If you’ve had one too many disappointing, barely-seasoned grilled chicken mishaps, you may be wondering what’s going wrong.
Surely it can’t be that difficult to get a bit of dry rub to stick?!
I have experimented with several different seasoning techniques to find out what the very best method of seasoning chicken is (with no bare patches!).
In this article, I cover:
- Exactly how to season chicken (so it sticks!)
- When you should season your chicken
- How to store chicken coated with dry rub
- How to get seasoning to stick to cooked chicken
Ready? Let’s jump right in.
How do you get seasoning to stick to chicken? To get seasoning to stick to chicken, first pat the chicken dry using a paper towel. Next, coat the chicken in a light layer of extra virgin olive oil. Use your hands to generously coat the chicken in the dry rub seasoning. Finally, cook the chicken, making sure to turn it as little as possible.
How to season chicken so the seasoning sticks
There’s a lot more to seasoning chicken than just sprinkling some spice rub on.
To make sure as much as the seasoning sticks as possible, follow these steps:
- Pat the chicken dry with paper towels.
- Cover the chicken with olive oil or another sticky binder of your choice (more on these later).
- Rub the seasoning into the chicken with your fingers.
- Cook the chicken.
I explain each of these steps in more detail below.
Dry the chicken
This is the most important thing you’re going to read all day.
Make sure your chicken is completely dry before you start seasoning it.
It might seem like some moisture on the chicken will help the seasoning stick.
But as soon as you start cooking the chicken, the water will turn into steam and evaporate, causing the seasoning to fall off in the process.
To dry your chicken, take a paper towel and pat the chicken all over until there’s no more juice left. Only then are you ready to start the seasoning process.
If you’ve got a bit more time on your hands, another way to dry chicken is to leave it uncovered in the refrigerator for a few hours. The dry air will wick moisture away from the surface of the chicken and dehydrate it. You should still pat the chicken with some paper towel once you take it out of the fridge to ensure it’s as dry as possible.
Coat the chicken with a sticky base (a binding agent)
Stick your finger in a bowl of salt and note how many grains stick. Then cover your finger with mayo and stick it in a bowl of salt. A LOT more grains have stuck, right?
(okay, no need to actually do this).
Not much will stick to a dry chicken, so you need to add something sticky.
As I explained above, water is no good because it evaporates as soon as it hits the heat.
So what can you use? Here are some of the most popular options:
- EVOO (extra virgin olive oil)
- Melted butter
- Other types of oil
- Worcester sauce
EVOO is the most popular option for chicken because of its neutral flavor profile.
Mustard is often associated with pork, and Worcester sauce is associated with beef. But nothing is stopping you from using them on chicken.
Melted butter and mayonnaise are less common but work well.
Steer clear of ketchup and barbecue sauce because they contain lots of sugar which means they burn easily.
It’s normal to worry about the binder imparting too much taste (especially if you’re using mustard), but you don’t need to. You only need a minimal amount, and the flavor of the binder generally disappears after cooking.
And when I say minimal, I mean minimal. Don’t use too much binder, or it can have the opposite effect and cause all the seasoning to slide off. You just want a really thin layer covering the entire piece of chicken.
To find out what the best chicken seasoning binder is, I conducted an experiment.
I coated three chicken breasts with olive oil, mustard, and mayonnaise. Then I had a fourth control chicken breast.
Then I covered them with a dry rub and cooked them in a pan. Here are the results.
The EVOO came out looking the best. The oil helped the rub more a slight crisp and gave the outside of the chicken a bit of crunch. Pretty much all the seasoning stayed on the chicken.
Out of mustard and mayonnaise, I preferred mustard. I couldn’t taste the mustard at all, and the seasoning stuck well.
With the mayonnaise coating, some of the seasoning stuck to the pan. I could also taste a hint of the mayonnaise on the chicken which I didn’t like. (Sorry, not sorry – mayo gang).
But both were better than no binder. The control was a lot barer than the three coated chickens. As you can see in the picture, not a lot of seasoning remained.
Work the seasoning into the chicken
Once you’ve covered the chicken with your binder, the next step is to season the chicken.
