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Aug 11, 2010 06:56 PM

Smoked Chicken: Help with Skin

I was smoking some freshly cured bacon tonight, and decided to add some chicken and have smoked chicken for dinner. The chicken meat itself is terrific. The problem is that the skin doesn't crisp up. I'm assuming the low and slow heat and smoke are effectively "tanning the hide" and giving me chicken skin leather. I'd need high heat for the fat in the skin to boil and essentially fry the skin as it roasts.

So...I think I understand the mechanism, but does anyone have a solution? I'm doing smoked whole turkey for the first time this Thanksgiving, and obviously, the same concern applies. Is the skin just a casualty of smoking?

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  1. I don't know any of the characteristics of a smoked chicken skin, but if it's dry enough perhaps you could torch or broil it to crisp the skin.

    1 Reply
    1. re: AndrewK512

      Thomas Keller finishes a chicken dish with a quick trip under the broiler to crisp the skin, as you suggest.

      In his Ad Hoc At Home book.

    2. I've never made/had smoked chicken with even remotely crispy skin, it just doesn't seem to work that way. As you wrote, you'd need high heat for that, certainly higher than a smoking temp. The tender chicken skin is the casualty of smoking.

      You may have a turkey smoking plan in place, but this link outlines, in excruciatingly detailed description, the brining, wet rubbing, roasting and smoking process for a turkey, done eitehr on a grill on in a smoker, with a few mentions of crispy skin in the sidebar "Secrets of crispy skin" (no basting is the author's main secret). Possibly some of these tips could be applied to smoking chicken.

      1 Reply
      1. re: bushwickgirl

        Thanks. Think you're right, it's an either or kind of thing. Maybe I'll try a high heat smoke with a LOT of wood.

        PS: I have the "bear claws" - those suckers are sharp!

      2. I would think you could transfer the chicken to a 425 degree oven the last 20 minutes or so.

        On a side note, I have never cared for smoked chicken. Not sure why. I like smoked pork and beef.

        4 Replies
        1. re: Hank Hanover

          I actually stuck last night's chicken under the broiler. By that point, I think it's already too rendered and dry. By the way, maybe your experience has been with dry smoked chicken. I find when you get it at most places, they figure low and slow is forgiving, so it stays on forever and dries out. I pulled mine with the meat by the bone still barely pink.

          1. re: sbp

            A number of months ago, we met a CH alanbarnes for lunch at a Sichuan resto near Sacramento. One of dishes was tea smoked duck. It was amazingly tender and so delicious. Here's a quote from Alan's review:

            "For me, though, the tea-smoked duck was the star of the show. Beautiful dark crispy skin, moist meat, and fairly assertive - but not overwhelming - smokiness. Served on lettuce with some hoisin sauce for dipping. Spectacular."

            I've been wanting to buy a smoker ever since just to try to make this.

            1. re: c oliver

              BUY A SMOKER! There's something about smoked food, and you can't recreate on a Weber gas grill, for example (I tried for years - it's not airtight enough to control the smoldering of the wood).

              And you know how dogs lose their mind over bacon or any smoked treat? So do people.

              1. re: sbp

                Oh, wow, thanks for twisting my arm :)

        2. Since most chicken is smoked at a lower temperature than you would use for broiling and grilling, flabby skin is common problem. Some put the chicken on the grill before smoking and some do it after to crisp up the skin but you need to be careful not to over cook the chicken if you do it after smoking.

          Here is a link that details the steps in competition smoked chicken. Enjoy

          16 Replies
          1. re: scubadoo97

            Wow, nice link. Not sure I want to pre-skin the poultry, scrape it, then put back on. I think you're onto something, though - giving it a skin-side down pan fry in some oil before the smoker could work, if it doesn't overcook.

            1. re: sbp

              That's why if you try to render some fat out of the skin in the beginning you can better monitor your temperatures when smoking so you don't overcook.

              That link was for entertainment as well as basic knowledge of what goes on in competition cook offs.

