FAQ: Problem with Tough, Leathery Chicken and Turkey Skin

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Q: We got our smoker for Thanksgiving (Cabella propane) and love it, but both times we've cooked chicken/turkey, the skin is inedible.  Like leather.  The meat is great – we've brined it both times.

How do you keep the skin from being so tough?

A: On poultry the skin does seem to take the brunt of the smoke and heat and can turn out tough and not very appetizing when you cook it at low smoking temperatures. To create tasty smoked chicken with skin that has a good “bite-through”, it requires drying the skin before cooking it and then cooking it a higher heat.

Drying the Skin

After brining the chicken, pat it as dry as possible with a paper towel then lay it on a pan with a rack and place it back into the fridge for at least 4 hours but overnight or even 24 hours will do a better job.

During this time the skin will dry and tighten around the meat. You will be able to see this in a very visible way and this gives it a much better chance at being more crisp or at least having a better bite through.

After the skin has dried, brush a small amount of oil on the chicken and apply the rub or seasoning right before it goes into the smoker.

Smoking the Chicken

I love using my Camp Chef Woodwind for chicken since pellet grills can easily cook low and slow and then be turned up to as high as 450 or 500°F in order to get a perfect finish on something that needs to be crisp.

For better smoke flavor, smoke the chicken for about an hour at low and slow temperatures and give it plenty of smoke. Then turn it up to 350°F or higher to finish. Remember chicken is done and safe at 165°F but this may not be the perfect finish temperature for the pieces with more fat such as the thigh, wing and leg. These “dark meat” pieces are best taken to 175-180°F to make them more tender and juicy and this just gives more time to crisp up the skin as well.

Chicken breast, tenderloins and whole chickens should be removed from the heat at 165°F to make sure the chicken is safe to eat and to ensure that the white meat does not dry out. I recommend brining the meat prior to cooking to ensure a more juicy outcome.

See all of our chicken recipes


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  1. For the first time, I ruined my turkey legs… Had them unfreeze for days, brined for 20 hours, slow cook in the smoker and then 6h after, I could barely put a fork through it. Any clue what happened. Possibility #1 after boiling my brine preparation to get all the taste of the spices melt together, I put it in the fridge to cool down before putting the legs in it. This time, it was lukewarm when I put my turkey legs in for brining. Possibility #2, those weren’t turkey legs… they had a shorter and wider shape… loooots of meat and muscles… could it be Emeu? Thanks for any clue.

  2. Try using a simple mop sauce. Brush mop sauce every ten or fifteen minutes onto the chicken. Works like a charm, but is kind of a hassle.

    1. Opening your smoker every 10-15 minuites is a big mistake. DO NOT follow this advice unless you want to continously lose all of your smoke and heat. 

  3. Just bought an electric smoker for my husband's birthday this weekend and we are "seasoning" it as I write this email.  We are going to attempt a chicken tomorrow.  Basic question:  do we leave the flu open or closed during the smoking process?  We haven't found an answer to this question anywhere.  Thanks for your help!

    1. I had the same question when i got my electric. I have the MasterBilt, and the included booklets weren’t completely clear on this. I eventually found a recommendation that the flue should be left all the way open while cooking to allow a proper draft thru the smoke box. After a few hours, i’ll sometimes add water to the pan & close it to steam-finish a little.

      Hope this helps!