Should I sprinkle or rub the seasoning onto my chicken?
100% rub the seasoning in (it’s called a dry rub for a reason!).
Imagine if you accidentally sprinkled some chili powder onto your white top. The last thing you’re going to do is get your fingers and rub it in. Rubbing it in would make it harder to get out!
The same applies to chicken. The seasoning will stick much better if it’s worked into the chicken rather than just sprinkled on top.
There are loads of tiny little fissures and cracks on the surface of the chicken. They aren’t visible to the naked eye, but as you knead the seasoning into the chicken, the spices will get trapped in these holes and are therefore less likely to fall off.
Rubbing the seasoning in also helps mix it in with the binder increasing its effectiveness.
Use your fingers or your knuckles, and rub the seasoning into the chicken until you’ve covered every part.
Other tips for getting seasoning to stick to chicken
I’ve explained the best way to get dry rub to stick to chicken above, but there are a few other tips worth mentioning that you can try out.
Prick the chicken
The logic behind really rubbing the seasoning in is that it allows you to work it into all the tiny cracks and fissures on the surface of the chicken.
Going by the same logic, if you prick a few holes in the surface of the chicken, the seasoning will fall into them and stay there.
However, the counterargument is that pricking holes in the surface of a chicken mean it’s easier for moisture to leak out during cooking, leading to dry meat.
I personally think that drying the chicken and using a binder works well enough, so there’s no need to risk a dry chicken!
Use a marinade instead
If all this sounds like too much work, another way to flavor a chicken is to marinate it.
Marinades are liquid seasoning. The liquid works its way into the chicken and flavors the outside layers. Because the marinade penetrates the chicken, you don’t need to worry about it falling off.
To marinate a chicken, all you need to do is pick the marinade you want to use, cover your chicken, and then let it rest.
How long it needs to rest depends on the cut of chicken you’re using. Tougher cuts might need a few hours, while more tender cuts will only need an hour or two.
Be sure to dry off any excess marinade before you cook the chicken otherwise you risk it burning. Also, a wet chicken won’t crisp up as nicely.
When should I season chicken?
The best time to season chicken is whenever it’s convenient for you.
Dry seasoning doesn’t penetrate the meat in the same way a marinade does. It won’t make a discernible difference to the taste if you leave the seasoning on for 10 minutes or 10 hours.
The only thing to be wary of is if your seasoning contains any tenderizing ingredients (i.e. salt). Leaving these on too long may turn your chicken a little mushy.
But by too long, we’re talking days, so it’s likely the chicken will have gone off by then anyway.
Can I leave dry rub on chicken overnight?
It’s perfectly fine to leave chicken covered with a dry rub overnight. You can either wrap the seasoned chicken in plastic wrap, put it in an airtight container, or just leave it uncovered on a wire rack with a drip tray underneath.
Some people like to season their chicken in advance because they think it gives the chicken time to soak up the flavors, but in reality, it doesn’t make much difference. Especially with a dry rub where the flavors don’t penetrate the chicken.
Still, it can be very convenient to prepare the chicken the night before, so all you have to do on the day is cook it.
How to store chicken with dry rub on
Seasoned chicken is always a winner at a barbecue, but seasoning a load of chicken thighs when you have guests isn’t ideal.
So what’s the best way to store chicken with a dry rub on? There are two main methods, the plastic wrap method, and a simple wire rack.
I tested them both out to see how well they worked.
The plastic wrap method
After scouring the internet for a secret trick to get seasoning to stick to chicken, I came across the plastic wrap method.
It looked to me like a great way of storing the chicken without all the seasoning falling off.
To store seasoned chicken in plastic wrap:
- Lay out a piece of plastic wrap big enough to cover your entire piece of chicken. Make sure there are no wrinkles in it.
- Cover an area of the plastic wrap slightly bigger than your cut of chicken with the seasoning.
- Pat your chicken dry and cover it with olive oil (or another binding agent).
- Rub the seasoning into your chicken as you normally would.
- Place the chicken down onto the plastic wrap.
