How Toothpicks Can Make Your Roast Chicken Even Better

In the world of poultry, there's really no main dish more homey and satisfying than roast chicken. Whether prepared classically with butter and salt à la Julia Child, basted with milk for a super-tender bird, or marinated in fragrant Indonesian ingredients such as coconut milk and lemongrass, roast chicken makes a hearty and appealing meal that's often accompanied by the rich vegetables over which the bird is roasted.

A simple dish that requires only salt and a roasting pan in its most basic form, roast chicken has been adapted many times over, with each cook seemingly preparing the bird in their own way. Some rub herbed butter under the chicken's skin, some spatchcock the bird for more even cooking, some truss and some don't (via Food52), but what most cooks seem to have in common is striving for golden-brown, crispy skin.

Crunchy, well-seasoned skin is arguably the most enjoyable part of a roast chicken, but obtaining it can be complicated by factors such as a too-cool oven or not adequately drying the skin prior to roasting (via Institute of Culinary Education). Another impediment to crispy skin? Its tendency, on chicken breasts, in particular, to peel back instead of staying in place.

Securing chicken breasts' skin with toothpicks helps it crisp up in the oven

Have you ever roasted pieces of chicken only to find, with dismay, that the skin on the breasts shrunk up in the oven instead of remaining stretched over the chicken? According to America's Test Kitchen, this is a common phenomenon — and one that's frustrating, because skin that falls to the side can bunch up on itself, remaining rubbery instead of going crisp.

So what's the solution, according to the outlet? Toothpicks! By stretching the skin out flat over the breasts and then securing it into the meat, you can help the skin stay in place as it cooks in the oven. America's Test Kitchen notes that piercing the skin with the toothpicks will help the fat render out of it while cooking, creating a crispy skin, and also having the win-win effect of basting the breasts with fat as they cook, keeping them nice and moist. 

Another great use for toothpicks is on Thanksgiving, when a packaged turkey sometimes has torn skin. Cook's Illustrated notes that by closing the gap in the skin and then pinning it into place, the tear should pretty much disappear during roasting. So the next time you're roasting chicken parts — or a whole turkey — grab some toothpicks when you hit the grocery store for the other ingredients.