The Key to *Way* Better Roast Chicken Is This One Pantry Ingredient

Your weeknight dinners just got so much more delicious.

February 15, 2019

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.)

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“I bought some smoked salt a while ago intending to use it the next time I cured some salmon (gravlax), thinking it might be an easy way to add that smoked flavour since I am not about to invest in a smoker. This gives me hope - and just the push I need to give it a go. ”
— carswell

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.

Try It Out

What's your go-to pantry staple for adding some extra excitement to roast chicken? Let me know in the comments!
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Ella Quittner

Written by: Ella Quittner

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.


W J. March 23, 2019
People, People, People. Why make smoked salt such a deal? You can make all the smoked salt you ever would want or need for pennies yourself, IF you have a grill that is. Take an aluminum pie pan or two, put about a half inch or a bit less of kosher coarse salt in the bottom. Put the pans on the cool side of the grill, build a charcoal fire on the other side, and add a couple of wet chunks of whatever wood you like, hickory, pecan, apple, cherry, mesquite, etc. etc. etc. and smoke the salt for a couple of hours at about 300°, opening the cover occasionally and stirring the salt to get even coatings of smoke. Cook and place in jars. Easy peasy. Make a little. Make a lot. Give those jars as gifts!
Lazyretirementgirl March 23, 2019
Smoked salt on steak justnoff the grill has taken the place of sauce for me. I am not a big salt user, but smoked salt is magic!
Sharon February 18, 2019
Smoked salt has been a staple in my kitchen for decades. More like my "secret" ingredient! However, finding a good one is not easy. Actually, finding it AT ALL is not easy. Not readily available at most supermarkets. Small, craft salt companies make the best ones, but two of my favorite suppliers have gone out of business. A good smoked salt is not easy to accomplish, requiring many steps. I guess that's why there are so many mediocre ones out there. I did find a jar of Spice Islands Hickory Smoked Salt online, recently, and It's pretty good. There are several craft sellers on eBay. Just be prepared to do some trial & error tasting before settling on your true love - but it'll be worth it!
Lazyretirementgirl March 23, 2019
Whole Spice, a mail order company in Petaluma has several smoked salts with a variety of woods used - mesquite, alder, hickory, etc. I have bought from them for years and been very pleased. There is also a very small outfit on the Big Island of Hawaii, Hawaiian Volcano Sea Salt, that sells a rosemary smoked salt that is the stuff of dreams for me. I believe they also sell online, although I have only bought from them at a farmers market on the Big Island. Happy hunting!
Nick February 17, 2019
Always looking for new recipes. But one caveat, I’m gluten free, celiac, chicken is a large part of my diet. But I can substitute GF flour and bread crumbs.
Ella Q. February 18, 2019
Hi Nick,

Here's a gluten free chicken recipe I love:

All the best,
Gwyneth S. February 17, 2019
If you’re anywhere near the NY Finger Lakes Region, get yourself some Seneca Salt Company Grapevine Smoked Salt. It’s great on roasted vegetables, and I can’t wait to try it in sheet pan chicken thighs!
Ella Q. February 18, 2019
Sounds excellent!
Ttrockwood February 16, 2019
Note that “oven dijon” is probably a typo and should read “over”..... ;)
I don’t eat chicken but i do love smoked salt, the version from Maldon is an indulgence I can’t pass up- i love it on roasted brassicas like brussel sprouts or cabbage wedges
Ella Q. February 18, 2019
Thank you for spotting that! :)
Yes, love Maldon too... on everything!
Lori February 15, 2019
I use pink salt
carswell February 15, 2019
Hmmmm. I bought some smoked salt a while ago intending to use it the next time I cured some salmon (gravlax), thinking it might be an easy way to add that smoked flavour since I am not about to invest in a smoker. This gives me hope - and just the push I need to give it a go.
Ella Q. February 15, 2019
Such good timing! I hope you enjoy it :)