Before You Fry
There are as many "secret recipes" for fried chicken as there are cooks doing the frying. Some swear by soaking the chicken overnight in buttermilk. Others give their chicken a soak in brine, a dunk in beer batter, and a light coating of seasoned flour--or a roll in breadcrumbs or crushed saltines.
The best way to discover your favorite method is to experiment with different seasonings and techniques until you hit on your perfect preparation.
Set up a "dredging station" to minimize mess and make cleanup easy. Put your ingredients and mixtures into large shallow bowls or baking dishes. Then work in one direction (left to right, for example), moving from seasoned flour to egg batter over to bread crumbs/panko/coating mixture.
Have one "wet hand" and one "dry hand"--and use your "wet" hand to transfer chicken from the wet mixture to the coating bowl.
Before easing the coated chicken pieces into hot fat, allow them to rest, which will give the coating a chance to adhere. (Do this step in the refrigerator if you won't be frying the chicken within half an hour.)
The two main keys to making perfect fried chicken are the temperature of the oil and the actual step of frying.
Choose oils with a high smoke point: vegetable shortening, lard, and peanut oil are all good choices.
- To get truly golden-brown and crispy chicken, use a cast iron skillet. You can't beat cast iron for even heat distribution and reliable frying.
- The fat should be about one inch deep in the skillet, coming about halfway up the food.
- Get the fat good and hot before adding the chicken: about 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).
- Using tongs, carefully lower chicken pieces into the oil skin-side down. Start with the edge of the piece close to you, and lay it in the oil, working away from yourself to avoid spatters.
- Fry in batches: overcrowding the pan will lower the temperature of the oil, causing more oil to be absorbed and result in soggy, greasy chicken.
- When the chicken pieces are a deep golden brown, remove them to a cooling rack set over a baking sheet to catch any drips. Insert an instant-read thermometer into the chicken to make sure it is fully cooked before moving on to the next batch. The USDA recommends cooking chicken to a minimum of 165 degrees F.
It takes a lot of oil to deep-fry, and it's best to start with fresh oil every time. Reused oils are more prone to rancidity and can impart off flavors to your food. However, if you do reuse your oil, strain the cooled cooking oil through a coffee filter to remove impurities that can lower the smoke point.
See our complete how-to instructions on deep frying: