Cooking Tips

For Crispier Air-Fried Chicken, Give It a Poke

Bring that fat to the surface and let the chicken baste itself. 

Published Feb. 6, 2023.

By now, you know how we feel about crispy chicken skin. It’s a hallmark of fried chicken, and it’s so good it even gives the bacon in a BLT a run for its money

Chicken skin crisps up on its own when deep or shallow frying, but what about air frying? If you don’t want to use that much oil, how do you make the skin crispy? 

The secret? The fat is already in the chicken. You simply have to coax it out.

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If you’ve ever had sub-par fried chicken, you know that seeing wrinkly, flabby chicken skin hardly inspires excitement for the coming meal. In our book Air Fryer Perfection, we talk about the best ways to treat the skin for maximum crispiness, no matter the dish. 

Getting crispy skin on a breast differs slightly from the drums and thighs. Here are two ways to treat it, respectively.

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1. Give It a Poke 

This method is for dark meat. Use a skewer to poke a few holes into fattier chicken thighs and drumsticks to render additional fat. In our recipe for Air-Fryer Chicken Thighs with Roasted Mushrooms and Tomatoes, the chicken thighs are patted dry, poked, and seasoned.

The fat fries the skin as it renders, beautifully crisping for the perfect weeknight meal. 

Using a little oiljust a scant teaspoon in our Air-Fryer Buffalo Chicken Drumsticks recipein conjunction with a few good pokes ensured the drumstick skin fried to maximum crispiness, enough to stand up to a brief toss in our DIY buffalo sauce.

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2. Finish It Skin Side Up 

Chicken breasts aren’t as fatty as thighs, and they’re thicker, so we got a little creative. Since air fryers heat from above, we finished cooking skin-on poultry with the skin side up to let it crisp in the direct heat. This meant starting thicker bone-in breasts skin side down and then flipping them.

Once the meat has cooked, brush the skin side with a flavorful glaze, like we do in our Air-Fryer Brown Sugar-Balsamic-Glazed Bone-In Chicken Breast, to boost the savoriness.

This method works well for air frying with a coating, too, such as our Air-Fryer Chipotle-Honey-Fried Chicken with Brussels Sprout and Citrus Salad. Here, a little vegetable oil spray, combined with a few well-timed flips, meant no sticking, even cooking, and the crunchiest coating. 

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