The Best Fried Chicken of Your Life

August 18, 2014 | By | COMMENTS

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Give me credit. It’s been a while since I’ve declared something “the best ___ of your life.” There is, of course, the broccoli, which brought all of you to my blog in the first place. Then there’s the chili which, as far as I’m concerned, has never been topped. The brownies remain unrivaled and the curry is definitely the best I’ve ever made.

Now, into the pantheon, comes this fried chicken which–as you’ll soon discover–has nothing to do with a specific recipe and everything to do with a piece of equipment that costs a minimal amount of money ($33.31 on Amazon) but makes all the difference in the world.

What is it? You can just catch the corner of it in the lead picture of this post: a cast-iron skillet.

When I was writing my cookbook, I went down to Athens, Georgia where a very nice woman named Angelish Wilson taught me how to make her famous fried chicken at Wilson’s Soul Food. Like most restaurants that serve fried anything, Angelish had a deep fryer and when it was time to fry the chicken, she submerged it into the hot oil. It was a lot like the way I used to fry chicken at home, only a deep fryer maintains the heat better than a Dutch oven can.

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When it came time to shoot the fried chicken recipe for the cookbook, our food stylist, Leslie Stockton, didn’t fill a Dutch oven with oil the way I had. She whipped out a large cast iron skillet, filled it 1/3rd of the way with oil (using way less oil), cranked up the heat, and when the oil hit 350, she fried the chicken in there slowly, flipping it every so often, until it was crisp all over and everyone on the set rushed over to devour what she had made. It was some of the best fried chicken I’d ever tasted.

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There’s some mystical, magical mojo that happens in a cast iron skillet when you fry chicken in there. My theory is that, because it’s cast iron, it maintains the heat better than any large vessel (like a Dutch oven) can at home. It better replicates a deep fryer at a restaurant. And it’s important to maintain that heat because the lower the temperature of the oil goes, the more of it that gets absorbed into the chicken. If your fried chicken is greasy, it’s because your oil didn’t stay hot.

Hence the cast iron. Once you have that–and you’ll want to use a large one (I borrowed my friend Diana’s)–the rest takes care of itself.

Still, if you want it to be the Best of Your Life, you’d be wise to soak the chicken overnight in buttermilk spiked with a little Tabasco sauce. I bought two 4 pound chickens, cut them up into 10 pieces, put them in a large Tupperware that was filled with a carton of buttermilk whisked with 10 dashes of Tabasco.

The next day, I brought the chicken to room temperature and dumped a bunch of flour (3 cups or so?) into a large bowl and spiced it with some ground cumin, smoked paprika, cayenne pepper, garlic powder, dried thyme, whatever I could find. Salt too. A good tip here it to taste the flour mixture raw (gross, I know) just to get a sense of how flavorful it is. Just put a little on your finger and taste; you’ll be glad you did.

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A key step, I discovered, for truly excellent fried chicken is to season the chicken between the buttermilk and flour stage. So here’s how it went: I poured vegetable oil into Diana’s cast iron skillet until it came 1/3rd of the way up. Then, as it began heating on high heat, I lifted pieces of chicken out of the buttermilk, scraped off as much buttermilk as I could with my fingers, then I had Diana season each piece of chicken with a little salt before I dredged it in the flour mix. Then, when the oil hit 350, I began lowering chicken into the skillet (carefully!) watching the level of the oil. At the most, the hot oil should come halfway up the sides of the skillet when you have your first batch of chicken in there. Any more and you might have a grease fire.

Then it’s just a matter of watching the chicken, turning after 5 minutes or so, waiting another 5 minutes, and going and going until it’s dark brown and crispy all over and a thermometer inserted into the chicken reads 165. Then use clean tongs (not the ones you used to touch the raw chicken) to lift the finished chicken on to a cooling rack.

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Sprinkle those with salt, then repeat with the rest of your chicken.

What else is there to say? It’s a dinner that everybody loves but few people are brave enough to make. Turns out it’s not about bravery, it’s about equipment. So equip yourself with a large cast iron skillet and prepare yourself for the Best Fried Chicken of Your Life. Do it quick, before summer’s over! (You can take the leftovers on a picnic.)

