The Acceptable Chicken Skin Quest - MES Chicken Smoking

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tallbm

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Ok so today marks the first attempt at my mission to figure out how to get acceptable chicken skin when smoking chicken in my MES.

The Problem:  

The MES has a max temp of 275F if you can actually hit that temp and always leaves chicken skin with a rubbery or leathery texture. 

Chicken and poultry skin needs to be cooked at a much higher temperature than 275F to avoid the rubbery/leathery texture.

My Approach:

Heavily smoke the chicken in my MES for 2 hours by lighting both ends of my AMNPS for those 2 hours.

Transfer to the oven at a temp 325F or higher for 1 to 1.5 hour and while simultaneously hitting an internal temperature (IT) of 165F.

First Attempt:
  • MES preheated to 225F, confirmed with my Maverick sensors
  • 5.5 pound chicken brined over night, patted dry, and seasoned
  • AMNPS measured out for about 2 hours of smoke being lit from both ends for a heavy dose of smoke in a short period
  • Used Mesquite pellet blend 35% Mesquire / 65% Maple  (Louisiana Grills pellets)  
  • Preheated oven to 325F
  • Put chicken on rack with MES grill mat and Smoked for 2hrs to IT of 125F
    • Chicken was laid back side down, breast side up
    • Used disposable foil pan under chicken to catch drippings to avoid a mess
  • At 2hrs pulled rack and drip pan and transferred both to oven
    • Chicken was on mat and MES rack, the MES rack was resting on foil pan, and foil pan was on oven wrack
  • Cooked for 1hr where IT reached 171F (higher than my desired 165F but this is a test of skin so went with it)
  • TASTED A PIECE OF SKIN - it was much better than anything the MES produced and getting a little acceptable
  • Continued cooking for another 30 minutes
    • Temp seemed to stall at 171F for about 25minutes
  • 1.5 hours at 325F and IT hit 173F so I decided to pull the chicken so it wouldn't over cook too much
    • 80% of the chicken skin was just barely what I would call acceptable
      • Acceptable being where you wouldn't really notice the skin being an issue
    • Acceptable skin was on top of chicken which sat breast side up
    • Back side butt and thigh area  that was elevated a little was still what I would call unacceptable
    • Back of the chicken that was on the mat was moist and acceptable to where it came apart and ate fine but not a crispy texture.  I'm fine with not crispy as long as it is edible and not rubbery/leathery
  • I pulled meat from chicken to make sandwiches with as it was a little over cooked but nothing bad.  BBQ sauce, a slice of cheddar, some onion and on some wheat bread or rolls and it is a great meal
Lessons Learned for Next Attempt:
  • Use a temp of about 205F or so in the MES next time to smoke to hit an IT no greatar than 100F
    • I think 205F will be just about right to not exceed 100F and if it doesn't exceed in 2 hrs then fine by me, just more time to cook in oven at higher temp
  • I think 325F in the oven will work but probably needs about 2hrs, I will keep trying at 325F to see when skin becomes acceptable at that temp and then move on to 350F to try and improve things
  • A vertical chicken roaster may help.  I read an excerpt online from an electric meat smoker cook book that suggested using a vertical chicken roaster device to sit the chicken up as that would help crisp the skin.  I may give this a shot at some point to see if it is true or not. 
  • The AMNPS light from both ends for 2hrs is a 90% full 1st row and a 90% full third row.  This gives you double smoke for 2 hours
  • Double smoke with the Mesquite 35% and Maple 65% blend was just enough smoke for my liking.  I think 100% hickory would do well also, I don't think cherry wood would impart much smoke flavor at all for 2 hrs so I will stick to stronger woods and stronger wood blends
  • I think this will take about 5 attempts or so to get it right or get really close and an oven temp of 350F may be the ticket
  • Maybe covering while in the oven will give a soft skin texture that is easy to eat rather than a crispy skin texture.  I may play with this in the future as well.
Conclusion:  

I've taken all of the suggestions given and provided that I have read about and so far they seem to be on the right path.  I'm hoping to get some much more exact info from these tests so I can help everyone (including myself) deal with the electric smoker bad chicken skin issue.

