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Smoke-Free Roasting

By Cook's Illustrated Published September 2012

Here's how to get crispy-skinned roast chicken without the rendered fat drippings burning the pan and creating smoke in your kitchen.

It takes high heat to get roast chicken with crackling-crisp skin, but rendered fat dripping into the bottom of a blazing-hot roasting pan often burns, filling the kitchen with smoke. The usual preventive measure is to add water or broth to the pan to limit the temperature to 212 degrees (too low for fat to burn), but this produces steam that thwarts any skin crisping. Could we have a smoke-free kitchen and crispy skin?

Theorizing that a fat-absorbent barrier might help, we filled one disposable aluminum pie plate with rice, one with kosher salt, and one with sliced bread and then placed each plate in a roasting pan underneath a chicken in a V-rack. The results? Remarkably, each fix worked just as well as the next at eliminating nearly all of the smoke. That seemed odd to us, since those three ingredients have rather different absorption capabilities, and it got us thinking that maybe it was the pie plate, not what we put in it, that was helping. We tested an empty pie plate alone and it worked nearly as well as each of the filled pie plates had—but a stack of two disposable pie plates set underneath the V-rack was perfect and didn’t require wasting any food.

It turns out that the thin pie plates, and the small air gap between them, absorb and transfer far less heat than the thick-bottomed roasting pan, so the fat drippings never reach smoking temperatures.

NO SMOKING ALLOWED: To prevent a smoke-filled kitchen, stack two aluminum pie plates beneath the roasting rack.