How to Avoid Rubbery Skin on Smoked Chicken

Whenever you are smoking chicken, crispy skin is always what you are trying to achieve. The alternative is soft, rubbery skin, which is not what you want. I wanted to find out how to avoid everything I could about crispy chicken skin. If you follow these simple rules, you shouldn’t ever have to worry about rubbery chicken skin again. 

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So how do you avoid rubbery skin on a chicken? 

  1. Don’t cook the chicken at low temperatures, keep the temperature above 275°F. Try cook around 300°- 325F°.
  2. Don’t add any moisture by basting.
  3. Don’t wet brine, dry brine instead. Dry brining will help dry out the skin. 
  4. Don’t wrap the bird in foil because this will create steam.  
  5. Don’t sit the chicken in a pan. The bottom of the bird will go soggy. Always place the bird on a grate. 
  6. Spray the bird with oil and cover with seasoning or rub. This will help with browning. 

Don’t Cook at Low Temperature

Chicken should be cooked between 275°- 325°F. Any lower than this will cause the chicken skin to become soft and rubbery. You want the chicken fat to render into the meat. This rendering can’t occur if the temperature is in the lower 275°F/135°C range. However, keep a close eye on the bird if you’re smoking at 300°F. Chicken skin is thin and can burn easily. 

Don’t Foil The Chicken

Wrapping chicken in aluminium foil is will create too much moisture and will make the chicken skin to become soft and rubbery. Foiling is a good practice for other cuts of meat, but not for chicken and poultry. 

Tenting is another method commonly used when smoking turkey. Building an aluminium tent around the bird is a way of protecting the flesh from excess smoke. However, although tenting is useful for preventing the chicken from turning black, moisture can get trapped underneath the foil and cause the chicken skin to become rubbery. 

Don’t Baste The Chicken

Basting is a commonly used method that is used to help meat keep moisture on low-and-slow cooks. However, the extra moisture will do nothing to make your chicken skin crispy, but will instead make the skin rubbery. Rather than baste with a mop sauce, spray the bird with oil. This will help the chicken with browning and become nice and crispy. The oil also works well as a binder and will help the seasoning stick to the chicken. 

Don’t Soak the Chicken in a Brine

Wet brining your chicken is great for boosting the flavor in the chicken and will help keep the bird moist and tender during the smoking process. By soaking the chicken in the brine, the skin will become soggy and will make it difficult to crisp. 

Dry brining is a much more suitable for chicken. You can dry brine by applying kosher salt to the chicken the day before cooking. The salt will have time to penetrate the flesh and add flavor to the bird. Not only will the dry brine add flavor, it will also aid in drying out the skin. Another way to dry out the chicken is to leave the bird uncovered in the refrigerator while it’s dry brining. 

Finish the Chicken Over the Flame

Another way to make your chicken skin crispy is to finish it over the direct flames.  If you move the bird to cook over the flames, keep a close watch, otherwise you’ll burn the skin. 

Indirect cooking is the best way to smoke chicken. Otherwise known as two-zone cooking, the indirect setup cooks with the coals on one side of the cooker and the meat on the other side. Two-zone cooking avoids grease and liquid dripping down onto the fire. 

If too much grease falls onto the fire, the temperature of your smoker might soar. Also, when the chicken grease drips onto the fire, it can produce bad smoke which can make the chicken bitter. 

Finish the Chicken in the Oven

If you are using an electric or gas smoker, you make find it difficult to smoke your chicken in the 300°F range. Electric and gas smokers are fantastic for a lot of reasons, but one of the downsides in the inability they have to reach high temperatures. 

When smoking a chicken on one of these smokers, crank the dial as high as it will go and smoke the chicken as normal. Once the internal meat temperature has reached 145°F, put the chicken in a conventional oven until it’s nice and crispy. 

By finishing in the oven, you won’t lose any of the smoke flavor. Meat will mostly absorb smoke during the first few hours of the cook. The second part of the cook is about doneness. 

Preheat your oven to about 325°F and then raise it to 350°F to 400°F. Keep track of the internal temperature by using a leave-in thermometer probe. 

Don’t put the Chicken in a Pan

If you cook your chicken in a pan, then expect the bottom of the bird to be soft and rubbery. If the chicken sits in a pan, it will cook in its own juices, making the bottom of the bird soft and rubbery. It is far better to sit the chicken on a cooking grate so the air can flow around the bird.

Don’t Use a Water Pan

Water pans are a great way of controlling temperature and will add moisture to the cook chamber. The water pan will absorb the heat and will add moisture to the cooking chamber. Water pans are essential for smoking 10-hour briskets, but not so good if you want crispy chicken skin.

Extra Tips of Smoking Chicken

Spatchcock the chicken so that is cooks. Different parts of the bird will be done at different times. After spatchcocking the bird, the chicken will lay flat on the grill. The breast is always the most hard part of the chicken to get right. If you overdo the breast, it will be dry.

Chicken has a thin layer of skin, so be careful what wood you use. Hickory or mesquite will overpower the bird, so use those woods with caution. The fruit woods work best with poultry. Apple and cherry wood make an excellent combination. Cherry will give your bird a nice mahogany color. Mild woods such as maple and pecan also work well on smoked chicken.

Rest the chicken before carving. You want to keep all those meat juices.
Chicken should be cooked to an internal temperature of 165° – 175°F. Buy yourself a decent leave-in thermometer and an instant-read thermometer. Those are the most important tools you will need on your meat smoking journey. Use good thermometers so that your food is safe and not overdone. 

My Favorite Meat Smoking Tools

Thanks for checking out this article. I hope you learned a few things. Here are some of my favorite tools I use when smoking brisket that may be useful to you. These are affiliate links, so if you decide to purchase any of these products, I’ll earn a commission. But in all honesty, these are the tools I recommend to my family and friends who are just starting out.

Meat Thermometer: There are dozens of fancy thermometers on the market, but I still use my trusty TP20. For around $50, I have a high-quality meat thermometer with two probes, and can track the temperature of my smoker with one probe, and my meat with the other probe. The ThermoPro TP20 is an Amazon Best Seller because it’s the easiest thermometer to operate, is durable, highly accurate, and comes with pre-programmed meat settings.

Instant Read Thermometer: Arguably, the second most important tool you need is a fast and accurate instant-read thermometer. These tools play an important role in the latter stages of the cook when the meat needs regular checking in multiple areas. I use the ThermoPro TP19 because it can do everything a ThermaPen can do, but for a fraction of the cost. You can check out the TP19 on Amazon here.

Wireless Thermometer: The latest thermometers on the market have no wires and can be controlled by wi-fi via your phone. Airprobe 3 is the best of this technology.

Butcher Paper: Wrapping brisket in butcher paper has become a huge trend in barbeque thanks to Aaron Franklin. Wrapping your brisket in paper will give you a nice brisket bark. However, you can’t just use any old paper, it has to be unwaxed, food grade paper. You can find it on Amazon here.

Advanced Thermometer and Automatic Temperature Controller: Once you’re ready to take things seriously, the FireBoard 2 Drive is a six-channel Bluetooth/Wi-Fi thermometer that can monitor up to 6 pieces of meat, control and graph your cook sessions on your smartphone, and attaches to an an automatic blower that will convert your charcoal smoker to a set-and-forget. This is one of the most advanced meat thermometers on the market. You can check it out on the FireBoard website here.


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Author and founder at Meat Smoking HQ

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