More tests will surely be coming, and no matter what, I still get to eat good smoked chicken so this experimenting is never a failure! :)

I hope this info helps some people out as they try to tackle this common problem we all face with an MES or other smoker that maxes out under 325F :)
 

SmokinAl

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A screaming hot gas or charcoal grill will get you the crispy skin your looking for.

Just pull the chicken out of the smoker at 150 and onto a 500-600 degree grill for a minute or so on each side.

I would spatchcock the chicken first for more even cooking.

Al
 
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seenred

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Hello TallBM,

Have you seen Disco's recent thread on this subject?  If not, it might be a very helpful read:

http://www.smokingmeatforums.com/t/257833/crispy-smoked-chicken-thighs

The gist of his experiment was that he could get crispy skin without high temps.  If memory serves, he ran his cooker at 250* for that cook.  It might be just the solution you're looking for.

Red
 
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tallbm

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Al and essex, thanks for the input.  This will be on the list of things to try.  I need to open some more space up on my patio to be able to have both the smoker and the propane grill available for use at the same time.  That will have to wait until I get rid of the 2nd smoker I'm tuning up for my parents :)

SeenRed, I must have missed his post, its only 3 days old and I hadn't searched on the topic since his post.
Oops.gif


I had foiling on my mind at some point.  I thought it might soft en up the skin while in the oven.  Looks like I was on to something but just in the wrong order.  I will definitely put this as the top item on my list to attempt. Hell I may be able to do it today!

Thanks for the info guys!  I will report back with my results for sure :) 
 

dirtsailor2003

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A bit more info for you.

Dry dry dry the skin. Not just pat dry. Air dry uncovered in the fridge on a drying rack over a pan. 8 hours minimum and preferably overnight.

A dry brine of salt and baking powder applied prior to drying will also help. 2-4 tablespoons of salt 1/4 teaspoon baking powder per tablespoon of salt.

Spatchcock the bird. It allows the bird to cook evenly and the skin crisps easier.
 

tallbm

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A bit more info for you.

Dry dry dry the skin. Not just pat dry. Air dry uncovered in the fridge on a drying rack over a pan. 8 hours minimum and preferably overnight.

A dry brine of salt and baking powder applied prior to drying will also help. 2-4 tablespoons of salt 1/4 teaspoon baking powder per tablespoon of salt.

Spatchcock the bird. It allows the bird to cook evenly and the skin crisps easier.
Thanks dirt, adding that to the list of things to try.

My hope is that I can get something acceptable figured out by Sunday when I plan to do another Chicken Galantine for the Superbowl.  I figure if something works for a whole chicken it should work for a Chicken Galantine.

I have some chicken thigh's ready to smoke in about 15 minutes trying Disco's foil method.  I would have done a whole bird but I do not have the time to brine it and chicken qtrs have never been dry for me dry unless they are over cooked :) 

I'll be sure to report back on these chicken thighs.
 

dr k

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Anyone try bronzing poultry skin with their butane or propane torch?
-Kurt
 

tallbm

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Anyone try bronzing poultry skin with their butane or propane torch?
-Kurt
I did but had no luck.  

I had carved up a bonless chicken that was stuffed.  We ate and then after the meal, out of curiosity I hit the sliced chicken skin (still on the chicken meat) with the propane torch and it shrunk a lot and showed signs of crisping but didn't do the job at all.  The heat needed to go deeper into the skin.  Results may be different if I had done this before slicing but if it didn't work on a small piece of skin I'm not sure it would have worked on the skin as a whole when on the chicken.

I think more attempts would be needed though to completely rule it out :)
 
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tallbm

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Anyone try bronzing poultry skin with their butane or propane torch?
-Kurt
Kurt I just attempted again on chicken thigh skin.  I smoked some chicken thighs and had tough skin on top so decided to try and torch them again to see what I could learn.