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Recipe: The Best Fried Chicken of Your Life

Summary: For those too impatient to read the post, but you really should because it’s not about a specific recipe.

Ingredients

  • 2 whole chickens (4 lbs each) cut into 10 pieces (2 wings, 2 thighs, 2 legs, the breast cut into 4)
  • 1 carton of buttermilk (about a quart)
  • 10 dashes Tabasco sauce
  • Salt
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • 1 tablespoon smoked paprika
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 tablespoon dried thyme
  • 1 tablespoon freshly ground pepper
  • 1 tablespoon cumin
  • 1 tablespoon (insert any other spice you’d like here)
  • Vegetable, Canola, or Peanut oil
  • Honey (for serving)

Instructions

  1. Start, if you can, the day before (or at least a few hours ahead) by marinating the cut-up chicken in the buttermilk spiked with the Tabasco sauce and a few pinches of salt. Stir it all around with your hands, make sure the chicken is coated, and then refrigerate.
  2. An hour before you’re ready to fry, remove the chicken from the fridge and bring to room temperature. Meanwhile, make your flour mixture by whisking the flour with all of those spices.
  3. OK, it’s fry time. Pour oil into a cast iron skillet so it comes 1/3rd of the way up. Heat on high heat and begin checking the temperature with a thermometer; it’s ready when it hits 350.
  4. Meanwhile, get someone to help you: lift the chicken out of the buttermilk, scrape off any excess, and have your friend sprinkle the chicken with a little salt before you drop it in the flour. Repeat with a few more pieces of chicken. Then, coat the chicken in the flour mixture, shake off any excess, and careful lower into the 350 degree oil. Add chicken pieces until the oil comes 1/2 up the side of the skillet; any more, and things could get dangerous.
  5. Fry the chicken in there for a few minutes, then flip over, watching and flipping every so often, until the chicken is a beautiful burnished brown all over and a thermometer inserted into the chicken reads 165. Remove the chicken to a cooling rack with clean tongs and sprinkle with salt.
  6. Repeat with the rest of your chicken and then serve with some honey, in case people like honey with their fried chicken. I know that I do.

Preparation time: 30 minute(s)

Cooking time: 15 minute(s)

Number of servings (yield): 12

My rating 5 stars:  ★★★★★ 1 review(s)

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Categories: All-Time Greatest Hits, Recipes

  • Jill Donnelly

    Awesome! I know I would like that chicken. Tell me the truth, did your place stink like fried oil for a week afterwards? That’s always my reason to never start with deep frying…

  • Anonymous

    Please do not read this as disdain for Cast Iron. I love my Cast Iron cookware, but never use it for Fried Chicken. My Fried Chicken Recipe is basically the same as yours, but I use an Electric Skillet or, sometimes, my Deep Fryer. I find it difficult with my ceramic top electric stove (or any electric stove) to maintain the temperature of the oil. Of course, when I fry chicken, I do fry two-four chickens, so the ability to put an entire cut up chicken in an Electric Skillet is a major plus to me.

  • Anonymous

    Please do not read this as disdain for Cast Iron. I love my Cast Iron cookware, but never use it for Fried Chicken. My Fried Chicken Recipe is basically the same as yours, but I use an Electric Skillet or, sometimes, my Deep Fryer. I find it difficult with my ceramic top electric stove (or any electric stove) to maintain the temperature of the oil. Of course, when I fry chicken, I do fry two-four chickens, so the ability to put an entire cut up chicken in an Electric Skillet is a major plus to me.

  • Anonymous

    Please do not read this as disdain for Cast Iron. I love my Cast Iron cookware, but never use it for Fried Chicken. My Fried Chicken Recipe is basically the same as yours, but I use an Electric Skillet or, sometimes, my Deep Fryer. I find it difficult with my ceramic top electric stove (or any electric stove) to maintain the temperature of the oil. Of course, when I fry chicken, I do fry two-four chickens, so the ability to put an entire cut up chicken in an Electric Skillet is a major plus to me.

  • Agent Strong

    Cast iron rules! I rarely use my fancy All-Clad anymore. Cast iron is just better.

