7 Tips for Getting Fried Chicken Extra Crispy
If Popeyes has anything to say about it, 2019 was the year of the fried chicken sandwich. Uber Eats reported chicken sandwiches were the number-one most-ordered item, and CNN even went as far to say that chicken sandwiches are taking over America. But while the drive-thru version is fine, the better, fresher version will always be homemade.
If you’re concerned that you just can’t make great fried chicken at home — that it won’t be crispy enough — don’t worry. Joe Fontana, owner of Fry the Coop in Chicago, shares how he gets fantastically crispy fried chicken and offers tips on making your own version right at home.
1. Start by tenderizing.
You need to tenderize “if you’re going for OMG juicy chicken that melts in your mouth,” says Fontana. He tenderizes chicken breasts with a needle tenderizer, which drives metal spikes through the meat (you can also use a fork to poke a bunch of holes in the chicken). This preps the chicken to maximize the next step of brining.
2. Don’t skip the brine.
The vast majority of people get home from the grocery store, take out their chicken, and start breading it, says Fontana. However, if you have time to wait, add an extra step to take your end product to the next level. “Brining really makes the chicken tender and juicy — that’s a no-brainer,” he says.
To do it: Make a simple brine of salt and water in a bowl and add the chicken. Ideally, let it sit overnight in the fridge, about 24 hours. You can also do a dry brine, which is more like a rub. Add whatever spices you’d like (you can use the same ones as you’ll use for seasoning the flour later), but the key here is salt, which helps to make it tender and juicy. If you do a blind taste test of brined fried chicken versus non-brined fried chicken, you’ll notice the brined one is much softer every time, says Fontana.
Related: Make Any Cut of Meat Taste Amazing with a Quick Brine
3. Season the flour.
Many people just dredge their chicken in plain flour, says Fontana, and that’s a problem. “The chicken just ends up tasting bland,” he says. Instead, throw in a lot of cayenne pepper. That’s “the really big secret,” he says. It makes it spicy, but not too spicy, and you can also add in paprika, garlic powder, and onion powder.
4. Mix things up a little.
It makes sense to keep a “wet hand” and a “dry hand” when breading chicken for frying. However, a little mixing of the two actually makes your fried chicken crispier, says Fontana. Take your wet hand, dip it into your buttermilk and hold it over your flour to let it drip into the mixture. Then, take your dry hand and mix it up. Repeat the process a few times before breading, and you’ll create those little crunchy nuggets of “clumpage,” as Fontana says, that make fried chicken so satisfying.
5. Put some muscle into it.
When you’re doing the dredging process with buttermilk and flour, you need to press down hard — like really hard — on the chicken to ensure the breading stays on when you fry it, says Fontana. He says Chick-fil-A (aka the king of fast-food fried chicken) even has a rule where employees’ heels must come off the ground when doing this step to ensure they’re putting their weight into it.
6. Fry it twice. (Yes, twice.)
In Korea, you can find fried chicken on almost every corner — and it’s great because they all fry it twice, says Fontana. Some restaurants in the South are starting to do this as well, “and it’s a must if you’re looking for chicken that gives you that texture when you bite into it and [want to] hear that ‘crunch’ sound,” he says.
Try Fontana’s method for “blanching” fried chicken: Heat oil to 250 degrees and cook chicken breasts for about five minutes, or bone-in chicken for about 12 minutes. Let them rest for 15 to 20 minutes, then fry again, two to three minutes for breasts or five minutes for bone-in. Alternatively, you can complete the first step, let the chicken cool and store it in the refrigerator, then fry it a second time the next day before serving. (It keeps for up to three days in the fridge after one fry.) “The first time cooks chicken through,” says Fontana. “The second time, it really brings it home.”
7. Leave plenty of room.
Be careful about dropping too much chicken into the oil at one time, as it can dramatically lower the temperature of the oil — resulting in soggy, greasy chicken, says Fontana. For example, if you set the oil to 350 degrees and add a potful of cold chicken, it can drop the temperature by 100 degrees. Instead, fry in small batches, keeping a close eye on your oil temperature, he advises. You can also let your chicken sit on the counter for an hour before frying so it’s not as cold (and won’t drop the oil temperature as dramatically when you add).
If you follow these tips and make fried chicken the Fontana way, don’t be surprised if you end up with lots of hungry guests on your doorstep.