Torch Lessons Learned:

-Torching rubbery/leathery smoked chicken skin can give you crispy skin BUT at the cost of charring all flavor off because of the level of torching needed to get the skin crispy

-So far this method has not worked for me without turning skin into too much char

-Stopping before skin gets too charred did not yield skin with the proper texture, torching more gave better more desireable texture but no flavor other than char.  Why smoke if you will taste char

-The char flavor was not ash flavor but more of a flavorless taste where you could tell flavor was replaced by char

Going to make a separate post on the actual attempt for round 2.
 

tallbm

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So Round 2 of testing was performed today with about 9-10 chicken thighs.  I would have done a whole chicken but didn't want to take the time to brine it.  Also Disco did chicken thighs with success so I was trying to repeat something someone else had success with, see his post here http://www.smokingmeatforums.com/t/257833/crispy-smoked-chicken-thighs

My Approach Round 2:

Follow a bit of what Disco did here http://www.smokingmeatforums.com/t/257833/crispy-smoked-chicken-thighs

I did not follow his directions to the letter which I discovered after taking a second look at his video about 10 minutes ago.

Put chicken thighs in foil pan major skin side up and cover with foil and cook for an hour at 250F or higher in Smoker.

Uncover, put thighs on rack, smoke until IT of 165F.

Take 2 thighs at IT 150F and put in oven at 425F until  IT 165F

Attempt Round 2:
  • MES preheated to 268F, confirmed with my Maverick sensors
  • 4.78 pounds of seasoned chicken thighs used
  • AMNPS measured out for about 2 hours of smoke being lit from just one end this time
  • Used Mesquite pellet blend 30% Mesquite / 70% Alder  (Pacific Pellets)  
  • Preheated oven to 425F
  • Put chicken in pan and covered with foil in MES and cooked for 1hr, IT got to about 125F if I can remember right
    • Chicken was laid major skin side up
  • After this 1hr, put chicken on grill mat, on rack major skin side up
    • Chicken was on mat and MES rack, the MES rack was resting over foil pan, and foil pan was on oven wrack to catch drippings and make as little mess as possible
  • Smoked at 250F until IT was 150F where I then pulled 2 thighs and put them on a plate into oven major skin side up
    • Oven at 425F
    • These cooked for 10-12 minutes or so to IT of 165F
    • TASTED SKIN - Skin was getting better but still not acceptable
    • This was about consistent with Round 1 testing moving chicken to oven for 1.5hr at 325F
      • I think this reinforces the idea that oven roasting simply needs time and to do so put in oven at something like IT 100F and roast until IT of 165F.  Still need to try this as a test.

         
  • All other thighs stayed in smoker and smoked until IT of 165F
  • Pulled from smoker and put in pan
  • TASTED SKIN - Top skin (which was the side facing up the entire time) showed no improvement
    102.gif
    • Bottom Skin was nice and chew through with basically no rubbery/leathery texture
      33.gif
    • There wasn't much bottom skin to deal with but I checked every piece and the bottom skin was consistently soft and completely acceptable.  Again not crispy but soft like it had been soaking up moisture and never got dried and rubbery/leathery
Lessons Learned for Next Attempt:
  • After a second viewing of Disco's video where he had acceptable skin I noticed that he smoked thighs 1hour major skin side down and then flips and smokes another hour major skin side up!!!
    • I only smoked skin side up to IT 165F and never flipped
      hit.gif
    • I think the key to this method is smoking so that both sides of thighs spend time allowing juice to run downwards into the skin allowing the skin to be soft rather than rubbery/leathery
  • I have also noticed that the bottom side of skin seems to turn out OK from what I remember of all of my chicken cuts in the past, but most times they have had so little skin on the bottom side I ignored it
  • I also noticed the bottom side skin on my smoked chicken galantine was perfectly fine while the top side had the rubbery/leathery issue.  I had chalked up the good bottom side skin to fluids from the stuffing just soaking into the bottom skin and as a freak occurrence.  I think I'm seeing the pattern now that bottom side skin with moisture produces acceptable chicken skin texture.
  • I've also learned I am going to definitely PID my MES as soon as I can.  Warranty is up in 12 days and I just do not like fighting with the temp swings from the existing controller as well as being at the mercy of whatever the controller is going to read for smoker temp after I open the door and such.  For a while I had differences of 48F or more between my MES and Maverick after opening the door.  This took a while for both probe temp readings to come closer together but never seemed to recover acceptably in the end

