The Secret To Crispy Chicken Skin

roasted skin on chicken
Photo: Greg Dupree/Southern Living

Fried chicken may be the all-time favorite way to consume poultry, but a piece of roasted, crispy-skinned chicken is a close second. While we appreciate the convenience of using a deli chicken when making chicken salads and casseroles, you just can't beat the crunchy, savory, juicy goodness of freshly roasted, skin-on chicken. How do you get that crunchy skin instead of an unappealing, soggy mess? Read on to discover the not-so-secret to crispy chicken skin.

Start With A Dry Bird

Chicken skin needs to be dry in order for it to crisp when cooked. Whether or not you rinse the chicken before prepping, you need to make sure the skin is as dry as possible. After removing the chicken from the package (and washing it, if that is your preferred method) pat each piece dry with paper towels. Be sure and dry inside the cavity if you are cooking a whole chicken. To allow the skin to dry out further, store the uncovered chicken in the refrigerator – overnight is ideal, but even an hour helps dehydrate the skin.

Smooth the Skin and Add Some Taste

Chicken pieces often get crowded in their packages during shipping and handling, and the skins get bunched up. Before cooking, make sure that each piece of chicken is covered in skin; pull it tight across the thighs, breasts, and even the whole bird and tack it in place with a toothpick, if necessary. Covering the chicken with skin ensures the meat will not be overly exposed to the heat and dry out ( we wnat the skin to be dried out, not the meat). At this point, rub the chicken with canola or extra-virgin olive oil and sprinkle any desired spices, i.e. salt, pepper, chili powder, paprika, etc.

Start With High Heat

Just like searing a steak, you need to start with high heat to get a nice crust on the chicken skin, but you don't want the heat to be too high or the flavorful chicken fat will not have time to render out. If you are cooking on the stovetop, heat the oil in an oven-safe skillet, such as a cast iron skillet, almost to the point of smoking, then sear the chicken, skin side down, until it's nice and crisp. Once the skin is crispy, flip the chicken pieces and finish out the rest of the cooking in a 400° to 450° F oven.

You can also get a nice crust on chicken by starting it out in the oven: follow your recipe, or heat the oven to between 400° to 450°F, place a rack in the top third (the hottest part) of the oven and slide a pan of chicken pieces in, skin side up. The skin will be crisp by the time the chicken is cooked through. To enhance the taste, baste the chicken while it roasts with pan-drippings, butter, or oil.

Don't Be In A Hurry

When searing chicken in a skillet, give the skin time to actually sear and form a crust. Do not push the chicken around the pan or try to lift the piece and check on the degree of doneness - the skin might stick to the skillet and tear. Depending on the size of the chicken pieces, you can start checking anywhere from 3 to 5 minutes. The same rule applies when roasting in the oven; the less poking and prodding you do the better, since each time you move a chicken piece you run the risk of tearing or puncturing the skin.

WATCH: Skillet Chicken Pot Pie

One last piece of wisdom – do not cover your chicken while it is resting. All you will do is create steam, which will soften and wilt the crunchy skin you worked so hard to create.

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