Space, Heat, and Time by Joan O’Connell Hedman


Make it Low Carb: Space, Heat, and Time

Don’t be alarmed – I’m not launching into a lecture on the cosmos, here. Today’s subject is much more relevant to our everyday lives: crispy chicken.

I had to talk myself into writing this particular column, because this isn’t so much a recipe as it is a method of cooking. And it’s dead easy, too – so easy, I thought, it really isn’t worth writing about.

But then I realized that, even though this is ridiculously easy, apparently not many people do it. Whenever I have a party, I make chicken this way, and it disappears. Four out of five members of my household, when given the choice between this chicken and a nice, juicy steak, choose the chicken. (The single holdout, my oldest son, would eat cow for breakfast, lunch, and dinner if allowed, so it’s no surprise that he chooses the steak.)

What makes this chicken special is the crispy skin. One of the best things about being on a low carb diet is that we can enjoy that delicious, crispy skin with no side order of guilt. The secret to that crispy skin brings us back where this column began: space, heat, and time.

Restaurants deep-fry their chicken wings to give them that delightful crunchy crispness, but deep-frying at home is messy and awkward. It’s very difficult to properly regulate the oil temperature, and it’s therefore very easy to simultaneously over- and under-cook whatever it is you’re frying. At least, it was for me – and since the benefits of deep-frying (namely, taste and texture) can be reasonably duplicated by other means, I’ve given up on it.

If you’ve tried “oven fried” chicken in the past (who hasn’t?) and have been disappointed in the results (again, who hasn’t?), here are some ideas on what may have gone wrong:

  1. Space – you need to leave enough room between the pieces of meat so that air can circulate all around them.
  2. Heat – you have to use a high enough heat to render the underlayer of fat, and to crisp up the skin that remains
  3. Time – you absolutely must cook the chicken long enough for the rendering/crisping to take place.

If you skimp on any one of these key factors, you’ll end up with chicken with greasy, soggy skin. Granted, that’s not the end of the world, but if you could have that chicken with crispy skin instead, wouldn’t you want it?

So, here’s how to get it.


Chicken with Crispy Skin

Equipment:Baking sheets

Heavy-duty aluminum foil



No-stick cooking spray

Chicken pieces, cut up – wings, drumsticks, thighs are best; breast meat should be kept on the bone for best results with this method


Paprika (optional)



Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. If you are cooking wings only, preheat to 375 degrees.

Line the baking sheets with heavy duty aluminum foil. If you only have regular aluminum foil, use two sheets. Be sure the foil is large enough to run up the sides of the pan; the foil is serving double-duty here, catching the grease that’s cooking out of the chicken, and preventing the chicken from sticking to the pan and making a huge mess. (You could skip this step if you don’t mind having to soak and scrub your pans, but I personally would not want to cook in a world with no heavy duty aluminum foil.)

Spray a light coating of no-stick spray over the foil.

Look over the chicken, and trim off any large ribbons or blobs of fat, or excess flaps of skin. This is an important step because if you leave too much fat on the bird, it won’t all render off. Your chicken pieces will also be swimming in grease as they roast, and that’s another thing that can prevent the skin from crisping. You don’t have to fanatically trim off every speck of fat you see, just get rid of the ones that are obvious: the edges of breast pieces, and around the thighs. Wings and drumstricks are worry-free in this regard, and one reason I often choose them for a no-fuss dinner!

Arrange the chicken pieces on the tray, leaving ample room between them. The pieces should not touch! See the photo below for an idea of how far apart the pieces should be:

Now, lightly spray the chicken with the no-stick spray. Alternately, you could brush the pieces with olive oil or melted butter, but if you choose to do so, use sparing amounts of either. It is essential that the chicken be only lightly coated; too thick a coat of oil or butter here will interfere with the crisping process.

Sprinkle the pieces lightly with salt, and then with the paprika. You could omit the paprika, but I encourage you to try it; as I said, everyone loves it. You could also experiment with other herbs or spices, but be aware that many will burn when roasted at high temperatures. The idea here is not to go crazy with the seasonings; this chicken is delightful because it is so simple.

Place the pan with the chicken into the center of the preheated oven and roast for about an hour. If you’re doing just wings, you could check them after 45 minutes; for larger pieces, you may need to go to an hour and 15 minutes.

Of course you need to make sure that the chicken is properly cooked, but here’s the final secret: technically, you’re over-cooking the chicken – just a little! – to insure that the skin is nice and crispy. So when the suggested time is up, take the chicken out of the oven and look at it: has the fat all rendered out of the skin? Does it look nice and crispy? If not, pop it back in the oven for another five minutes or so to crisp up. It’s not going to burn or dry out in that amount of time, but the skin will be marvelous. For large wing pieces, I’ve roasted them for as much as an hour with no discernible damage to the meat itself.

If you’re cooking a lot of chicken, you can use two baking sheets; set your oven racks one on the bottom, and one on the second level down. About halfway through the cooking time, rotate the pans from top to bottom and front to back so that the pieces will be assured of cooking at the same rate.

If you’re cooking a whole chicken that’s cut up, with a mix of white and dark meats, you’ll want to pull the wings and breast pieces out sooner than the dark meat pieces. Remember, white meat needs to register 170 degrees on a meat thermometer to be properly cooked, while dark meat needs to reach 185 degrees. Breast meat is most at risk for overcooking with this method, so keep an eye on it and remove it from the oven sooner if it is done before the remaining pieces.

For hot wings: cook wings as above, and then toss in your favorite hot sauce – you can easily whip some up by combining melted butter and Tabasco to taste. Don’t sauce the wings until just before you eat them, because the sauce will take the crispiness down a notch or two.

This is an update of a recipe my Mom has been making for as long as I can remember. Fortunately, it was already low carb – an entire tablespoon of paprika has less than 4 grams of carbs, and there’s no way you’re going to eat that much. Do you have any old family favorites you wish were low carb legal? Send me an email ([email protected]), and I’ll see if I can help you out.

I love hearing from CarbSmart readers, so please send mail if you have any questions or comments, Joan O’Connell Hedman.

Copyright © 2007 Joan O’Connell Hedman. May not be reprinted without the author’s permission.

To learn more about Joan or to read some of her other articles, please visit Make it Low Carb.

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No Apologies Necessary by Joan O’Connell Hedman

As I approached writing this column, I felt a pang of embarrassment. How many times could I admit to you just how often I over-buy fresh produce? (I can't help it, it's so tempting!) Would readers be OK with how often I crib recipe ideas from others? But then I realized there is no shame in this.

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