Chicken Skin Side up or Down (See How to Get Golden Crispy Skin)

Ever wondered how restaurants get crispy chicken skin?

I have a few simple grilling tricks to elevate any chicken recipe.

Season to perfection before adding to a hot grill.

But what side of my chicken do I put on the grill?

Skin up or skin down?

Below you’ll see exactly which way to place your chicken on the grill.

You Should Always Cook Your Chicken Skin Side Down!

There you have it!

Always cook your chicken skin side down.

Read further for details on why this method is preferred.

As well as some tips and other cooking methods along the way!

Does This Only Apply if My Cooking Process Is Grilling?

Grilling is my chosen cooking process for the best results.

But it can also apply if you are pan-frying.

Planning on smoking or preparing a roast chicken?

Go and check out our other posts.


Chicken – The Facts You Need to Know

Before we look at the benefits of cooking on the skin, it is helpful to understand the meat.

There are two types.

The dark meat is around the bones in the thigh and legs.

The white meat is on the breast.

Chicken proteins are dense and contain a lot of moisture.

The darker meat will also contain connective tissue. 

The skin covers every part of the chicken.

But it is very common for individual cuts to have it removed.

Note: Read further for my guide to chicken cuts.

What Are the Benefits of Cooking the Skin Side Down?

From protecting the delicate chicken meat proteins.

To render out the fat for crispy chicken skin.

Below are the reasons why you should be applying heat directly to the skin.

Protecting the Delicate Protein

We have all suffered eating dry chicken.

Cooking with direct heat (more of that later) will evaporate moisture.

And guess what…

These chicken juices keep the meat tender!

The skin acts as a layer of protection that stops the rate of evaporation.

Which keeps the meat moist.

Cooking & Rendering the Fat to Keep the Skin Cripsy

Fat = flavor but not if it isn’t cooked properly.

Chicken skin contains mostly fat.

Fat takes a long time to cook and render.

So putting it straight on the cooking grate will ensure it has enough cooking time.

While also forming that delicious crisp skin!

Seal in the Flavor

Chicken meat tends to be a bit bland in flavor if you don’t add seasoning.

Especially the leaner white meat from the breast.

I recommend applying marinade and rub, as well as basting during cooking.

Your favorite chicken seasoning will absorb into the skin.

And then infuse when you seal the skin down with heat.

The Cut of Chicken & How to Cut Them for Grilling

Below are the selected cuts of raw chicken and how to prepare them.

I mentioned before that the skin usually will cover every cut.

However, it might have been removed during manufacturing.

Or you can remove a layer yourself using a sharp knife.


The Whole Chicken

If you plan on grilling a whole chicken then spatchcock it with the skin left on.

Flatten it out by removing the spine with scissors.

Put the top of your whole chicken on first.

The Chicken Legs or Thighs

Keep the skin on your chicken thighs or legs.

Make small incisions with a knife in the meat to the bone through the skin.

Skin-on or Skinless Chicken Breasts

Go for the skin-on chicken breasts as it gives you a choice.

Even if you don’t eat the skin, there are still benefits of cooking with it attached.

You can then remove it if required.

Chicken Wings

Chicken wings contain gristle and connective tissue.

Because of this, it rarely matters which side down you put the wings on the smoker or grill.

Do I Score the Skin on My Chicken?

In some cases yes.

Particularly the thighs, legs, and wings.

As they contain a thicker layer of skin and are on the bone.

You want to make sure that heat can completely penetrate.

Plus render and soften any gristle or connective tissue.

Can I Grill Frozen Chicken?


Grilling is a quick cooking process and frozen chicken will slow it down drastically.

But more importantly, risk severe food poisoning.

How to Defrost Chicken

– Keep the chicken airtight and refrigerated.

– Fill your sink with cold water and submerge.

How Do I Know My Chicken Has Defrosted?

– A frozen bird will be solid and cold to the touch.

– The packaging will not have any ice crystals.

– The chicken should have a little bounce to the touch.

Do I Marinate the Chicken Before Grilling With the Skin Side Down?

A quick chicken marinade with salt and an acidic ingredient is perfect.

As this will add flavor and help lock in moisture.

I like using olive oil, kosher salt, and lime juice.

Throw in some chili flakes and fresh herbs.

Marinade for no longer than 4 hours.

Do I Rotate the Chicken at All?

When the skin is crispy with char marks you can rotate to the side without skin.

But keep a careful eye on the internal temperature.


Can I Baste While Grilling?

Basting chicken with a sauce reintroduces moisture and flavor.

Try a bbq sauce for an awesome flavor with a tang!

What Internal Temperature Does the Chicken Need to Be?

Your chicken meat should be 165°F before consumption.

How Should I Monitor the Internal Temp?

Only use a calibrated meat thermometer to safely monitor the internal temperature.

Use multiple if cooking unevenly sized cuts.

Be careful not to touch any bones in the chicken when inserting the probe

As this will give a faulty reading.

Smoke On!


Author: Charlie Reeves
Hi, I’m Charlie, I am head taste tester at Simply Meat Smoking! I love it grilling, smoking, and getting out in the yard with the kids! The family also love to test all my recipes (especially my EXTRA CRISPY pulled pork, smoky pork loin, and ANY SEAFOOD I grill)

You will usually find me playing with the kids, perfecting my brisket bark, or sipping beers with boys around the fire. Can’t wait to share all my delicious smoking and grilling adventures with you!

You can read more on our About Us page.

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