How to Make Fried Chicken
You don’t have to be a Southern grandmother to know how to fry a chicken. Start with the core techniques for making fried chicken, add the right equipment and ingredients, and you can make a wide range of fried chicken recipes.
Here’s our basic method for preparing fried chicken, how to avoid common mistakes when making fried chicken, and how to cut a chicken for frying.
Six Steps to Perfect Fried Chicken
Most fried chicken recipes follow this basic sequence of steps.
1. CUT INTO SIMILAR-SIZED PIECES
Cut breasts in half crosswise, and separate leg quarters into drumsticks and thighs so that all the pieces will cook at the same rate.
2. SUBMERGE IN BRINE
Mix 2 quarts water, 1/2 cup table salt, and 1/2 cup sugar (for 4 pounds of chicken parts). Soak the chicken 30 minutes to 1 hour; any longer can cause the meat to be too salty.
3. DREDGE AND REST
Season 2 cups flour (for 4 pounds of parts) with salt and pepper. Dredge the chicken in flour, shaking off the excess. Rest the dredged chicken on a wire rack for at least 10 minutes.
4. KEEP OIL AT PROPER TEMP
Fill the pot about halfway with oil and heat to 350 to 375 degrees. When you add the chicken, the temperature will drop. Keep it at 300 to 325 degrees while the chicken fries.
5. FRY IN BATCHES
Fry half a chicken's worth of parts at a time in a Dutch oven or other heavy pot. Batch cooking keeps the temperature steady and minimizes dangerous and messy splatter.
6. KEEP WARM IN OVEN
When the first batch of chicken is fried, transfer it to a wire rack set over a baking sheet, and place it in a 200-degree oven to drain and keep warm while you fry the next batch.
Cutting Up a Whole Chicken
Using a chef's knife, cut off the legs, one at a time, by severing the joint between the leg and the body.
Cut each leg into 2 pieces—the drumstick and the thigh—by slicing through the joint that connects them. Your knife should glide right through the joint—if you hit something hard, you're not cutting through the joint.
Flip the chicken over and remove the wings by slicing through each wing joint.
Turn the chicken (now without its legs and wings) on its side and, using scissors, remove the back from the chicken breast. (The back can be saved for stock, if desired.)
Flip the breast skin-side down and, using a chef's knife, cut it in half through the breast plate (marked by a thin white line of cartilage).
Common Mistakes When Making Fried Chicken
Making good fried chicken is easy, as long as you avoid these pitfalls.
GREASY FRIED CHICKEN
Blame it on cold oil. Don’t forget to monitor the oil temperature, and adjust the burner accordingly as you fry. When you add cold chicken to hot oil, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what happens: The oil temperature drops. Also, no crowding: Lots of cold chicken just exacerbates the problem.
UNDERCOOKED FRIED CHICKEN
Blame it on scorching hot oil and/or unevenly sized pieces. If you fry chicken parts straight from the package, the big ones, say the breasts, don’t have time to cook through by the time the legs are done: Cut pieces down to size. Also, don’t overheat the oil. Scorching oil causes the same problem.
BLOTCHY FRIED CHICKEN
Blame it on lack of patience. If you fry the chicken immediately after dredging, the coating tends to peel off. While the oil heats, let the dredged chicken rest on a wire cooling rack for at least 10 minutes. The resting time helps the coating stick. You can’t call it fried chicken without the crispy skin.
The Right Tools for Fried Chicken Recipes
A heavy-bottomed Dutch oven with a capacity of at least 6 quarts is our preferred vessel for frying chicken. Enameled cast-iron does a good job of holding onto heat and cleans up easily, so it’s our first choice when making fried chicken.
When making fried chicken, getting the temperature just right is critical. We recommend clipping a candy/deep-fry thermometer onto the side of the pot so you can easily monitor and maintain the proper oil temperature when making fried chicken. We prefer a thermometer with an easy-to-read digital display and a long probe with a sturdy metal clip.
