Chicken Champions

The 2 Smart Tricks That Make Serious Eats’ Fried Chicken So Crispy

published Mar 15, 2020
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fried chicken pieces on a plate
Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk; Design: The Kitchn

Serious Eats is known for their well-researched, extensively-tested recipes; their fried chicken recipe is no exception. The recipe is part of the site’s Food Lab column, in which professional chef and all around food genius J. Kenji Lopez-Alt finds the smartest ways to make classic dishes at home.

Kenji’s recipes are always packed with smart tips —  it’s part of why we loved his pancake recipe so much — so I was eager to give his fried chicken recipe a go. Would his extra steps yield the juiciest, crispiest fried chicken ever, or would the recipe just feel fussy? Below, I share my honest review, plus some takeaways if you’re frying at home.

Credit: The Kitchn

How to Make Serious Eats’ Southern Fried Chicken

This recipe starts with a homemade spice blend, which is used in both the buttermilk brine and the flour coating. You’ll then cut a whole chicken into ten pieces by slicing the large breast portions in half (most fried chicken recipes don’t include this extra step, and therefore yield eight pieces). The chicken pieces soak overnight in a buttermilk-and-egg mixture that is heavily seasoned with the spice blend.

The next day, you’ll make a flour coating for the chicken with the remaining spice blend as well as two ingredients that weren’t used by any other contenders: cornstarch and baking powder. These ingredients, as well as a splash of the leftover buttermilk soak, make for a tender-crisp coating. The rest of the coating process is pretty standard — you’ll add all the chicken pieces to the flour and press the coating onto the chicken. But before you fry, you’ll give each piece a thorough shake-off in a mesh strainer to remove excess coating.

The first fry (yes, there is an optional second fry) happens in a cast iron skillet full of 450°F peanut oil — which is an extremely high starting temperature even for fried chicken — but it will level off at about 300°F. After frying all the pieces, Kenji suggests you cool the chicken completely and re-fry it again just before serving, which is a smart tip if you want to make it ahead of time. For testing purposes, we taste-tested half the chicken right away, then refrigerated the other half and fried it a second time the following day.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk

My Honest Review of Serious Eats’ Southern Fried Chicken

This recipe delivered juicy, ultra-crispy fried chicken. But when it comes to making fried chicken at home, ease is crucial — and ultimately, this recipe is much too complex. Between cutting extra chicken pieces, making an ingredient-heavy spice rub, and sifting off the excess coating, it was very labor-intensive. Maybe it would be worth it if it was by far the best-tasting, but honestly, it didn’t deliver on the savory, spicy flavors that some of the other recipes did.

Still, there are two smart tips to take away from this recipe. Adding cornstarch to the dry ingredients makes for a super crispy coating; it’s a trick we use in Kitchn’s fried chicken recipe, too. Starting with extra-hot oil is also a smart move for fried chicken beginners — the oil temperature drastically lowers when you add the chicken pieces, so it makes sense to start high.

Credit: Meghan Splawn

If You’re Making Serious Eats’ Southern Fried Chicken, a Few Notes

When compared to three other popular fried chicken recipes we tried as part of our recipe showdown, Serious Eats’ well-vetted recipe didn’t take the top spot. That being said, it can still be a great with a few tweaks.

1. Directly season the chicken This recipe’s spice blend is supposed to lend tons of flavor to the chicken and the coating, but most of it gets left behind in the brine. Use some of it to season the chicken directly.

2. Don’t skip the cornstarch or buttermilk in the dredge. The very best thing about this recipe is its crispy coating with lots of crunchy tendrils to snack on after frying. The cornstarch in the coating and the addition of some of the buttermilk soak are what make it so good.

3. Try the optional second fry. While both batches of chicken were juicy and crispy, the pieces we cooled and then re-fried had more of both qualities. Plus, this step ensures that each chicken piece is cooked through completely before serving.

Rating: 6/10

Have you ever made Serious Eats’ Southern Fried Chicken Recipe? Tell us what you thought!