Soft chicken wings can be a major disappointment when it comes to enjoying a delicious and satisfying meal. While there are many factors that contribute to the texture and crispiness of chicken wings, there are a few key steps that can be taken to ensure that your wings are cooked to perfection. In this article, we will discuss the top tips for avoiding soft chicken wings and achieving a crisp and satisfying texture every time. From understanding the right temperature and cooking method to incorporating the right wood and seasoning, we’ll cover everything you need to know to take your chicken wing game to the next level.
First, it’s important to cook the wings at a high temperature. The best temperature for smoking or cooking wings is between 275°F and 325°F. Anywhere within this range should get your skin nice and crispy. If your smoker or cooker can’t go any higher than 275°F, then your wings will be soft. Another important tip is to avoid moisture. Don’t baste or spritz the wings while they’re cooking, and don’t wrap them in foil or place them in a container with a lid. This will create steam and soften the skin. Instead, let the outer layer of the wings form naturally, and avoid using a water pan in your smoker to keep the cooking environment dry.
“The secret to perfectly crispy skin on smoked chicken is to make sure it’s dry before it goes in the smoker. Pat it dry with paper towels and let it sit uncovered in the fridge overnight. That way, the skin will dry out and crisp up nicely when it’s smoked.”– Myron Mixon, Pitmaster and Barbecue Hall of Famer
It’s important to choose the right wood for smoking the wings. Fruit wood like apple and cherry always work well, and you can mix in some stronger flavored wood like hickory or mesquite for added depth of flavor. Cook the wings for 45 minutes on each side, rotating halfway through, and baste with barbecue sauce in the last 10 minutes of cooking for added flavor.
Let the wings rest before serving to allow the juices to redistribute and make them even more tender and delicious.
- Cook at a high temperature between 275°F and 325°F
- Avoid moisture by not basting or spritzing wings, not wrapping them in foil or placing them in a lid container
- Choose the right wood for smoking, such as fruit wood and stronger flavored wood
- Cook for 45 minutes on each side, rotate halfway and baste with barbecue sauce in the last 10 minutes
- Rest wings before serving
- Finish over a flame
- Finish in the oven for electric smokers
- Avoid using a water pan in the smoker
- Dry the wings as much as possible before cooking
- Sprinkle baking powder or cornstarch on the wings.
“For crispy skin on smoked chicken, I recommend cooking it at a higher temperature, around 325°F to 350°F. And don’t cover the chicken with foil or a lid while it’s smoking, that will create steam and make the skin soggy.”– Tuffy Stone, Pitmaster and Owner of Q Barbecue
10 Ways to Crispy Chicken Skin
Whether you’re smoking or cooking your wings, it’s important to understand the basics of temperature, moisture, and seasoning in order to achieve that perfect crunch. Here are 10 tips to getting crispy chicken skin.
1. Cook at a High Temperature
Cooking your chicken wings at a high temperature is crucial for achieving a crispy texture. The high heat helps to dry out the skin, which in turn helps to form a golden-brown crust.
The optimal temperature range for cooking chicken wings is between 275°F and 325°F. This temperature range is hot enough to crisp the skin, but not so hot that it burns the wings.
It’s important to note that if your smoker or cooker can’t reach temperatures higher than 275°F, then your wings will be soft. The reason is that temperatures lower than 275°F don’t generate enough heat to effectively crisp the skin. In this case, you should look for other methods like finishing in the oven to get the crispiness you want.
Another thing to keep in mind is to make sure the wings are cooked through. The meat should be cooked to an internal temperature of 165°F. To check this, you can use a meat thermometer to check the temperature of the thickest part of the wing.
“Crispy skin is all about getting rid of the moisture. Make sure your chicken is dry and at room temperature before cooking. Add baking powder or corn starch to the skin for even crispier skin.”– Harry Soo, BBQ Pitmaster and Founder of Slap Yo Daddy BBQ
2. Don’t Baste or Spritz the Wings
When smoking chicken wings, it’s important to avoid adding moisture to the cooking process. Unlike other meats such as brisket, which require moisture to help them cook evenly and stay tender, chicken wings are a “hot-and-fast” cook and don’t require the same level of moisture.
When you add moisture to the smoking process, it can cause the skin of the wings to soften, making it less crispy.
It’s best to keep the wings dry and allow the outer layer of the skin to form naturally. This will help to create a crisp crust that is the hallmark of perfectly cooked chicken wings.
You only need to wet and spritz meat that needs to be cooked for several hours and is at risk of drying out. Wings are typically cooked between 45-60 minutes and so there’s no risk of drying out unless you go over the 90 minute mark or cook at a high temperature.
One technique that can help with this is to pat the wings dry with a paper towel prior to smoking. This will help to remove any excess moisture from the skin and will encourage a crispy texture when the wings are finished cooking.
“The key to getting crispy skin on smoked chicken is to make sure that the skin is dry and free of excess moisture before smoking. I like to pat the chicken dry with paper towels and let it sit uncovered in the fridge for a few hours to dry out the skin even more.”– Chris Lilly, Pitmaster and Owner of Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q
3. Don’t Cover the Wings
Wrapping chicken wings in foil or placing them in a container with a lid during cooking can be detrimental to achieving a crispy texture. This is because when you trap heat and steam inside a sealed environment, the skin of the wings will become soft and soggy.
