Let me walk you through the pleasure of eating this crispy, juicy fried chicken: You've got this glistening drumstick with a coating so full of crunchy ripples that it is hard to determine where to hold on. You decide fingertips are best for maneuvering this chicken from the plate to your mouth. As you bring it closer you can smell the spices — garlic, onion, pepper, and even the smoky paprika. That first bite is a real stunner. As you dig in, the crust cracks audibly and reveals juicy chicken that is as flavorful as that irresistible crust. You'll taste the herbs that made that chicken so fragrant and enjoy a mouthful that is equal parts crispy and juicy. Pieces of the crispy coating fall away.
I'm going to need a bigger stack of napkins, you think to yourself, and then you grab another piece.
The very best part of eating this chicken is that you made it yourself. You didn't swing by the local KFC, you didn't fork over 20 bucks at some trendy chicken joint. Nope — you, my friend, made this honest-to-goodness, crispy, juicy, finger-licking delicious chicken at home. Whether you're a first-time fryer or your skillet is well-seasoned, this is the step-by-step guide for making the very best fried chicken at home.
Crispy, Juicy Fried Chicken: Watch the Video
6 Essential Steps for Crispy, Juicy Fried Chicken
What makes this dish of humble origins so well-loved can actually make it intimidating to home cooks — the coating and frying.
This recipe and technique is a culmination of the little tips I've learned over the past 10 years from Alton Brown (IRL, no less) and my friend Erika, partnered with knowledge gleaned from Kitchn's own editors.
Frying chicken is definitely a weekend cooking project, which is to say you'll need a couple of hours to accomplish it, but once you've got the technique down you can fry more than one batch at a time for family picnics or just to have cold leftovers to eat from the fridge on a whim. Here are the six essential things you need to know about frying this crisp, juicy chicken at home.
1. Buy chicken pieces.
Let's be real here — everybody wants a drumstick. Avoid arguments over the two you'll get from buying a whole chicken and breaking it down yourself by just buying the pieces you like best. Personally, I skip the breasts because of their longer cook time, and go straight for a 50/50 split of drumsticks and thighs.
2. Dry brine the chicken for juiciness.
Dry brine (meaning salt) the chicken itself first. You can do this overnight in the fridge or for just 30 minutes before coating and frying the chicken at room temperature. This salting step is critical for moist, flavorful chicken, as it gives the chicken direct contact with the salt. This helps to tenderize it, but also infuses it with flavor.
3. Make a strong spice mixture.
Last year, KFC's secret spiced blend was reportedly leaked to the public via the Chicago Tribune. KFC uses a lot of spices and a large amount of them. I tried the recipe as written and found it too salty and too strong, so the seasoning mix you'll find below reflects a lighter touch. Mix the seasoning blend together while the chicken is sitting salted, then put half of the seasoning on the chicken and the other half in the flour coating. Remember that the fat from frying is going to mellow some of the spice flavor and that some of the spices will be left behind in the coating process, so don't be afraid at the large volume of spice here.
4. Use egg whites, alcohol, and cornstarch for a crispy coating.
The egg white addition is a trick I learned from my favorite tempura recipe. Alton Brown taught me to add bourbon to my buttermilk and egg mixture, although I'm more likely to use vodka, and my friend Erika taught me to use cornstarch in my flour for frying. These seemingly unrelated ingredients come together to make a super-crispy coating on the chicken full of ripples, nooks, and flakes — all the good things we love on fried chicken. Here is what each one does in the batter.
- Egg white adds structure in the form of protein. It also helps the flour coating stick to the chicken like culinary glue. Use whole eggs and you'll have a softer crust because of the yolks' fat content.
- Alcohol evaporates quickly in the frying oil. This sets the coating and creates flaky layers. You often see this ingredient used in pie crust recipes too.
- Cornstarch in the flour makes the crust crispier. Cornstarch weakens the all-purpose flour's protein just enough to make the coating tender.
5. Fry in a Dutch oven.
I know that a cast iron skillet is the icon for Southern fried foods, but its shallow depth makes a mess (and is a fire hazard if you aren't careful) when frying. Use a Dutch oven instead for frying. The high sides keep splatter to a minimum, while its heft helps to regulate the oil's temperature as chicken pieces go in and out.
6. Use 2 thermometers!
Use a deep-fry or candy thermometer for the oil and a probe thermometer to monitor the chicken's internal temperature. You'll notice that the oil drops in temperature as chicken pieces are added to the pot. You'll need to monitor the temperature by adjusting the heat as you fry.
The probe thermometer will guarantee that you have juicy chicken that is properly cooked. You can't just rely on the chicken's golden-brown coating to determine doneness, as the spice mixture will brown pretty quickly before the chicken is cooked. The chicken should reach an internal temperature of 165°F in the thickest part of each piece; make sure the thermometer's not touching bone when taking the temperature for the most accurate reading.
Making Frying Safer and Less Messy
I get it — frying is kind of intimidating. There are all the perils that come along with hot oil: displacement can that result in overflow, the splattering, and then the What the heck do I do with this used oil now? question. And then there's the mess, right? So let's address each of those concerns head on.
