The meaty juices that flood your mouth when you bite into a succulent piece of roast chicken are one of life’s great pleasures. The only thing that can make the experience even more enjoyable? When that juicy meat is encased in skin so crisp that it crackles.
But thin brittle skin isn’t a given, even when the bird is otherwise roasted to perfection. Often the skin is only crispy in patches, with the remainder limp, fatty, and altogether underwhelming.
Happily, over the years we’ve discovered three simple steps that guarantee the ultimate crispy skin for the ultimate roast chicken.
Start with an Air-Chilled Chicken
Most supermarket birds are chilled in a chlorinated 34-degree water bath after slaughtering, causing them to absorb lots of additional moisture that keeps the skin from thoroughly browning or drying out as they cook. Air-chilled chicken, on the other hand, is not exposed to water and does not absorb additional moisture, allowing the skin to more readily brown and crisp.
Sign up for the Cook's Insider newsletter
The latest recipes, tips, and tricks, plus behind-the-scenes stories from the Cook's Illustrated team.
Rub with Salt and Baking Powder
Before roasting, we massage the chicken’s skin with a rub containing salt and baking powder, then allow it to air-dry in the fridge.
Both substances pull moisture out of the skin. But baking powder has additional powers. It prods some of the skin’s proteins and fat to break down, which, combined with its alkalinity, accelerates the Maillard reaction, for skin that browns and crisps more quickly. And—with the same type of chemical reaction that makes baked goods rise—baking powder reacts during an overnight rub to generate tiny carbon dioxide bubbles that make the skin more porous and even crisper after it cooks.
Create Lots of Channels for Juices and Fat to Escape
The excess juices in the chicken need an escape route, since the skin can’t brown until the surface moisture evaporates. We create go about this in three ways:
- We use a metal skewer to poke holes in the fat deposits on top of the breast and thighs (these fatty pockets look opaque under the skin and are easy to spot).
- We also like to cut a few holes near the back of the bird to provide extra-large channels for the juices to drip down and escape.
- Finally, we separate the skin from the meat over much of the bird by running a hand between the two (making sure not to tear the skin), which allows fat and juices to run freely.