- Carefully lift the plastic wrap so the excess seasoning touches the edges of the chicken rather than falling down into a small pile, then wrap the chicken.
- Store the wrapped chicken in the fridge.
The idea behind this is that the seasoning is pressed to the chicken and has nowhere to go. The excess seasoning also helps to stop everything from getting too soggy.
Of course, if you don’t have any spare dry rub you can also just wrap the seasoning chicken in plastic wrap.
I was concerned that the seasoning would all fall off when I took the plastic wrap off, but it didn’t!
In fact, it stuck a bit too well and there was quite a lot of excess seasoning stuck to the chicken. However, this was easy to scrape off if you didn’t want it there.
On a wire rack
A more straightforward method is to leave the chicken uncovered on a wire rack. The rack minimizes contact points, so it doesn’t disturb the seasoning too much.
Place the chicken on a shelf by itself and put a plate or paper towels underneath the rack to catch any drips.
If you aren’t sold on the idea of uncovered chicken in your fridge, you can create a wire rack with tin foil by scrunching it up to create ridges. Then place this in the bottom of an airtight container and put the chicken on top.
It won’t be perfect, but it’s better than putting the chicken down on a solid surface.
The chicken looked pretty much exactly the same as it did when I put it on there.
The seasoning was a bit soggy because it has soaked up a lot of the olive oil binder I used, but this was easily remedied by putting some more dry rub on.
How to get seasoning to stick to cooked chicken
It’s best to season cooked chicken as soon as it comes out of the pan or fryer. When the chicken is hot, there will still be lots of steam or residual oil on the chicken, which will help the seasoning stick.
As the chicken starts to cool, the steam will disappear, and any oil will soak back into the breading. Once this happens, there’s nothing for the seasoning to adhere to.
If you’ve missed the just-cooked phase, the best thing to do is spray the chicken with a light spritz of oil before tumbling it around in the seasoning. The oil will act as a glue and help the seasoning stick.
Oil spritzers are great for seasoning all kinds of things including chicken, popcorn, and french fries. They allow you to get an even, light coating of oil and help you avoid soggy patches where you accidentally poured too much oil on.
The BEST Way To Get Seasoning To Stick To Chicken
- 1 portion olive oil
- 1 portion chicken
- 1 portion dry rub
Dry the chicken
- This is the most important thing you’re going to read all day.Make sure your chicken is completely dry before you start seasoning it. It might seem like some moisture on the chicken will help the seasoning stick. But as soon as you start cooking the chicken, the water will turn into steam and evaporate, causing the seasoning to fall off in the process.To dry your chicken, take a paper towel and pat the chicken all over until there’s no more juice left. Only then are you ready to start the seasoning process.If you’ve got a bit more time on your hands, another way to dry chicken is to leave it uncovered in the refrigerator for a few hours. The dry air will wick moisture away from the surface of the chicken and dehydrate it. You should still pat the chicken with some paper towel once you take it out of the fridge to ensure it’s as dry as possible.
Coat the chicken with a sticky base (a binding agent)
- Some of the most popular binding agents include:– EVOO (extra virgin olive oil)– Mustard– Melted butter– Mayonnaise– Other types of oil– Worcester sauceEVOO is the most popular option for chicken because of its neutral flavor profile. Mustard is often associated with pork, and Worcester sauce is associated with beef. But nothing is stopping you from using them on chicken.Melted butter and mayonnaise are less common but work well. Steer clear of ketchup and barbecue sauce because they contain lots of sugar which means they burn easily.
- Coat the chicken with a minimal amount of your chosen binding agent. You only need a minimal amount, and the flavor of the binder generally disappears after cooking.Don’t use too much binder, or it can have the opposite effect and cause all the seasoning to slide off. You just want a really thin layer covering the entire piece of chicken.
Work the seasoning into the chicken
- Once you’ve covered the chicken with your binder, the next step is to season the chicken.
- Use your fingers or your knuckles, and rub the seasoning into the chicken until you’ve covered every part.
Cook the chicken
- Cook the chicken to your preference. Just try to minimise the amount of times you flip the chicken.