Cooking Tips

5 Things I’ve Learned About Frying Chicken (and I’ve Fried Hundreds)

Looking to improve your fried chicken game? You’ve come to the right place.

Published Dec. 8, 2021.

Fried chicken is the ultimate comfort food. When done right, it’s flavorful, juicy, and (most importantly) so, so crunchy. But making it at home can be problematic. Your chicken is soggy. Your chicken is burnt. It’s overcooked. Or even worse, it’s undercooked. It’s enough to make you question why you didn’t just get in the car and head to KFC.

I’ve fried my fair share of chicken over the years. And thanks to all I’ve learned from fellow test cooks here at America’s Test Kitchen, I’ve gotten pretty darn good at it. Time after time, these five tips have separated good batches of fried chicken from truly great ones.

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1. Brine, Brine, Brine

The last thing you want is to put in all this effort, only to sit down and sink your teeth into dry fried chicken. Take the time to brine the chicken in buttermilk. 1 hour? Great. 24 hours? Even better.

Sure, brining fried chicken in buttermilk can be time-consuming, but believe me, it’s so worth it. It adds a pleasant tang while its acidic enzymes tenderize. Buttermilk is the key to succulence. 

2. Give Your Battered Chicken Some Alone Time

Once you’ve brined and battered your chicken, don’t drop it straight into the oil. Refrigerate your battered chicken, uncovered, for just a couple hours. This will slightly dry out the batter, giving you the yummiest, crispiest skin. (Remember when I said it’s so worth it?)

3. Take Its Temperature

Keeping the oil at the correct temperature is essential to producing crunchy fried chicken that is neither too brown nor too greasy. Use a thermometer to check the temperature of the oil before you add the chicken, and be sure to keep an eye on it while frying. (P.S. Don’t overcrowd your pan or the temperature will drop too low and you’ll be left with sad, soggy chicken.)

4. Treat Yourself to a Dutch Oven

Perhaps you’ve wondered if a Dutch oven is worth it, and the answer is yes, yes, a hundred times yes. Sure, it is the quintessential frying vessel—its ideal heat distribution keeps your oil temperature even and consistent. But you’ll also use it for just about everything else: searing, braising, baking, steaming, smoking, even cooking sous vide! Before you know it, you and your Dutch oven will be BFFs.

5. Give Your Fried Chicken Some Alone Time, Too

Cover the pot for the first half of frying. You heard me. This discovery was inspired by good ole Mr. Harland Sanders’s pressure-frying method. Covering the pot (using half the amount of oil) encourages a faster fry. It also allows you to fry all your chicken in one batch. After all, your time has been consumed with brining and refrigerating.

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