              You can brine your chicken which will give you a bigger margin of error should you over shoot your internal temps on the smoker. You can dry brine with a lot of salt and leave the chicken in the fridge a few days to pull out moisture from the skin. Like the Zuni roasted chicken recipe this will result in more crispy skin.

              I usually use a rub all over the chicken and under the skin. I smoke at the highest temp my smoker will go which 275 although my temperature inside the cabinet will often be higher than the set temp. I don't add water to the water pan and the skin is sometimes edible but most often I just pull it off. The chicken is so juicy that as much as I like crisp chicken skin I can do without it.

              1. re: scubadoo97

                isn't the skin fat necessary for keeping the chicken moist during smoking?

                1. re: alkapal

                  Doh, I pull it off after cooking not before. But I like to do boned out skinless chicken thighs on the smoker. They cook quick and don't dry out easily. Just coat with rub and smoke. Pull them apart to make a mess of pulled smoked chicken. It's wonderful.

                  1. re: scubadoo97

                    scubadoo, sorry i didn't read your post carefully.

                  2. re: alkapal

                    I doubt it. Smoked meats seem to just naturally retain moisture well. I think the gentle rise up to "done" means you're never exciting the water molecules like you do when frying, where the water literally turns to steam (and escapes).

                    I was actually just thinking about the fat issue today in connection with a pastrami I'm smoking. The conventional wisdom is fat side up, so the fat bastes the meat. I'm guessing if you could measure it, the fat that does render either evaporates or rolls over the side and drips down. My guess is little if any penetrates the meat.

                    On the other hand, I think chicken skin itself being left on does keep the meat moisture, but by maintaining a barrier against the direct radiant heat. I don't think the fat does much (other than flavor).

                    1. re: sbp

                      With dark meat chicken you have some margin or error but with white meat chicken you can still dry it out pretty fast on the smoker.

                      Now the pastrami is self basting with the natural fat and connective tissue inside the meat. I'm not sure the fat cap up or down makes much difference. intramuscular fat is the key. A lean brisket can dry out pretty fast

                      1. re: scubadoo97

                        I've been buying Wagyu brisket through D'Artagnan (we have a wholesale account) for my pastramis. It's so well marbled that I can't make a Carnegie Deli style "mile high" sandwich. It's just too rich.

                        1. re: sbp

                          Mmmmm. I bet a smaller version of the Carnegie "mile high" would be fantastic

                          1. re: scubadoo97

                            If you have an opportunity, you should check out the "wagyu" style brisket D'Artagnan sells. It's labeled from "Strub Farms". I get it for about $7/lb wholesale, so I suspect even at retail it's not outrageous.

                            1. re: sbp

                              $7/ lb is not so bad. I think the price of brisket at the grocery store is about $5/lb for choice and it's been trimmed and is very lean.

                      2. re: sbp

                        *fat* evaporates? not in my experience. water in fat may evaporate, but the fat is always there either in the meat, on the colas, in the skillet, wherever. fat burns. (i just wish i could burn more of it. ;-).

                        1. re: alkapal

                          Poor choice of words on my part. How about "vaporizes"? My main point is I have a feeling the "basting with fat" does not actually keeps moisture in. Definitely bathes the meat with flavor, though.

                          1. re: sbp

                            basting with fat -- always a flavorful route. keep on smokin' baby! <now i'm thinking of eddie kendricks! >

                            1. re: alkapal

                              Wow, nice clip. I remember watching on Saturday afternoons.

                              1. re: sbp

                                hey... up to you SBP; i find myself thinking about musical adjuncts to so many posts. it is fun! somehow, "soul train" predominates in my chow memories... i'm lovin' da funk!

                                made the white guys ln california look so lame. gosh, i love chowhound!

              2. The problem with smoking chicken is that it is too hard to keep lit.

                1 Reply
                1. re: bigfred

                  you should try a good cuban chicken. I like to smuggle them in when I go to the caribbean...