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How can you prevent chicken skin from being "leathery" on a smoker?

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    How can you prevent chicken skin from being "leathery" on a smoker?

    Hello to all and happy seasonal holidays!
    The last time I smoked chicken using my Rec Tec pellet smoker (white and dark meat) while the meat was wonderful and moist, the skin was very leathery. It looked perfect, but really not edible. I smoked the chicken at about 275 for a couple fo hours, and towards the end I pumped up the temp to 375 for about 20 minutes - but the skin did not crisp.
    Yes, I do know that pellet smokers have a moist environment, which does not help in crisping skin, but this has also happened on occasion when I used my Weber kettle as a smoker.

    And thoughts? Maybe bump up the temp higher for a longer time at the end?
    PS: With my turkey I did bump it up to 425 for about 30 minutes, which was better, but not a perfect crisp skin.
    Thanks to all!

    Start with dry skin and cook at high heat >325 degrees through out.


      To add to that, salt and butter helps with drying the skin and the butter helps for browning. The big key is like Ernest said, High temp so it can render fat.


        In my experience, crisping skin requires dry heat. There are many ways we crisp the skin of fowl in the restaurant. One, is to remove the bird from the moist heat environment about 5 degrees from your target temperature, then place in a 400 degree oven and finish cooking there. Another is to dry the skin with paper towels, then use a torch to crisp the skin. If the skin isn't crisping fast enough, brush a little butter or oil on the skin. When I bbq chicken, sometimes I will fire up the coals to a hotter temp, then just crisp the skin as I turn the bird. The idea is to finish with dry heat. How to accomplish that depends on your rig and how you use it. A trick I use in my cheesy 7-in-1 is to smoke-roast my chicken at 300-325 till done. The skin is crispy, and the bird is done as well, but that is just with my crappy rig. Think dry heat and that should get you where you want to be. I hope this helps. Seasons Greetings from Houston, Alaska.


          What I've learned here that made a huge difference for me: Pat the skin dry after you've spatchcocked the bird. Then you know what.. do it again. Dry brine with salt for at least 4 hours UNCOVERED in the fridge. This starts tightening the skin. Use oil vs butter on the skin as butter has some water content, and do this right before you're ready to put her on the cooker. You can add seasonings here too. Shoot for 325+ throughout the cook. I find the smaller the bird, the higher the temp she can take. The one I did last night averaged about 360 on the Weber and it was fantastic. The skin was amazing.
          That should do it. Again, all credit goes to MH and the gang here.
          By the way, I thought I read that pellet smokers have a dry environment and that's one of their problems. They turn over a lot of air (I think MH wrote that somewhere). Also, consider taking the bird from fridge to smoker quickly so that the smoke will settle on it and give you a good flavor.
          Am I missing anything guys?


            My method (adapted from Meathead's instructions) which has worked well for 3 turkeys using PBC All Purpose Rub for two of them and Simon & Garfunkel rub for one:

            24 hours before: Dry the turkey well. Rub the meat under the skin with (salted) rub and oil or salt alone if using an unsalted rub later. Get as far as possible into the legs and thighs as well as the breast/rib areas without tearing the skin. Make a mixture of 1:2 baking powder (Aluminum free) to salt and massage into the skin well. Allow the turkey to sit, uncovered, in the fridge for 24 hours to further dry the skin.

            Just before adding to smoker: Take turkey out of fridge, keeping it as cold as possible until the last minute. Inject with melted butter. If using salted rub: Rub skin with oil and lightly sprinkle it with the (salted) rub. If using salt-free rub: rub the meat under the skin and the skin with a mixture of salt free rub and oil. Ditto for the skin.

            Keep the smoker temperature at 325. Take off when deep breast meat reads 160 deg F.

            Enjoy chomping on the crispy skin and tender juicy turkey meat that results!

            I do the same for chickens, although now I'm experimenting with higher smoker temperatures for shorter chicken cooks using Ernest's Hot 'n Fast chicken method.

            Last edited by fzxdoc; December 19, 2014, 10:34 AM.


              Have you tried piercing the skin, especially in the really fatty areas? I use an onion holder from Amazon for this (use the amazingribs link!). Punches tiny little holes that let the fat render. Works much better than a full out jacquard. I will put seasoned (with my bird's rub) butter up under the skin of the breast but that's the only place it'll go.

              Nothing makes crispy skin go to rubber faster than saucing it right at the end. If you want to use a sauce, sauce chicken 20-30 minutes after it's done, then seal it up tight (I'll use a full pan with lid or foil) and let it rest in a warm space. That's the secret to bite-through skin every time.


              • fzxdoc
                fzxdoc commented
                Editing a comment
                Thanks for the tips, CandySueQ!


              Nothing makes crispy skin go to rubber faster than saucing it right at the end. If you want to use a sauce, sauce chicken 20-30 minutes after it's done, then seal it up tight (I'll use a full pan with lid or foil) and let it rest in a warm space. That's the secret to bite-through skin every time.
              Did not know that.


                I have a way I use to caramelize the sauce on my ribs that i THINK could crisp up that skin nicely.

                I will try it out and let you know.



                • HC in SC
                  HC in SC commented
                  Editing a comment
                  Pretty is = pretty does!!

                Thank you for all the comments, in fact from what I learned prior to getting my pellet smoker is that they create a fairly moist environment, and I can attest to that after using it about 5 times so far.
                The Thanksgiving turkey was hailed as the best I've ever done and I actually used the dry-brine method that "fzxdoc" suggested and that I learned first from Cook's Illustrated - however the skin was still not as crisp as I like. I started the bird at about 275 for a couple of hours, then raised it to 325 for an hour and then 425 for about 15 minutes (the Rec Tec raise the heat pretty fast). Our Christmas Prime Rib (7.5 Lbs, 285 until temp reached 120, then raised to 425 for about 15 minutes) was absolutely fantastic with the out fat layer getting really crispy while the meat staying very juicy.
                I think next time I'll start a chicken off at 250 (using the Rec Tec Xtreme Smoke switch, must be at or below 250) keep there for a shorter time, then a higher temp for a longer time and see how that works. I do not sauce until it's at the table as I am more of a "Central-Texas / Santa Maria-California" guy where sauce is at the table if desired. Hey folks, Happy 2015 to all!!



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