The Extra Prep Step For Super Crispy Air-Fried Chicken Thighs

If you're part of the growing 36% of Americans who own an air fryer, you've most likely come to appreciate the handy countertop appliance in many ways, per The New York Times. Adept at "frying" French fries and onion rings using hot air instead of oil, the air fryer also excels at baking and roasting items as diverse as Korean-style salmon, BBQ ribs, and maple-glazed pork chops.

As evidenced above, the air fryer does a great job cooking all types of proteins, effectively cutting down on cook time (and using far less gas or electricity than a large oven) thanks to the smaller chamber and super-hot convection air. Another meat that takes well to the appliance is chicken, which you can air fry with brown sugar and balsamic glaze or cover in bread crumbs for a fried dish that is finished with chipotle honey. 

But if you've ever air-fried skin-on chicken, such as bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs, you may have been discouraged with an all-too-common result: that of flabby and chewy skin. In this case, thankfully, there is one extra step before cooking in the air fryer to ensure the exterior turns out firm, golden, and crispy.

Poking holes in the chicken skin encourages the fat to provide a crispy outer layer

By harnessing the bird's own fat — that is, the deposits stored in its skin — you can help the skin "fry" in the air fryer as it cooks. All you have to do is use a sharp kitchen tool, like a skewer, to poke a few holes in the skin, allowing the skin's fat to render easily inside the appliance. This will result in basting the thighs with flavorful goodness while effectively crisping the skin as the hot fat runs out of it. 

The reason you have to take this measure is that the chicken doesn't get exposed to oil much like it would if it was deep- or shallow-fried in super hot oil, creating a soft and fatty outer skin — which may not be the ideal texture you're looking for. Even if you're not air frying, this technique is useful for getting that crispy layer of skin on a whole roasted chicken or turkey for the dinner table. 

So while sharp objects are not typically encouraged in the kitchen unless for a good reason — in this case, it is. Be sure to reach for one before air-frying your next batch of chicken thighs.