Prevent overflow by using the Dutch oven. Don't try to fry in a shallow pan, which can overflow easily. Instead, fry in your Dutch oven.
Set up a proper fry station. At the center of your fry station should be your Dutch oven, half full of oil (save the oil bottle!) and fitted with a deep-fry thermometer. One side should have your pan of prepped and ready-to-fry chicken, while the other side should have a cooling rack set on a baking sheet for draining and cooling the finished chicken. You may also want a plate, small baking sheet, or sheet of foil for resting oily tongs or equipment on while frying.
Pro tip: You can also cover your stovetop around the pot with aluminum foil before frying for an even easier cleanup.
Minimize splattering with the right tools. 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. Use another pair of tongs to remove the chicken from the oil, holding the finished chicken over the hot oil for 10 to 15 seconds so excess oil can drip back into the Dutch oven and not all over your stovetop.
Read more: The Fried Chicken Tool Kit
Don't even mess with the hot oil post-frying. Another benefit of the Dutch oven for frying is that after you've enjoyed your chicken you can cover the oil with the pot's lid and let it cool on the back of the stove. I usually do not even deal with the fry oil until the next day. Set a reminder on your phone to move the oil and clean the pot the next day.
What to Do with Used Fry Oil
After your frying oil is cooled to room temperature, set the empty oil bottle (or a large, clean glass jar) in your sink, attach a funnel, and then fit a small strainer inside the funnel. Pour the oil through the strainer back into the bottle. Once strained, the oil can be saved at cool room temperature or in the refrigerator for one more use. Alternatively, you can seal the bottle and throw the whole thing away, or find a local recycling center that takes cooking oil.
Cooling and Serving Fried Chicken
Move your finished fried chicken to a cooling rack set over a paper towel-lined baking sheet. Setting the chicken directly on paper towels (or brown paper) might wick away some excess grease, but it can also create a steamy spot where that crust we worked so hard for gets soggy.
Cool the chicken for at least 10 minutes before serving. Proper cooling sets the crust and ensures that the chicken will have done all its carryover cooking. I like to cool any leftover chicken completely and then store in a paper towel-lined air-tight container in the fridge. The paper towel absorbs condensation and keeps that chicken crisp for midnight snacking.
How To Make Crispy, Juicy Fried Chicken (That's Better than KFC)
Serves 4 to 6
What You Need
bone-in chicken (about 4 pounds total), preferably 4 drumsticks and 4 thighs
kosher salt, divided
ground white pepper
freshly ground black pepper
large egg whites
vodka or other neutral spirit
peanut or vegetable oil
Measuring cups and spoons
Large and medium bowl
wire cooling racks
Tongs, preferably long
Candy or deep-fry thermometer
Large Dutch oven
Salt the chicken: Place the chicken pieces on a baking sheet and sprinkle all over with 1 tablespoon of the salt. Set aside at room temperature for 30 minutes.
Make the seasoning blend: Combine the paprika, white pepper, garlic powder, ginger, celery salt, black pepper, mustard, thyme, basil, and oregano in a large bowl.
Season the chicken: Coat the chicken all over with half of the seasoning mixture (about 1/2 cup).
Set up a dredging station: Add the flour, cornstarch, and remaining 1 tablespoon salt to the remaining spice mixture in the bowl and whisk to combine; set aside. Place the buttermilk, egg whites, and alcohol in a medium bowl and whisk to combine. Fit a wire cooling rack onto a second baking sheet.
Dredge the chicken: Working with 1 piece of chicken at a time, dip in the buttermilk mixture to completely coat, then place in the flour mixture (don't worry about letting any excess buttermilk drain off the chicken first). Shake the flour bowl as needed to completely coat the chicken, then use your fingers to press the flour coating onto the chicken.
Set the coating: Place the coated chicken on the rack and repeat with dredging the remaining chicken. Set aside at room temperature for at least 10 minutes and up to 30 minutes while you set up for frying and heat the oil.
Set up for frying: Place the oil in a large Dutch oven, attach a candy or deep-fry thermometer, and heat over medium-high heat until it reaches 350°F, about 15 minutes. Wash and dry the empty baking sheet the chicken was seasoned on. Line this baking sheet with paper towels and fit with a second wire cooling rack; this will be your cooling station.
Fry the chicken: Place 3 pieces of the chicken in the oil and fry, using tongs to rotate the pieces every 3 to 4 minutes and adjusting the heat as needed to maintain 325°F, until golden-brown with an internal temperature of 165°F (check by inserting a probe thermometer into the thickest part of the chicken without touching bone), 12 to 15 minutes.
Cool the chicken: Transfer the chicken to the rack on the second baking sheet. Make sure the oil comes back up to 350°F before frying the remaining chicken in 2 more batches. Cool for at least 10 minutes before serving.
Make ahead: The seasoning blend can be made and stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 5 days. The chicken can be salted and stored in the refrigerator for up to 1 day.
Storage: Leftover chicken can be stored in an airtight container on paper towels in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.