If I were drafting an all-star team of pantry and larder staples, there are a few jars, bottles, and boxes I'd earmark for first-round picks.
Like, I'd toss a jersey over to my Huy-Fong Chili Garlic Sauce right out of the gate. I'd pat my Hungarian paprika on its smooth, metal back and mutter, "Welcome to the team, kid." I'd wave over Dijon, which would already be heading my way with a knowing smile. (We'd hug, and I'd have to get that yellow stain out of my best athletic hoodie.) And then I'd lock eyes with my smoked salt, nod once, and say gruffly, "You didn't think I was really gonna leave you on the bench, did you?"
Yes, that's correct: smoked salt. Not exactly the most popular spice in the spice drawer, but one of the most useful to me. Because when it comes to simple roast chicken, I believe it's a wildly low-effort way to add maximum dimension.
Whether I'm making a dry rub for a full bird or quickly seasoning some breasts before I toss them onto a sheet pan for roasting, I love to swap out some or all of the regular salt for the smoked variety. (I use a ratio of two-to-one for smoked salt to pepper, but you'd even see a difference if you tested the waters with a half–smoked salt and half–plain salt mixture.)
It adds all sorts of nuance and depth, without pushing your poultry into "spent all day smoking in a Big Green Egg" territory. The gentle smokiness pairs really well with citrus, herbs, alliums (especially garlic), and any sort of spicy or sweet(ish) condiments. One of my favorite weeknight go-tos is bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs rubbed down with just olive oil, lemon juice, smoked salt, and white pepper, roasted on a sheet tray with tons of scallions added mid-way through, served over rice. (For four chicken thighs, I call in 1 teaspoon smoked salt and 1/2 teaspoon white pepper.)
Don't believe me? Try it. Find a brand you love—one that brings an interesting, but not overpowering, flavor—and get swapping. I've been using this Alderwood version from San Francisco Salt Company lately. Start by substituting it for just a portion of plain salt in one of your standbys, and see if you like it enough to dial up the smokiness next time.
And if you really like it, maybe it'll make your next all-star draft, too.
Ella Quittner is a contributing writer and the Absolute Best Tests columnist at Food52. She covers food, travel, wellness, lifestyle, home, novelty snacks, and internet-famous sandwiches. You can follow her on Instagram @equittner, or Twitter at @ellaquittner. She also develops recipes for Food52, and has a soft spot for all pasta, anything spicy, and salty chocolate things.