When making fried chicken, we use a rack set into a rimmed baking sheet to let the dredged chicken rest before frying, which helps ensure that the coating will adhere to the fried chicken. We also use this setup to drain and hold the cooked fried chicken in the oven, which is especially helpful when making batches of fried chicken. We suggest two of these setups (which have dozens of other uses in the kitchen), one for the raw chicken, and one for the cooked fried chicken.
Twelve-inch tongs are long enough to protect you from splattering oil when frying chicken, yet short enough to offer control when you’re moving chicken pieces in and out of the pot. If you use tongs to add the raw chicken to the oil, wash them before reusing them to remove cooked fried chicken from the pot.
We recommend buying a whole bird and cutting it parts. Precut parts are more expensive and often poorly butchered. A sturdy 8-inch knife will cut through slippery raw chicken.
When cutting up a chicken for frying, a pair of kitchen shears is recommended to power through the bones. You can use a chef’s knife to separate the back from the breast, but the job is easier done with shears.
Key Ingredients for Fried Chicken
When making fried chicken, we like the mild flavor and consistent quality of peanut oil. Other vegetables oil are fine for frying chicken, but avoid canola oil, which can breakdown during the frying process and impart an off flavor to fried chicken.
Most fried chicken recipes require dredging in flour to form the crispy coating. We rely on all-purpose flour when making fried chicken.
Salt has two functions in any fried chicken recipe. First, it seasons the chicken. Second, many fried chicken recipes start by brining the raw chicken to help it retain more moisture during the long frying process.
Good fried chicken begins with a good chicken. We prefer a kosher bird, such as Empire, or high-quality brand, such as Bell & Evans. When making fried chicken, you generally want a small chicken that weighs less then 4 pounds.
Many fried chicken recipes call for dunking pieces into buttermilk to help build a thick coating. In some of our recipes, we actually making a buttermilk brine to season the chicken and help it remain moist when fried.
Our Favorite Fried Chicken Recipes
Making fried chicken at home can be a messy, time-consuming affair. And rarely is the crust as crunchy as that of fast-food fried chicken. We wanted to make juicy, rich tasting fried chicken at home without the big mess, and with a crust as crunchy as KFC.
Crunchy-coated, tender, juicy fried chicken is utterly irresistible, but it can be a real pain to prepare. There’s the multi-step breading to contend with, and then there’s all that hot, spattering oil. We wanted to mimic the best of fried chicken with a minimum of fuss, and bake it, not fry it.
Firecracker chicken is a version of fried chicken (using boneless chicken breasts) that earns its explosive name from the tongue-tingling heat found in its sauce. Other than chiles, there is little consensus as to what ingredients belong in the sauce. We set out to perfect a single sauce that could be used three ways: as a marinade, as a tasty addition to the batter, and for serving at the table.
Almost everyone has had a fried chicken nugget at one point or another, but how many people can say they’ve had a good chicken nugget? We set out to put the crunch—and the chicken—back into fried chicken nuggets.
This unusual, old-fashioned technique for making fried chicken sounded simple enough, but we had to work to achieve the picture-perfect, golden-brown crust and moist chicken that we were after.
Mimicking the heat of this Nashville specialty was harder than we anticipated. In order to get that famous, mouth-searing heat in this fried chicken recipe, it took more than just extra hot sauce and cayenne pepper.
In Maryland, fried chicken should be well-seasoned, with a thin, crisp crust. While creating the coating was a cinch, the seasonings and traditional cream gravy proved trickier.
Creole fried chicken should be deeply seasoned with the complex, lively heat of black, white, and cayenne pepper. The crust should be crisp and well seasoned, the meat juicy and bursting with flavor.
To capture the crunch and fire of this habit-forming bar snack version of fried chicken, we wrestled with tough chicken, soggy crusts, and scorching burn.
The appeal of this Chinese fried chicken recipe is easy to see: Boneless chicken pieces are marinated in soy sauce, battered, and deep-fried to a crispy brown before being coated with a sweet-hot sauce made with dried chiles, more soy, sugar, vinegar, hoisin sauce or tomato paste, garlic, and ginger. This dish is great in Chinese restaurants, but homemade versions are typically gummy and bland. Could we do better?