Paprika Is The Star Of Alton Brown's 'Perfect' Chicken Dish

Culinary personality Alton Brown knows his way around a chicken. So, when he names paprika the star of his "perfect" chicken dish, we pay attention. With only a handful of kitchen gadgets, the chef creates a dinner of crispy-skinned thighs, tender potatoes, and deep savory flavors using just his sheet pan plus a cooling rack.

Though the recipe features a bright olive tapenade that's stuffed under the chicken skin, Brown credits the 3 tablespoons of smoked paprika as the workhorse of the meal. The spice not only tastes great — it whets the appetite, too. "Smoked paprika is so aromatic ... you walk into the kitchen, [and it's] like the appetizer," says Brown in his YouTube video instructional. "It's like ringing the dinner bell."

Brown uses the red powder as a marinade, mixing it into a paste with a neutral oil and then rubbing it on the chicken thighs. The star chef argues the seasoning delivers flavors usually imparted with a smoker; and who doesn't like the bright color it adds, too?

Buying and using paprika in chicken recipes and more

Before you roll up your sleeves and get to cooking, there are a few things to know about paprika. At the store, you'll notice designations like "sweet" or "dulce," both of which mean it's mild, and "hot" or "picante," which means it's spicy. That's because the red-hued ingredient derives from peppers, or capsicums, that are ground into a powder — and each pepper varies in its level of heat.

Hungary and Spain are most famous for their paprika production. Hungary takes its national spice very seriously and has eight grades to assess its flavor and pungency. However, in the U.S., companies often use terms like Hungarian paprika, Spanish paprika, or pimentón as a shorthand to indicate its flavor profile. Though Alton Brown's dish takes inspiration from Eastern Europe, your paprika spices will work the same in this dish regardless of their country of origin.

As for using the seasoning, the nuanced pepper comes to life when heated with fat. But be careful as too much time on the stove and it will burn. For his chicken recipe, Brown relies on the oven to draw out the aromas without risking scorching the dish.

Alton Brown's other chicken tips

Alton Brown's paprika chicken recipe shows off his knack for creating accessible homemade meals, a skill he learned while on his complicated journey to culinary school. When sharing how to make the dish on YouTube, he sprinkles in other helpful tips too, like using a pair of kitchen shears to snip out the thigh bones from chicken. The chef argues that scissors are faster, easier, and a more familiar tool than a knife.

Brown folds another smart technique into his recipe, too. He bakes the chicken thighs on a cooling rack, rather than in the sheet pan with his sliced potatoes and onions. This alleviates overcrowding, a common frustration in sheet pan dinners. When you nestle ingredients too tightly in a pan, the moisture they release can make your entire meal soggy. Separating the two components, however, ensures the chicken gets nice and crispy. Plus, the elevation allows rendered fat and spices to drip onto the vegetables below.

And, of course, Brown's best idea is to pair chicken with a hefty dose of paprika. Though some cooks may balk at using so much of their spice jar in one go, his recipe goes all in — and may be doing your pantry a favor. The smoked pepper loses its scent, zing, and color over time. But Brown's marinade maximizes the seasoning and keeps your supply from going stale.