The moisture created by the steam will cause the skin to lose its crispiness, and you’ll be left with a disappointing final product.
When smoking or cooking wings, it’s important to avoid using any method that creates steam. The key is to allow the heat to circulate freely around the wings so that the skin can dry out and form a crispy crust.
When you trap the wings in foil or a sealed container, the heat and steam become trapped and can’t circulate, which causes the skin to become soft.
Instead, you should cook the wings directly on the grill grates or in a smoker without any sort of cover. This will allow the heat to circulate around the wings and dry out the skin, which will help to create a crispy texture.
If you’re smoking the wings, you should avoid using a water pan as it will increase the humidity and therefore add too much moisture to the cooking chamber.
4. Don’t Smoke Your Wings in a Pan
When smoking chicken wings, it’s important to avoid placing them in a pan. The reason being that when you put wings in a pan, it will trap heat and steam, making the wings soggy underneath. Even if you rotate them every so often, they still won’t be as crispy as they could be.
Instead of using a pan, it’s best to place the wings directly on the grill grates or in a smoker. This will allow heat to circulate all around the wings, which will dry out the skin and create a crispy crust.
When you put the wings in a pan, it traps the heat and steam, and the wings end up cooking in their own juices, which can make them soggy.
When smoking wings, you also want to keep in mind that you want to maintain as low humidity as possible in the smoker, so that the heat can dry out the skin of the wings to achieve the crispiness you want.
“To get crispy skin on smoked chicken, start by removing the fat and extra skin, then dry it well and season it before smoking. I also put a little bit of cooking oil on the skin to make it crispy”– Malcolm Reed, BBQ Pitmaster and Founder of HowToBBQRight.
5. Don’t Soak the Wings in a Brine Prior to Cooking
When you’re getting ready to cook chicken wings, it’s important to avoid soaking them in a brine prior to cooking. Even though brining can add extra moisture and flavor to the wings, it can also make the skin of the wings soft and less crispy.
Brining is a technique that’s typically used for meats that are going to be cooked for a long time, like a turkey, where the meat is at risk of drying out. In this case, brining can help keep the turkey moist and flavorful.
However, when it comes to chicken wings, they are typically cooked for a relatively short amount of time, and the risk of them drying out is low. This means that brining will not be as beneficial, and instead, it will soften the skin and make the wings less crispy.
6. Finish the Wings Over a Flame
One technique to achieve a crispy skin when cooking chicken wings is to finish them over a flame. This technique is great for getting a nice and crispy crust on the outside of your wings, especially if you have been smoking them and the skin is not as crispy as you want.
The process is relatively simple. First, you smoke the wings as normal. Once you’re getting close to the end of the smoking time, you should turn up the heat to high and place the wings over a direct flame.
This could be a propane or natural gas burner, or even a charcoal fire if you’re grilling. The high heat and direct flame will transform the soggy skin to crispy skin.
It’s important to keep an eye on the wings while they are over the flame, as they can burn quickly. Typically, you want to finish the wings over a direct flame for about 5-7 minutes or until the skin is crispy to your liking.
7. Finish Your Wings in the Oven
If you have an electric smoker, one of the most frustrating aspects of these cookers is the inability to reach temperatures above 250° F to 270° F. It’s almost impossible to get crispy skin on chicken using an electric smoker, unless the smoker can go higher.
When smoking wings on an electric smoker, try to finish the wings in the oven. To do this, smoke the wings as normal for the first hour, then transfer them into a hot oven with the temperature above 300° F. Monitor the internal temperature, and probe the wings with a thermometer regularly to avoid them drying out.
8. Don’t Use a Water Pan in Your Smoker
When smoking chicken wings, it’s important to avoid using a water pan in your smoker. A water pan is a pan that is filled with water and placed in the smoker to help regulate the temperature and humidity. However, when it comes to smoking chicken wings, you want to keep the humidity as low as possible to achieve a crispy skin.
When you add a water pan to your smoker, it increases the humidity in the cooking chamber which can lead to extra moisture on the skin of the chicken wings. This moisture can cause the skin to become soft, and it will be less crispy. Instead, you should aim to keep the cooking environment as dry as possible.
If you’re smoking wings and are having trouble keeping the humidity low, you could try adding some moisture-absorbing products like DampRid, or place a bowl of uncooked rice on the bottom of the smoker to help absorb the moisture.
9. Dry the Wings as Much as Possible
When you’re preparing chicken wings for smoking or cooking, one of the most important steps to achieving a crispy texture is to dry the wings as much as possible.
This can be done by removing the wings from the fridge, and then patting them dry using a paper towel. The goal is to remove as much moisture as possible from the skin of the wings before you begin cooking them.
When chicken wings are refrigerated, they tend to collect moisture on their surface. If this moisture is not removed before cooking, it can cause the wings to steam rather than sear, which results in a less crispy texture.
By removing this excess moisture, you’ll be helping the wings to achieve the golden brown, crispy texture you’re looking for.
