One of the best parts of cooking with a pellet smoker is the low and slow technique that leaves meat falling off the bone. But when you want to cook chicken on a pellet grill, the low and slow method doesn't work as well as you'd like.
Whether you've learned from experience or are trying to avoid making others past mistakes, it's important to know that slow cooking chicken at a low temperature can make the skin rubbery and tough. While the meat will still be good, you won't be able to enjoy any crisp, delicious chicken skin that way.
So, here's how you can achieve a perfectly cooked chicken on a pellet smoker with crunchy, light, flavorful chicken skin.
- Dry the Chicken Skin
- Use a Salt Rub 1-2 Days Before Smoking
- Apply Baking Powder to Chicken Skins
- Cook at the Right Temperature
- Parboil Chicken Wings or Thighs
- Don't Spray the Chicken with Liquid
- Try the Cheesecloth and Butter Method
Dry the Chicken Skin
When you're cooking chicken, patting the skin dry with paper towels can have a huge impact on the skin's crispiness. After drying thoroughly this way, you can allow the chicken to dry further by laying out the wings, thighs, breasts, or even the entire chicken on a baking tray, uncovered in the refrigerator for 4-5 hours.
Chicken skins are naturally moist, and moisture prevents the fats in the skin from rendering completely, so drying your chicken skin before cooking is essential—even if you use some of the other methods listed here.
Some people can achieve amazing results just by drying their chicken skin before smoking. But if you want to ensure your chicken skin is crispy and delicious every time, check out these next tips.
Use a Salt Rub 1-2 Days Before Smoking
If you like to plan ahead, a salt rub can help reduce moisture in your chicken's skin and help it crisp up when you cook on a pellet grill.
- Spatchcock the chicken
- Generously rub kosher salt all over the skin
- Refrigerate the chicken for 24-48 hours
- Rinse the chicken thoroughly
- Pat it dry
- Smoke on your pellet grill as normal
Over those 1-2 days, the salt will pull moisture out of the chicken skins, helping you make crispier skin. If you don't have the time or foresight for this method, adding a conservative amount of salt before cooking on your pellet smoker will also help dry out the skin.
Apply Baking Powder to Chicken Skins
Baking powder can also help you achieve crispier chicken skins on your pellet grill when applied directly before baking. The baking powder raises the chicken skin's pH level, which breaks down peptide bonds and results in beautifully browned, crispy skin.
This method works best with chicken wings or thighs since you can toss them in a bowl to coat with the baking powder.
When applying the baking powder, you also mix in seasonings like:
- onion powder
- garlic powder
- lemon pepper
- chili powder
- curry powder
You can also add salt to the mix to help dry out the skins, and if you don't have baking soda, cornstarch will work. And always apply baking powder immediately before smoking!
Cook at the Right Temperature
When you roast chicken at higher temperatures, the fat in the skin renders faster and nicer—and that means lightly crispy, crunchy, brown chicken skins fresh out of your pellet grill.
Smoke chicken between 275° F to 350° F in your pellet smoker until the internal temperature hits 170° F.
Parboil Chicken Wings or Thighs
If you're cooking chicken wings or thighs, you can ensure crispy chicken skin by parboiling them. It takes more effort, but it will work! Here's what you need to do:
- Place chicken in a large pot
- Fill the pot with water 1-2 inches above the chicken
- Bring the chicken and water to a boil
- Let the water boil for 10 minutes
- Remove the pot from the heat
- Skim the chicken fat off the top with a large spoon
- Remove chicken from water
- Allow it to cool
- Squeeze chicken gently to remove excess water
- Pat chicken dry
This method removes some fat before you smoke the chicken on the pellet grill, resulting in crispy chicken skins. It also helps render the connective tissues in the chicken, which makes it less stringy after smoking.
After parboiling your chicken this way, cook it for 35-50 minutes in a 425° F pellet grill, turning halfway through.
Don't Spray the Chicken with Liquid
Some recipes will tell you to spray the chicken periodically for flavor, often with apple cider vinegar—don't listen to these recipes. Since chicken skins naturally contain high amounts of liquids and fats, adding more will prevent the fats from rendering completely and leaving behind crispy skin to munch on. Remember, the key to crispy skin is dry skin.
So, when you cook chicken in a pellet grill, avoid adding more liquids to the mix.
Try the Cheesecloth and Butter Method
Finally, if your heart is set on cooking your chicken low and slow on your pellet grill, you can try the cheesecloth and butter method. This method is most commonly used with Thanksgiving turkeys, but it works great on chickens too!
For this pellet cooker method, it's best to use a whole spatchcocked chicken. Here's how to do it:Melt some butter
The amount of butter you need will depend on the size, weight, and type of chicken you're using. It's best to start with less and melt more until you have enough, so you don't waste butter. You can do this in the microwave or on a saucepan.Wet and lay the cheesecloth
Thoroughly wet a cheesecloth that covers the entire chicken. You can lay the cloth in your microwavable bowl or saucepan for a few minutes. You want it to be very damp but not dripping.Smoke the chicken
Your specific cook time and temperatures will again depend on the size, weight, and type of chicken you have, but regardless of these factors, you should remove the cheesecloth about 30 minutes before you're done cooking. You can also turn up the heat during this time.
With this method, you can cook your chicken at temperatures as low as 200° F and expect crispy golden brown chicken skin from your pellet cooker. But again, it's best to avoid cooking chicken low and slow, and instead, opt for hot and fast.Final Thoughts: Get Crispy Chicken Skin on a Pellet Grill
As you can see, there are lots of different methods for cooking chicken on a pellet grill. You don't need to accept that smoked chicken will have leathery, tough skin.
Anyone can achieve delicious crispy chicken skins in their pellet grill with the knowledge here.
So, get to it, and good luck!