September 26, 2021

Slash and Char Your Chicken for Better Flavor and Easier Cooking

Want to feel comfortable cooking without a recipe? Learn versatile techniques and dishes. They give you structure while letting you easily swap ingredients and flavor profiles.

For me, those are reverse searing, stir-frying, braising meats, making risotto and pesto, boiling veggies in low liquid, and now slashing and charring my chicken. 🔪🔥🍗

It’s a technique I honestly haven't mastered yet. But so I’m excited about it, I wanted to share. I learned it from the folks at Milk Street, who learned it from Andrea Nguyen. And now I’m passing it to you.

Here’s the technique: You cut slits into pieces of chicken. You rub it down with seasoning, getting all up in the crevices. Then you roast it in the oven before broiling it for the last few minutes. Easy as that.

It makes for flavorful, tender meat with crispy skin. It’s all you could ever want in a chicken.

Let’s talk through it in more detail.

The Chicken

For starters, this technique is for skin-on chicken—ideally bone-in legs and thighs. 🍗 And while I haven’t tried it, I’ve got to think it would work for a whole roasted chicken as well.

So why skin-on?

A chicken’s skin is full of flavor and fat. The latter means it will crisp up beautifully. And you get better browning and texture because of it. The skin also acts as a shield. It protects the meat from direct contact with high heat so it prevents the chicken from drying out.

But here’s the thing. That skin also prevents seasoning from getting absorbed. I guess you can’t have your chicken skin and eat it too. 😉

That’s why you have to rub seasoning underneath the skin. Or better yet, slash it!

The Slash

First, how do you make these slashes?

Take your knife and make a cut perpendicular to the bone, through the skin, into the meat about ¾ inch (2 cm) deep, until you hit the bone. Then stop. Then make another cut, parallel from your previous one, about an inch (2.5 cm) apart. And then make more cuts until you’ve covered the entire piece. It will now look like a zebra. 🦓 Or tiger if you prefer. 🐅 There’s just less color. And fur.

Don’t have a bone? Well then the only bone you have to pick is with yourself. 🥁 Don’t worry, the technique still works. Just be careful to not cut all the way through the meat. You want slits to be deep, but you don’t want the chicken in pieces.

So why do we slash?

  1. Season deeply: Most spices don’t get absorbed by the meat. Their molecules are too big. But by slashing the chicken, the seasoning gets direct access. And that means the chicken is more flavorful throughout.
  2. Create more surface area: Slashing exposes more of the meat. And the more surface area, the more opportunity for browning. You’ll have crispy, charry bits all over. Those differences in texture and cooking levels make the chicken more interesting to eat.
  3. Cook evenly and quickly: By cutting through the thickest parts of the chicken, you create separate, more equally sized parts. This helps the thick parts of the chicken cook at the same rate as the thinner ones.

The Seasoning

Now that you’ve got direct access to the meat, you want to flavor it!

First, salt your chicken in advance, people. At least a couple of hours. (Learn why you should salt in advance.)

Then get a bowl to make your seasoning mix. Add a high smoke point oil, freshly ground whole spices, minced sturdy herbs, and maybe some grated garlic, ginger, and/or citrus zest. Then mix. You’re going for a paste, not sprinkles.

You can also add a touch of acidity here, whether that’s a squeeze of lime or a teaspoon of vinegar. But be careful. If the paste is too liquidy, the extra moisture prevents browning.

Then get your hands dirty and rub down your chicken with that paste. It could use a nice massage after that stressful surgery. 🔪😳

Sugar—whether it’s honey, brown sugar, or sweet ingredients like mirin—not only adds sweetness but also promotes browning. Add a touch to your seasoning paste. You won’t regret it!

The Char

While you can cook your slashed and rubbed chicken just about any way, the oven is the easiest in my book.

First, preheat your oven to 450℉ (235℃). Then add your seasoned chicken to a sheet pan, skin side up. This makes sure the skin crisps and doesn’t get soggy. (You can also add foil to the sheet pan if you wish to make clean-up easier. But since it’s well oiled from your rub-down, you shouldn’t run into issues with sticking.)

Then, cook the chicken for about 15 minutes on the middle rack. You want the thickest part to register about 165℉ (75℃) for thighs/legs or 150℉ (65℃) for breasts. If it comes in under that temperature, leave the chicken in a little longer. It should be nicely browned at this point.

But you’re not done yet! This is when the char comes in! Turn your broiler to high and let the chicken go for another 5 minutes. All the nooks and crannies you created in the skin will start to blacken. Then take your chicken out of the oven when it reaches about 175℉ (80℃) for thighs/legs and 160℉ (70℃) for breast.

This two-step cooking method gets you nice brown and charry bits on your chicken without over-cooking it. And all those differences in texture and cooking consistency become a party in your mouth. 🕺💃

So why do we cook chicken legs/thighs to a higher temperature than breasts? They’ve got more collagen so they need longer to cook before they turn tender. And because collagen turns into gelatin when it goes above temperature 160℉ (70℃), legs and thighs also stay tender longer. Even if you overcook them a little bit. Cool, right? (Learn more.)

Versatility

Now with this slash-and-char technique in your back pocket, you’ve got a blank canvas to work with. You simply switch up your seasoning.

  • Feeling like Italian? Go heavy on sturdy herbs like rosemary and oregano with your seasoning. Add some grated garlic, coarsely ground fennel seeds and honey.
  • Or get inspired by Thailand. Use lime zest, diced cilantro stems, lemongrass, and a touch of fish sauce for your rub.
  • But maybe you’re feeling Japanese? Miso makes for an amazing rub especially when mixed with grated ginger and a splash of mirin. Just skip adding salt since miso is a salty ingredient.

Yep! You can adapt the seasoning for the chicken however you wish! No recipe needed. 😎

Want a video of the whole slash-and-char technique? Check this one out.

Where I learned this: recipes, classes, and videos from the wonderful folks over at Milk Street