The ability to induce humoral and cellular immunity via antigen delivery through the unbroken skin (epicutaneous immunization, EPI) has immediate relevance for vaccine development. However, it is unclear which adjuvants induce protective memory CD8 T-cell responses by this route, and the molecular and cellular requirements for priming through intact skin are not defined. We report that cholera toxin (CT) is superior to other adjuvants in its ability to prime memory CD8 T cells that control bacterial and viral challenges. Epicutaneous immunization with CT does not require engagement of classic toll-like receptor (TLR) and inflammasome pathways and, surprisingly, is independent of skin langerin-expressing cells (including Langerhans cells). However, CT adjuvanticity required type-I IFN sensitivity, participation of a Batf3-dependent dendritic cell (DC) population and engagement of CT with suitable gangliosides. Chemoenzymatic generation of CT-antigen fusion proteins led to efficient priming of the CD8 T-cell responses, paving the way for development of this immunization strategy as a therapeutic option.