Frying chicken is easier and less messy when you've got the right tools on hand. Yes, there are the ingredients to consider, but since frying is a technique many of us only do once or twice a year, it's the tools of the technique we're going to brush up on here. Even to a seasoned chicken-frying pro, the task always feels arduous until I pull my equipment together and realize, "I've got this!" And that is precisely why I'm showing you all the tools you'll need to make frying chicken something to look forward to.
And the best part? You've probably got most of it in your kitchen already!
Why You Need a Fried Chicken Tool Kit
Frying is hardly an everyday cooking method for most home cooks, making the practice of pulling out the required equipment before preparing the chicken for frying even more important. A fried chicken tool kit isn't a literal tool box you'll keep in your kitchen cabinet, but more or less a mental checklist of the tools you'll need to ease chicken-frying anxieties. Think of these tools as your handy helpers, assisting you in the glorious goal of beautiful fried chicken with less stress and mess.
A 6-quart Dutch oven or larger, not a cast iron skillet, is your best friend when it comes to frying chicken. Why? Well, a deep Dutch oven can hold the same amount of oil as a cast iron pan without any chance that displacement will cause the oil to slip over the side. The Dutch oven's high sides keep more of the oil's tiny splatters contained as the chicken fries.
A Dutch oven is also tall and deep enough to accommodate a deep-fry thermometer for tracking the oil's temperature while you fry.
A deep-fry thermometer (sometimes labeled as a candy thermometer) is designed for monitoring the frying oil's temperature. Sure, there are a few tricks for testing the temperature of oil in a pan, but you don't want tricks — you need guarantees.
Here's why: You'll notice that the oil will drop in temperature as chicken pieces are added to the pot and you'll need to monitor the heat, by adjusting your stove's power up or down as you fry. Different batches will reduce the heat at different rates, too, so to ensure that every single drumstick, thigh, and breast are cooked to the same golden-brown perfection, you need that candy thermometer.
Long Tongs (2 Sets)
The Dutch oven's high sides will reduce the amount of oil that splatters out of the pan, but you can also reduce splashing by using long tongs to lower your chicken into the hot oil. To avoid cross contamination, use another pair of tongs to remove the cooked chicken from the oil.
Baking Sheets and Cooling Racks
I like to use two sets of cooling racks and baking sheet partners for frying chicken, assembled in the following order: baking sheet, layer of paper towel, cooling rack. I set the coated chicken on one and the finished cooked chicken on the other. Setting the raw chicken on a cooling rack is purely optional, but I like to think it circulates the air around the chicken and helps the coating set.
A cooling rack for the finished chicken is non-negotiable, though. Setting hot chicken on paper towels or brown paper will give you soggy-sided chicken. Set paper towels underneath the cooling rack to collect any excess grease that may drip from the chicken.
If you've got a third baking sheet — or, better yet, a quarter sheet pan — line it with foil and use it as a landing zone for your oily tools.
Digital Probe Thermometer
Avoid any question of your fried chicken's doneness with this essential tool. Even if you fry at exactly the right temperature and the coating looks perfectly browned and beautiful, there isn't a better way to check the chicken's doneness than with a probe thermometer. I also highly recommend checking every piece of chicken as it comes out of the oil since the pieces will vary in density. You're looking for 165°F.
Minimize the mess of frying chicken with plenty of paper towels. Place a layer under the cooling racks for the finished fried chicken or under tongs while they wait to retrieve more chicken. Paper towels will soak up cooking oil and keep the work area tidy. And frankly, you're going to need them for fried chicken eating too!