     
  • Next attempt will again be chicken thighs and I will utilize the flip and smoke technique that Disco performs
  • I however will not be adding any butter or injection marinade since I did not do so in this round.  Gonna try and keep variables to a minimum
  • Next attempt I will also pull 2 thighs at an IT of 100F and then put them in the oven at 325F (not 425F) to see if the skin crisps up.  I only did 425F this past time because another thread had a guy do 400F on a turkey breast from IT150F to final IT 160F and he reported the skin doing fine so I tried to take a step up from that with no luck.
Well I hope this info helps and I look forward to more testing.  Even if the skin is a failure I get to eat great smoked chicken and try various wood pellets to see what I like best on chicken :)
 
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dr k

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Kurt I just attempted again on chicken thigh skin.  I smoked some chicken thighs and had tough skin on top so decided to try and torch them again to see what I could learn.

Torch Lessons Learned:

-Torching rubbery/leathery smoked chicken skin can give you crispy skin BUT at the cost of charring all flavor off because of the level of torching needed to get the skin crispy
-So far this method has not worked for me without turning skin into too much char
-Stopping before skin gets too charred did not yield skin with the proper texture, torching more gave better more desireable texture but no flavor other than char.  Why smoke if you will taste char
-The char flavor was not ash flavor but more of a flavorless taste where you could tell flavor was replaced by char


Going to make a separate post on the actual attempt for round 2.
If the skin charred so easily, then so did the seasoning that was on it which wouldn't be good. I guess a torch is good for caramelizing sugar or making toast super fast.
-Kurt
 

bregent

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A bit more info for you.

Dry dry dry the skin. Not just pat dry. Air dry uncovered in the fridge on a drying rack over a pan. 8 hours minimum and preferably overnight.

A dry brine of salt and baking powder applied prior to drying will also help. 2-4 tablespoons of salt 1/4 teaspoon baking powder per tablespoon of salt.

Spatchcock the bird. It allows the bird to cook evenly and the skin crisps easier.
+1

I've found overnight drying in the fridge is the key for me to get cripsy skin. Then if you add salt and baking powder to the mix, it gets the skin crunchy, close to deep fried texture. That's my go to technique for wings these days. 
 

Bearcarver

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If it's a problem, like Al said, I think the best method is a real hot grill.

However the way my Chicken Thighs get in my MES 40 with the last hour at 275° seems fine to Mrs Bear & Me.

Definitely not Rubbery.

Bear
 

tallbm

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If it's a problem, like Al said, I think the best method is a real hot grill.

However the way my Chicken Thighs get in my MES 40 with the last hour at 275° seems fine to Mrs Bear & Me.

Definitely not Rubbery.

Bear
I just rigged up an MES40 Gen 2 with an Auber plug and play PID.  I plan to give it to my mother as a gift.  In my initial empty chamber test run it held at a constant 275F with no issues for about 2 hours.  

I'm doing my first cook and smoke test run as I type this up using some some chicken quarters and I threw some country style pork ribs in there since they were marked down.  I couldn't resist :)

I'm hoping that at 275F for the entire cooking that the chicken skin will be the same as yours.  If so then my problems are solved once I get my HeaterMeter/LinkMeter pid for my MES40 Gen 1

Additionally I laid 3 chicken quarters skin side down and 3 skin side up to potentially test out the theory that skin side down leaves the skin non-leathery due to the juices soaking in the skin during the cook.  I notice that any skin on the down side of my chicken was edible.  If my chicken doesn't come out well all around I can at least get more info on skin side down cooks.

Thanks for the input as always :)
 

tallbm

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Well I learned some things on this last attempt.

Attempt Round 3:

-6 chicken quarters (3 skin up and 3 skin down)

-Temp attempted 275F but had some temp issues so temperature based assumptions are out the window for this round

-No oven usage, cooked to 165F IT in smoker

1. Chicken skin is totally acceptable when placed skin side down!  I won't declare skin side down victory just yet but so far it seems to work so when in doubt I'm going skin side down on chicken cuts, and breast side down on whole chicken or stuffed chicken dishes.

