Why Is The Skin Tough On My Smoked Chicken Wings?

Nothing beats a backyard barbecue on a beautiful summer evening. Guests are laughing and singing along to the music, and finally, it’s time to eat. The table is laden with side dishes and various meats, each with its alluring aroma. The meal is spectacular, or almost because the skin on those delicious chicken wings was tough. Tasty, but tough. What is the cause, and how can it be solved?

Tough skin on smoked chicken wings can be caused by cooking at too low a temperature. Smoking is usually done slowly on low heat to break down the tough connective tissue in meat, but chicken wings do not have this, so it is possible to cook them at a higher temperature for a shorter time.

why is the skin tough on my smoked chicken wings

A barbecue is not simply a meal. One can call anything cooked on a grill a barbecue, but the essence of the word relates to wood or charcoal smoked meats that cook for a long period. 

Smoked chicken wings are also traditional barbecue fare, but you have to treat them a little differently so that the skins don’t get tough and chewy.

Reasons For Tough Skins On Smoked Chicken Wings

When your tastebuds are desperate for chicken wings of any variety, it’s that crispy texture and smokey flavor that you’re after, not a tough and leathery wing that you can’t swallow.

Temperature Has An Effect On Chicken Wings

The wings have a lower ratio of meat to skin than any other part of the chicken, making them perfect for crisping. However, the bulk of the fat needs to be cooked out of the skins to get that delicious crunchiness. A low temperature causes the skin to retain the fat, making it rubbery and unpleasant.

There is some debate regarding the optimal temperatures for smoking chicken wings. One school of thought is that smoking at a lower temperature ( up to 250F) for about 2 ½ hours is a great way to allow the wings to absorb the smoke, and then to finish off by grilling them at a high temperature for just a few minutes, taking care not to burn or dry them out.

Those opposed to this idea believe that chicken wings should be smoked at 300-350F for approximately 1½  hours. Leaving them any longer than that will cause them to be dry and tough.

You will need to control the temperature with either of these methods to prevent the wings from becoming tough. The deciding factor is whether the fat is successfully rendered from the skin or not. 

It appears that those who have succeeded in smoking wings at a lower temperature still had to increase it during the cooking process to crisp the skin. 

Regardless of the cooking temperature you believe is correct for chicken wings, it is wise to purchase a meat thermometer. The chicken is done when the densest part of the wing reaches 165F. 

Once the wings are ready, they can be crisped over direct heat if necessary. Another option is to deep fry them for a few minutes.

Solutions For Tough Skin On Smoked Chicken Wing

Some tips for smoking chicken wings successfully could include:

  • Cooking at a high temperature allows the juices to build up under the skin. Once the fat has been rendered, the increased heat causes the skin to be crisp. 
  • Brining the wings beforehand and basting them with fat during the cooking process can prevent the skins from being tough and rubbery.
  • Briefly cook the wings on the gas grill until the skin becomes crisp before transferring them to the smoker.

Brines Or Dry Rubs On Smoked Chicken Wings

Brining your chicken wings before smoking will help keep the meat moist and tasty throughout the smoking process. Wings can easily dry out due to the minimal amount of meat. Drying out will also make your wings tough.

A brine infused with vegetable flavors and herbs will give the chicken wings a great flavor, so it is not necessary to use a dry rub for added taste. 

A dry brine can stop smoke penetration into the meat. So a wet brine is preferable for that smoky taste. On the other hand, the herbs and spices in a dry rub will give a bolder flavor to the wings.

How Long To Smoke Chicken Wings

When cooking your chicken wings at 250F, smoke them for 2 ½ hours until they reach 165F. If you set your smoker to a higher temperature of 300F-350F, you can expect them to take about 1 ½ hours.

Wood And Pellets Suitable For Smoked Chicken Wings

Apple wood and chicken wings often seem to be a good match, but they can have a less smoky flavor and less color. Cherry wood is a great wood to use for wings, and you can also add a chunk or two of hickory for extra smoke flavor. 

The cherry wood gives the wings a lovely dark brown color and a sweet taste. Cherry wood pellets, hickory, or mesquite will all do the job well on a pellet grill.

The Smoking Process For Chicken Wings

If you have never used a smoker for wings, following these basic steps while having a winning recipe should make it an easy process.

  • Place coals at the sides of the grill.
  • One side of the grill should have high heat
  • Smoke the wood for 20 minutes before removing it
  • Turn the temperature for both burners onto medium-high.
  • Close the smoker’s lid and do not open it during the cooking process.
  • Smoke the wings until they are crispy enough for your liking.

Final Word

The temperature at which chicken wings should be smoked is highly debatable. It seems, but experts do agree that it is rendering the fat from the skin that creates crispy skin, and the temperature needs to be high to achieve this. 

Brining, marinating, and basting can help the process, but temperatures must be controlled carefully, or you will have tough, leathery skin on your wings.

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