The Surprising Trick to Cooking Perfectly Crispy Chicken

If you’re going to treat yourself to a piece of chicken with the skin still on it – everybody deserves it at least once in a while, don’t you think?! – there’s one thing that absolutely needs to happen: super crispy skin. That crackling, super-crispy chicken just tastes better than softer versions, even when the spices you use are as simple as salt and pepper. But how can we guarantee that crispiness without completely going wild and deep-frying the chicken every time we want to enjoy some skin? The answer is simple and surprising, and coming to us from the experts at America’s Test Kitchen. You’re going to pan-sear that chicken— and you’re going to start with a cold pan.

Yes, a cold pan. While most food tastes better when you preheat the pan, when it comes to getting crispy chicken skin, you want to follow this classic French technique and skip the pre-heating. Instead, you’ll bring the chicken and the pan to heat simultaneously, giving the chicken skin time to render the fat without over-cooking the rest of the meat.

Crispiest chicken from cold pan startAmerica's Test Kitchen

Make sense? Just don’t preheat your pan. It’s that simple, but let’s break down the best method step-by-step, courtesy of America’s Test Kitchen:

  1. Poke the skin of each chicken breast 30 to 40 times with a knife. These holes will help the fat render.
  2. Flip each piece over and poke the thicker part of the breast 5 to 6 times.
  3. Cover the breasts with plastic wrap and pound with a meat hammer until they’re ½-inch thick to insure even cooking.
  4. Sprinkle each breast with a ½ teaspoon of kosher salt and place skin-side-up on a wire rack in a rimmed baking sheet. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour to 8 hours.
    Cover salted chicken breasts with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 to 8 hoursAmerica's Test Kitchen
  5. When you’re ready to cook, pat each breast dry with a paper towel and season with ¼ teaspoon of pepper.
    Sprinkle each breast with 1/4 teaspoon pepperAmerica's Test Kitchen
  6. Pour 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil into a 12-inch skillet and swirl to coat the pan.
  7. Place the chicken in the cold pan skin-side-down, and place the skillet over medium heat. Set a Dutch oven or heavy pan on top of the breasts, and cook for about 7 minutes, until the skin is beginning to brown and the meat is starting to turn opaque around the edges. Then remove the weight and cook for 6 to 8 minutes, until the skin is browned and very crispy.
  8. Flip the breasts and reduce heat to medium-low. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes, until the second side is slightly brown and the chicken reaches an internal temperature of 160 to 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
  9. Pretty simple when it comes down to it, right? If you’d like a recipe with some sauce and a little more spice than basic salt and pepper, America’s Test Kitchen recommends this one from Cook’s Illustrated. Watch the video tutorial for even more info, and tell us if you give this technique a try. Was it new to you, or have you always known about the value of a cold pan? Do you know your own tricks for getting crispy chicken skin?