This article was updated on 10th September 2023 for freshness and to incorporate new information.
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’ve experimented with several different seasoning techniques to find out what the very best method of seasoning chicken is (with no bare patches!).
To get seasoning to stick to your chicken, first, pat the chicken dry using a paper towel. Next, coat the chicken with 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.
Let me explain in more detail.
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. 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. But 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)
Dip your finger in a bowl of salt and observe how many grains stick. Now, coat your finger with mayo and dip it again. Notice the difference?
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
- Worcestershire sauce
EVOO is the most popular option for chicken because of its neutral flavor profile.
Mustard is often associated with pork, and Worcestershire sauce with beef. But nothing is stopping you from using them on chicken. Just 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.
Related: How To Balance Mustard Flavor
Work the seasoning into the chicken
Once you’ve covered the chicken with your binder, the next step is to season the chicken.
Here you need to get stuck into the task at hand and really rub the seasoning into the chicken. Don’t just sprinkle it on, use your fingers and work it into every crevice.
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.
Avoid turning the chicken too much
This is pretty self-explanatory. The more you agitate the chicken while you’re cooking it, the more seasoning will fall off. Not flipping the chicken too much will also help promote the Maillard reaction and get you a nice browned effect.
Marinate the chicken instead
If all this sounds like too much work, you can skip the dry rub and opt for a marinade instead.
Marinades are liquid seasonings. 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.
The only essential ingredient for the marinade is an acid, like vinegar or lemon juice; these components help the marinade penetrate the chicken effectively
Use a flavored brine instead
A third way of flavoring chicken is to use a flavored brine. Most people think of brine as a simple mixture of salt and water used to make chicken extra juicy.
But there’s nothing stopping you from adding more flavors to the brine. You can add different dried herbs like cilantro or thyme, spices like allspice or peppercorns, aromatics like oranges or garlic, and even syrups like honey. Nothing is off limits really, as long as the flavors you add will mesh well together.
Here’s a simple recipe for a brine, with instructions on how to use 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.
What’s the best method to store chicken with dry rub without losing the seasoning? 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 a thick layer of 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. If you run out of dry rub, you can simply wrap the seasoned chicken in plastic wrap.
Results: I was concerned that the seasoning would 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 rub 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.
Results: The chicken looked almost identical to when I first placed it there. The seasoning was a bit soggy because it had 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.
Keep Reading: How To Get Sauce To Stick To Chicken Wings
How To Get Seasoning To Stick To Chicken
- Wire rack
- 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.