Southern Fried Chicken

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Growing up in a Southern family, fried chicken was a food group all by itself.  I often wonder how many chickens my mother has fried over the years.  Funny thing is, in my early childhood, I don't remember eating it hot-n-crispy, but do I ever have fond memories eating it cold for a picnic at the beach with potato salad, deviled eggs, and buttery pound cake.  Mmm!

When I fry chicken, I make sure I have enough to enjoy warm for dinner and then some cold for a picnic lunch-- just like Mom did it.  If you are new or intimidated to frying your own chicken, let me offer some helpful tips and tricks to ensure the juiciest, crispiest, and tastiest fried chicken.

Soaking the chicken in a buttermilk marinade will help to produce juicy, tender meat.  One of my most favorite parts of fried chicken is the crispy nubbins from the flour coating.  To achieve maximum nubbinness (that's not a word), I drizzle a little buttermilk into the flour mixture to form small crumbs that will fry up crisp and crunchy-- a little trick my mom taught me years ago.  I recommend using a cast iron pot or skillet to achieve that deep golden color and a oil thermometer to help maintain a proper temperature.  I use vegetable shortening rather than oil because it gives the chicken a crisp crust without being greasy.  Also, since shortening is more refined than oil, it doesn't leave an odor in the kitchen when frying.  Lastly, I drain the fried chicken on a rack set over a baking sheet instead of paper towels.  This ensures the crust will remain crunchy and not get soggy.

Whether you enjoy it hot, room temperature, or cold (with a drizzle of honey-yum!), it is some down-home crunchy comfort food that will be sure to please.  

Fried Chicken
serves 4

For the brine
3 1/2 to 4 pounds bone-in, skin-on chicken parts
2 cups buttermilk
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

For the coating
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme, crushed
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon paprika
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 Tablespoons buttermilk

3 cups vegetable shortening, or enough to have 1/2-inch oil in the skillet

Separate the chicken legs into thighs and drumsticks; cut each breast in half diagonally through the bone.  In a medium plastic container with a lid or a medium bowl, stir together the buttermilk, salt, and pepper.  Add the chicken, turning to coat well.  Place the lid on the container or cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least two hours or up to, but not exceeding, twelve hours.

In another container, whisk together the flour, baking powder, thyme, garlic powder, paprika, salt, and pepper.  Drizzle in the buttermilk and stir to form small crumbs.  Remove the chicken pieces from the buttermilk mixture and coat well in the flour mixture.  Place the coated chicken on a rack to rest for 20-30 minutes at room temperature.  

Place a deep, heavy skillet or pot with a lid, preferably cast iron, over medium-high heat and add the vegetable shortening.  The shortening should measure 1/2-inch in the skillet. Heat the shortening to 350º F on a candy/oil thermometer.  Gently lay a few chicken pieces skin side down in the hot fat and cover.  Cook for 10 minutes, checking after 5 minutes and moving the pieces if they are browning unevenly or too quickly.  (At this point the fat should be bubbling and register between 250º and 300º F on the thermometer.)  Remove the lid and turn the chicken with tongs and cook, uncovered, until the second side is richly browned, about 10-12 minutes.  Remove the chicken to a rack set over a baking sheet to drain.  Chicken can be kept warm in an oven set at the lowest setting or it can be safely held at room temperature for several hours loosely covered with wax paper.  Leftovers must be refrigerated.  Enjoy!

Source: Adapted from my mother and Joy of Cooking, 1997


  1. AnonymousJune 16, 2011

    This recipe gave me a sudden craving for chicken and waffles.

  2. Yadi I.-
    Did you really have to put chicken and waffles in the same sentence?! Love that combo! Looks like it is back to the frying pan for me:)

  3. OMG this looks amazing! yummm butter milk batter...Nothing beats a really crispy fried chicken drumstick. total comfort food. Stunning photos and thanks for sharing your recipe!

  4. Southern fried chicken, now I'm craving it!

  5. I just made this fried chicken this evening and it was SO GOOD! I was craving some super salty, spicy chicken, so I added quite a bit more salt and spices to the batter and it definitely hit the spot! The trick to drizzle buttermilk in the batter worked perfectly, and it was so thick and crunchy!

    Thanks for this recipe, it will definitely be my go-to any time I make fried chicken!

  6. Mandy-
    Yeah! I am so glad you enjoyed it. Extra spices is good and so is a bit of cayenne or tabasco:) Thank you for leaving a comment and letting me know. .

  7. I've been craving fried chicken since seeing the Help. And I've tried this method before - where you add buttermilk to the flour mixture but it never works for me. I can't get the flour/buttermilk to stick to the chicken and the parts I do get to stick fall off in the oil. Any tips?

  8. Mommy Tanya-
    Once the chicken has brined in the buttermilk, coat each piece in the flour/buttermilk mixture and then let it dry on a rack for 20-30. This will help ensure a good crust. Make sure your oil is hot enough and you should have some crispy and crunchy southern fried chicken to enjoy!

  9. Followed the recipe to a T and the compliments I received from a crowd of 6 guys just never stopped!

    I served this last night and woke up to a list of text messages (of compliments) and a friend stopping by at 7:45am to pick-up leftovers. You can do the math, but I'd recommend making this.

    P.S. I had no issue with the 3T. of buttermilk adding to the flour mixture. Came out perfect for me.

  10. Anon-
    I am so pleased you enjoyed the recipe! Tell your friend that picked up leftovers that cold fried chicken is really good with a drizzle of honey:P

  11. AnonymousJune 30, 2012

    That chicken look delicious! I have fried chicken in the past but I could never get a crunchy crust! I can't wait to try this recipe! I do have one question: How significant is the baking powder to this recipe? I currently do not have any and I am wondering if I should go out and purchase some. Please let me know. Thanks!!!

    1. The baking powder reacts with the buttermilk to make for a crunchy, crispy crust.

  12. Can you use boneless with this same recipe?

    1. Yes, but the frying time will be less.

    2. How much time would I reduce it by?

    3. It will depend on which type of cut you are using. For boneless thighs, about 5-7 minutes per side. For boneless breasts, about 8-10 minutes per side.

  13. First time making fried chicken (always a bit intimidated by it) and it turned out delicious! You inspire me and keep me cooking. Thank you!

  14. Am i able to use ghee instead of shortening when frying my chicken?

    1. I cannot speak from experience and I do not know how the taste will be altered, but ghee does have a smoke point of 485° F and is suitable for deep frying.


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