When patting the wings dry with a paper towel, make sure to pay attention to the nooks and crannies of the wings, as they tend to hold more moisture than the flat surfaces. Additionally, it’s also a good idea to remove the wing tips, as they are typically less meaty
10. Sprinkle Baking Powder or Cornstarch on the Wings
A great way to add an extra crispy texture to your chicken wings is to sprinkle baking powder or cornstarch on them before cooking. This technique is often used in professional kitchens to achieve a crispy crust on fried chicken.
The cornstarch or baking powder will absorb any excess moisture on the surface of the wings, and create a barrier that helps to prevent the wings from steaming and becoming soggy.
Before applying the rub, take a few tablespoons of cornstarch or baking powder, and sprinkle it evenly over the wings. Make sure to evenly coat all the surfaces of the wings, and use your hands to pat the powder or cornstarch onto the wings so it adheres.
In the final stages of smoking wings, you can also baste them with a barbecue sauce. Do this in the last 10 minutes, then put the wings back on the grill for another 10 minutes to allow the glaze to set.
This will give the wings an extra boost of flavor, but make sure not to add the glaze too early, as the sugar in the barbecue sauce can cause the wings to burn.
How to Smoke Chicken Wings
- Dry the chicken wings with a paper towel, then apply a rub.
- Set your smoker or grill to a temperature between 275° F and 300° F. You can cook hotter, but don’t go over 350° F.
- Place the wings in the smoker, and place them on a separate rack for easy removal. I like to use a cooling rack when smoking small things, so I can easily remove in a hurry.
- Smoke the wings for 45 minutes on each side.
- In the final 10 minutes, remove the wings from the smoker and baste them with a barbecue sauce.
- Place the wings back on the smoker, and cook for another 10 minutes so the glaze or sauce can set.
Best Wood For Smoking Wings
Fruit wood like apple and cherry always work well with chicken. Cherry will give the wings reddish mahogany color. I always like to do 50/50 mixes with a strong-flavored wood and a fruit wood.
Smoked wings are a hot and fast cook, so don’t be too worried about your choice of wood. If you want to infuse some smoke flavor and a hurry, use mesquite or hickory.
Some people find these woods to be too harsh, especially with chicken because it has sensitive skin. If you want to play it safe, use pecan, oak, or a mix of a mild fruit wood with the harsher woods.
What the Pros Say About Wood
- “The wood you use is as important as the rub, sauce, and cooking method. It’s the seasoning of the smoke.” – Myron Mixon, Pitmaster and Barbecue Hall of Famer.
- “I like to use fruit woods like apple and cherry for chicken. They add a nice sweetness to the meat, and the mild smoke flavor complements the chicken well.” – Malcolm Reed, BBQ Pitmaster and Founder of HowToBBQRight
- “I always recommend using milder woods for chicken, like pecan or fruit woods. You don’t want the smoke to overpower the delicate taste of the chicken.” – Tuffy Stone, Pitmaster and Owner of Q Barbecue
- “My go-to wood for chicken is maple. It imparts a mild sweetness and subtle smokiness that pairs perfectly with the delicate flavor of the chicken.” – Harry Soo, BBQ Pitmaster and Founder of Slap Yo Daddy BBQ
- “I like to use fruit woods like peach and apricot for chicken because they have a sweeter, milder smoke flavor that complements the natural sweetness of the chicken.” – Chris Lilly, Pitmaster and Owner of Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q
Best Temperature For Smoking Wings
The best temperature for smoking wings is anywhere between 275° F and 350° F. It should take about 90 minutes to smoke the wings, give or take half an hour depending on the temperature you are smoking.
How Can You Tell When Wings Are Done?
- Stick to the USDA guidelines, and the safe eating temperature for ribs is an internal temperature of 165° F.
- Use an instant-read thermometer, and probe the wings in the thickest part in the final stages of the cook.
- Probe away from the bone, in the thickest part of the meat.
- Don’t go by a look and feel when cooking chicken. The wings may be pink on the inside because of the smoke ring. So the safest way to ensure the meat is cooked is to measure internal temperature.
The dry rub is one of the most important ingredients when it’s making wings, and there are several great products on the market. I always make my rub, and if you want to good recipe, follow this.
- - ½ Cup Paprika
- - ½ Cup Salt
- - ½ Cup Sugar
- - ½ Cup Granulated Garlic
- - ¼ Cup Granulated Onion
- - ¼ Cup Chili
- - ¼ Cup Cumin
- - 2 Tablespoons Black Pepper
- - 2 Tablespoons Dry Mustard
- - 1 Tablespoon Cayenne Pepper
- Combine all the spices together in a large mixing bowl
- Store rub in rub shakers
Do You Need To Glaze Wings?
You don’t have to apply a glaze to the wings, you can just pull them off the grill when they’re done. However, if you want next-level wings, I would highly recommend the glaze. Use any good hot sauce or barbecue sauce. Common sauces work well, like Sweet Baby Rays.
Don’t put the sauce on too early, otherwise it will burn. Barbecue sauce contains sugar, and as you would know, sugar burns easily. Apply the sauce in the final 10 minutes.
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.