2. I still haven't repeated Bear's success with chicken skin texture BUT I also am learning how this new Gen 2 smoker with the PID is working.  I seemed to have jumped the gun and put the chicken in too early (smoker temp 250F) thinking the smoker would climb to 275F quickly and with no issue.  Well I was wrong and the smoker temp kind of stalled out and the temp took forever to recover and then climb up to 275F.

I manually played around with the PID settings after waiting for the smoker temp stall to resolve but then gave up and turned on autotune again.  I think I might have goofed up with my PID probe placement because it was reporting way low of my Maverick probe.  I'm still working out the kinks with this Gen 2 PID setup and this was the first smoke/cook test so it should only get better from here :)

3. Pacific Pellets 30% Mesquite and 70% Alder is one light smoke.  It is hard to describe.  The flavor has good taste but it would seriously take a long time to really pack a punch.  It feels like a diet, zero calorie, caffeine free, sugar free version of a Mesquite or Hickory smoke hahahaha.  I think my next chicken attempt will be 100% Apple just to compare the two smoke flavors and strength of smoke over the short smoking time.  The Pacific Pellets blend would make a great smoke for a southwest smoked salmon salad with jalapenos, pecans, red onion, blueberry cheese, and a vinaigrette with cayenne, a touch of honey, and a dash of lemon or lime juice ! 

In all I think some good things were learned with this attempt.  Also I believe it was Thomas Edison that once said "I never failed once. It just happened to be a 2,000-step process."   I believe there are many more steps to come 

icon_wink.gif
 
 
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dr k

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Well I learned some things on this last attempt.

Attempt Round 3:

-6 chicken quarters (3 skin up and 3 skin down)
-Temp attempted 275F but had some temp issues so temperature based assumptions are out the window for this round
-No oven usage, cooked to 165F IT in smoker


1. Chicken skin is totally acceptable when placed skin side down!  I won't declare skin side down victory just yet but so far it seems to work so when in doubt I'm going skin side down on chicken cuts, and breast side down on whole chicken or stuffed chicken dishes.

2. I still haven't repeated Bear's success with chicken skin texture BUT I also am learning how this new Gen 2 smoker with the PID is working.  I seemed to have jumped the gun and put the chicken in too early (smoker temp 250F) thinking the smoker would climb to 275F quickly and with no issue.  Well I was wrong and the smoker temp kind of stalled out and the temp took forever to recover and then climb up to 275F.


I manually played around with the PID settings after waiting for the smoker temp stall to resolve but then gave up and turned on autotune again.  I think I might have goofed up with my PID probe placement because it was reporting way low of my Maverick probe.  I'm still working out the kinks with this Gen 2 PID setup and this was the first smoke/cook test so it should only get better from here :)


3. Pacific Pellets 30% Mesquite and 70% Alder is one light smoke.  It is hard to describe.  The flavor has good taste but it would seriously take a long time to really pack a punch.  It feels like a diet, zero calorie, caffeine free, sugar free version of a Mesquite or Hickory smoke hahahaha.  I think my next chicken attempt will be 100% Apple just to compare the two smoke flavors and strength of smoke over the short smoking time.  The Pacific Pellets blend would make a great smoke for a southwest smoked salmon salad with jalapenos, pecans, red onion, blueberry cheese, and a vinaigrette with cayenne, a touch of honey, and a dash of lemon or lime juice ! 


In all I think some good things were learned with this attempt.  Also I believe it was Thomas Edison that once said "I never failed once. It just happened to be a 2,000-step process."  I believe there are many more steps to come 
:icon_wink:  
I believe one person mentioned that they reset their pid so it was back to the out of the box default settings with better luck and didn't autotune. Proportional=past values, integral=current values and derivitive=future anticipated values yet to come based on the p and i. I don't know how long it takes for the d values to learn and minimize cycles. Strange that the circuit doesn't stay closed to reach your desired temp. Someone with a pid could be more helpful on how quickly the process takes.
-Kurt
 

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