great resource about understanding the right internal cooking temperature for chicken so it’s safe to eat and delicious
BUYING CHICKEN – WHICH CUTS ARE BEST FOR GRILLING?
Chicken can be purchased in many ways. The least expensive is typically a whole roaster chicken, which can then be butchered at home for the pieces. Or you can buy the chicken in parts. The less the butcher has had to cut and prepare for the case, generally speaking the cheaper the per pound price.
The best parts for grilling chicken are:
- Breast (bone-in or boneless)
Pro Tip: If you buy a whole roaster and butcher it yourself, save the bones for stock! You can find the details on our favorite smoked chicken stock in our cookbook, Fire and Wine.
You can also source some amazing chicken online. Places like D’Artagnan Foods source their chicken from small farms around the world. With a focus on quality, you can taste it in the chicken.
Skin on or off?
Skin on adds a great texture to the grilled chicken. We buy skin on. But boneless skinless chicken breast follows the exact same method if that is your preference.
For grilled chicken we use a poultry seasoning, that has no sugar in it. Sugar can cause burning when cooked over a high heat source. This simple chicken dry rub includes salt and savory ingredients like:
- kosher salt
- course ground pepper
- smoked paprika
- granulated garlic
- dried sage
- dried thyme
If you’re smoking chicken (i.e. low and slow cooking), we use an all purpose rub like this one, that has sugar and slowly caramelizes over a longer cooking period, but is also never exposed to direct heat.
HOW TO GRILL CHICKEN
Start with chicken pieces. Each piece will cook at a different time because of the size, so the chicken can be pulled separately when each is done. When grilling chicken, cooking with Direct and Indirect method is also very important.
Break it down into steps:
- Grill First Over Direct Heat
- Move to Indirect Heat to Finish
- Add Glaze at the End (optional)
Direct and Indirect method is having the charcoal or heat source on one side of the grill for searing, and the other side with no charcoal or heat source. This allows the next important technique, to sear the chicken over the direct heat getting the crust on each side, and then moving to indirect heat to finish to the desired internal temperature. This is the key to perfect grilled chicken.
Why does the direct indirect method matter? Because as high heat sears the chicken, the fat from the chicken will render out faster and drip into the coals. This can cause flare ups that send large flames and potentially burn the chicken, creating the crusty dark burnt skin, while still having an under-cooked interior. After searing the chicken to your desired crust, moving the chicken to indirect prevents the fat from causing flare ups and roast like an oven.
Have a gas grill? Unlike a charcoal grill, you can lower the flame. That said, it is still easy to use this method with a gas grill to avoid burning the chicken, even with a lower flame.
Preparing chicken: Be sure to only pat the chicken dry. You do not need to rinse, as it has been found to cause cross contamination in an average kitchen. Use a paper towel to do this. You can also add a little olive oil to the chicken to help as a binder for the dry rub to stick.
WHEN IS CHICKEN SAFE TO EAT
One of the single biggest secrets to perfect grilled chicken is understanding the internal temperature of when your chicken is done. With the salmonella potential of chicken, there is good reason to make sure the meat is cooked to proper temperature, but most people heavily overcook it to be safe, and as a result the chicken turns out dry and way overcooked.
The USDA encourages chicken to be cooked to 165 degrees Fahrenheit to kill any bacteria. And while that is true when trying to set one temp countrywide, there is a process when grilling or cooking chicken that is important and plays into when you pull your chicken. By holding chicken at lower internal temperatures for longer periods of time, you can still kill off the harmful bacteria.
That means you can achieve bacterial death in chicken with an internal temperature of 155 degrees F, if you hold that temperature for just under 50 seconds. This is a very important point for juicy breast meat versus the dry stuff you may have had in the past.
Thermoworks has a very detailed article about the nuances of internal chicken temperature and how long it needs to be held for safe cooking using USDA pasteurization tables.
The other thing to consider is that chicken thigs and drumsticks actually have better texture if you take them to an internal temperature of 170 degrees F. This allows for a better texture because more of the intramuscular connective tissue breaks down.
WHAT IS CARRY OVER COOKING
Carry over cooking is when you pull the meat off of the heat source, and the temperature in the center most part of the meat continues to rise in temperature as heat travels from the warmer outer portion of the meat, to the inner or cooler portion of the meat. The larger the cut, the more the temperature will “temp up.”
When cooking on the grill the heat generated from your fuel cooks from the outside of the meat in. Heat wants to travel from hot to cold, so when you are cooking chicken, you can target 160 degrees as the finished temperature (or whatever your desired finishing temp is), but actually pull the chicken when the coolest part of the chicken is around 155 degrees. Once you pull, it will temp up to 160 degrees and be safe to eat (and maintain incredible moisture).
In order to get the most accurate temperature you need an instant read thermometer. This is one of the key grill tools needed for anyone cooking outdoors (or indoors for that matter). Our go to instant read thermometer for chicken is the Thermoworks Thermapen MK4. The probe is easy to use, it is virtually instant and most important, we can slowly move the probe through the chicken so we see the range of temperature and pull at just the right time.
The benefit of cooking separate chicken pieces is that you can take the temperature of each cut and pull each piece when it reaches the optimal temperature since each cut and each piece will finish at different times.
HOW TO TAKE THE TEMPERATURE OF CHICKEN
As you pass the thermometer through the chicken, you are always using the lowest temperature as the target, and making sure to insert the probe into the center of the thickest part of the meat, not touching bone. For an entire roaster chicken you will temperature in multiple locations for the most accurate read.
SAUCES AND GLAZES
Glazes are simply a sauce added while cooking meat. Sauces or glazes should also be added at the end of the grilling. Why? If adding a glaze or a sauce to chicken too early, the crispy skin will absorb the liquid and get gummy. To maintain the crispy skin and bite, add the glaze in two steps. First when the chicken is at 155 degrees F (because we are pulling at 160), and then glaze a second time just after you pull the chicken off the grill and let it rest. The sauce will firm up and still keep the texture of the skin crispy.
Glazes also contain sugar, so they can also burn. This is especially important to note if you are grilling direct heat and have already added a glaze (sauce). It will also cause flare ups. So when to add a glaze to chicken matters.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
How to keep chicken from sticking to the grill?
First, start with a clean grill grate. Apply a high heat oil to the grill if you would like prior to cooking or heating. As the meat sears, it will reach a sweet spot where it will lift right off the grate. Dirty grates cause sticking, so after every cook, get into the habit of brushing the grill off.
Should I marinate Chicken?
Marinating chicken is personal choice and can add additional flavor. It can be as simple as Italian dressing, or something homemade. Either way, the same cooking technique applies. When marinating chicken, we recommend marinating anywhere from 3-6 hours, using smaller cuts (like cubed chicken pieces, our pounded chicken breasts).
Bone-in vs Boneless Chicken
Bone-in chicken holds everything together and, for chicken breasts, acts as a heat shield (acting as a barrier between the meat and the heat source). When possible, we prefer to cook bone-in chicken. If you are opting for boneless, just be aware the meat will likely cook faster than bone-in.
How long does it take to grill chicken
It depends on the individual piece and size. Generally the chicken in pieces will cook in 20 – 25 minutes total. Other factors that will increase or decrease chicken cooking time include how hot your grill is, how close to the fire it is, or how much chicken you pack into the grill.