Crispy chicken skin is the new bacon. There, I said it. I could happily eat it alone but there's nothing better than getting a forkful of the tender juicy meat along with skin that's so crispy it crackles. On my first attempt to make a skin-on chicken breast at home, I simply plopped a raw piece in a hot pan, flipped it a dozen times and expected I'd get a perfect result. Boy, was I wrong. The skin ended up flabby and the inside was raw. It wasn't until I asked some of my chef friends that I found out my mistakes. Then Dan Souza of America's Test Kitchen visited TODAY and I learned a whole bunch of new insider tips for upping my crispy chicken game. And no, I'm sharing: here are 8 secrets to stunningly crispy skin chicken breasts.
1. Buy skin-on split chicken breasts
If you go with boneless, skinless chicken breasts, you'll miss out on all of the lovely flavor that comes from the skin. The skin will protect the meat from the heat and help make it super tender and juicy.
2. Remove the bone
A butcher can do this for you, or you can do it yourself. It's easy, we promise.
Here's how to do it according to Souza: "Place skin side down, on cutting board, with ribs facing away from knife hand. Run tip of knife between breastbone and meat, working from thick end of breast toward thin end. Angling blade slightly and following rib cage, repeat the cutting motion several times to remove ribs and breastbone from breast. Find short remnant of wishbone along top edge of breast and run tip of knife along both sides of bone to separate it from meat. Remove tenderloin (reserve for another use) and trim excess fat, taking care not to cut into skin." Repeat with remaining chicken breasts. Watch the video to see how it's done!
3. Flatten the breast
"Boning and flattening the chicken ensures that it makes even contact with the pan's surface — a must for rendering that fat and crisping the skin," says Souza.
Here's how to flatten the breast: Using tip of paring knife, poke skin on each breast evenly 30 to 40 times. Turn breasts over and poke thickest half of each breast five to six times. Cover breasts with plastic wrap and pound thick ends gently with meat pounder until 1/2-inch thick.
4. Refrigerate for up to 8 hours
The cool air inside the fridge makes the skin dry out a bit and is key for nice and crispy skin.
Here's how to do it: Evenly sprinkle each breast with 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt. Place breasts, skin side up, on wire rack set in rimmed baking sheet, cover loosely with plastic, and refrigerate for 1 hour or up to 8 hours.
5. Let the chicken breasts warm to room temperature
You're moments away from the chicken skin of your dreams, but be patient. This step is key so the breast will cook evenly.
6. Start with a cold pan
"Placing the chicken breasts skin side down in a "cold" (not preheated) skillet, a classic French technique for pan-searing duck breasts, gives the skin enough time to render its fat before the meat overcooks," says Souza.
7. Add weights to the pan
"Using bricks to weigh down chicken so that every inch of skin stays flat and crisps up evenly is a common Italian technique," says Souza. Don't have a brick lying around? Use a heavy Dutch oven to pin down the chicken breasts.
8. Don't flip until the last minute
It's super tempting to check how things are going but you need to wait, again. Just when it looks like the chicken it totally cooked through (about 13 to 17 minutes), then you can turn it over. Cook for additional 2 to 3 minutes then transfer to individual plates.