How to Get Crispy Chicken Skin

Plated Dinner of Chicken, Rice and Broccoli

If there’s one meat that has endless possibilities on the grill, it’s chicken. Whether it’s cooked sitting on a beer can, slathered in BBQ sauce, or skewered on a rotisserie, chicken on the grill certainly is delicious. In my opinion, the best thing about grilled chicken is a nice, crispy skin bursting with flavor. In today’s post we’ll show you how to get crispy chicken skin. All you’ll need is a fresh piece of chicken (thigh or breast) with the skin on.

Moisture is the Enemy

What can we do to ensure the crispiest skin on our chicken? The first step is to eliminate any extra moisture by allowing the chicken to air dry in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours (but up to 24 hours) before cooking. It’s also a good idea to pat the chicken dry with a few clean paper towels before it goes into the refrigerator to further remove moisture.

Sear it First

After you’ve allowed the chicken to dry, the next step is to start a good sear on the skin. If you’re using a dry rub, go ahead and season your meat now. Try not to over-season the skin because some rub ingredients, like sugar, could cause the skin to burn easily. Preheat your grill as hot as possible, using all burners turned to the highest setting; but before putting the chicken on the grill, turn off any burners directly below where you’ll be placing the chicken – this will minimize flare-ups. Brush each piece of chicken lightly with olive oil and place skin side down over indirect heat. Searing the skin side first will begin to render out some fat from the chicken, which is the first step in crisping skin.

After 3 or 4 minutes, begin flipping your pieces of chicken. You should see browning starting to appear around the edges and across the skin. You’ll also notice the skin has begun to shrink as the fat renders out and it begins to dry out. Continue cooking the chicken as you normally would up until the point where you would regularly add barbecue sauce.

Here’s where we take a little detour in technique. Normally we’d just brush the BBQ sauce on, flip the chicken a few times to caramelize it, and call it a day. Instead, we’re going to carefully remove the skin from the chicken with a pair of grill tongs. Place the skin in front of the meat, directly on the grill, over indirect (or very low) flame on. I can’t stress this enough: the heat must be low or indirect and you should place it on a cooler front portion of your grill grates – otherwise you’ll end up with burnt skin that’s still isn’t crisp.

Continue cooking the chicken, basting with BBQ sauce to finish. When the chicken has finished cooking, remove it from the grill, and continue cooking the skin (flipping every 2 minutes or so) until golden brown and crispy. Finish by plating the chicken and placing the crispy skin back on top of it.

Things to Avoid

Just like there are things you can do to make crispy chicken skin, there are also mistakes that can make your chicken skin soggier than a French dip sandwich. Try to avoid the following if you’re looking for crispy skin:

  • Don’t use a roasting pan lined with vegetables. It may seem like a good idea from previous Thanksgiving turkeys, but in the end the vegetables will steam and soften the skin of the bird.
  • Don’t marinate the chicken before it cooks. If needed, increase the strength of your marinade and apply it to the chicken as it cooks, avoiding the skin while basting. Dry rubs are okay to use before cooking as they do not add additional moisture to the chicken’s surface.
  • Don’t remove the skin from the meat until it has cooked at least 3-4 minutes skin side down. Partially cooking the skin first makes it easier to remove and easier to handle while directly on the grill.

So maybe you’ve had grilled chicken a few hundred times, but now it’s time to try it with the crispiest skin ever. With these tips and tricks, you’ll be able to take grilled chicken to a whole new level!

Nick Wellhausen

Nick Wellhausen is the Culinary Manager for The Companion Group in Berkeley, California. He is responsible for handling all things food, from pizza to barbecue. Nick is a certified chef who trained at Le Cordon Bleu Culinary Academy in Sacramento, California. He has over 13 years of experience in pizza and the restaurant world. He possesses an ever-expanding passion for food and all things culinary. His specialties include: pizza, Italian cuisine, and grilled foods