  • http://theseliesofmine.blogspot.com/ mchan

    How are you maintaining the temperature? I notice you don’t have a thermometer on the skillet. This is the worst part of deep frying on the stove for me.

  • Adam Amateur Gourmet

    I have this great new thermometer that folds in on itself and has a digital display; so I stuck it in the oil, periodically, to see where it was at. Super easy.

  • Brenda Johnson

    I’ve done both, and adore my cast iron as well, but I have to agree that my old-school electric skillet does a consistently better job of frying things like fried chicken and catfish (are my southern roots showing?) because I have better control of the heat. I don’t think I’d do it with any of the newer electric skillets, though, because they’ve all got that abominable nonstick surface that I hate.

  • Susan Griesse

    Thanks for posting this! I’m curious what you do with the oil afterwards. I made donuts a few weeks ago and basically discarded the oil after I was done because I wasn’t sure what to do with it.

  • Susan Griesse

    Thanks for posting this! I’m curious what you do with the oil afterwards. I made donuts a few weeks ago and basically discarded the oil after I was done because I wasn’t sure what to do with it.

  • Adam Amateur Gourmet

    You can strain it and save it if you plan to fry more savory foods in the near future. Otherwise, get rid of it.

  • Anonymous

    Dried sage actually works well in the spice mix

  • Matt

    I agree. The whole house and every piece of clothing…

  • David

    This is always the main reason I don’t do this sort of thing. Anyone have any tips for dealing with the oil? How does one “get rid of it”…………………..?

  • Anonymous

    Used oil can always be poured back into the bottle it came in and disposed of in the garbage. If you would rather recycle the bottle and have a good relationship with a local restaurant, they may allow you to dispose of it in their oil tank. Most states do not allow used oil from restaurants to end up in the garbage, but rather into vats where it can be recycled into things like cheap soap and bio fuel.

  • Anonymous

    I have two old West Bend skillets (one is quite old and the other is nearly 20 years old. Basically all I use either one for is Fried Chicken, and caramelizing onions for French Onion Soup. I do fry my chicken fried steaks in cast iron, and cast iron makes a great vessel for roasting chicken (with an extra one on top of the chicken, instead of a brick, to flatten it).

  • Matthew Zoglmann

    Use a cooling rack to drain off the excess buttermilk, then let the breaded chicken sit a spell, while the breading hydrates from the buttermilk that remains.

  • Brenda Johnson

    Roast chicken in cast iron– definitely! Great minds think alike.

  • Brenda Johnson

    If I have relatively small quantities (like the amount you’d have left after frying some chicken) and no spare bottle to put it in, I let it cool, then sop it out of the pan with paper towels and put the paper towels in a plastic bag, such as a leftover grocery bag, and then tie the bag off and toss it in the garbage.

  • lee5510

    Sorry. I absolutely don’t mean to be a buzzkill, but if you’re frying anything in vegetable oil – canola, peanut, or otherwise – you’ve already taken your recipe off of the “Best Anything” list. Try coconut, palm, lard, beef tallow, or any combination of the above. Vegetable oil is rancid before it hits the store shelves (remember – we’re talking about mono- and poly-unsaturated fats that are just waiting to saturate, typically with oxygen and/or exposure to light, which is the very description of rancidity). Look up the process of refining, bleaching, and deodorizing (RBD) vegetable oils. One would think they’re talking about crude oil, but they’re talking about so-called “edible” oils. Folks have already been educated (I hope) about trans-fats. Factory-processed vegetable oils are almost as bad, devoid of taste, and full of free radicals. Personally, I’ll only use palm oil, coconut oil, and/or fresh lard, including bacon drippings (I’d use grass-fed beef tallow if it were easier to find and purchase). And, even if you don’t care about any of the above information about rancid vegetable oils, the taste of foods fried in quality oils is beyond compare. I encourage you to try it for yourself. (Think it doesn’t really matter? Try this for an easy comparison: fry one egg in butter and another in vegetable oil. The difference is night and day, or, as I like to say, edible and inedible.) Also, to be on the “Best Of” list, you’ve got to start with the freshest and highest quality chicken possible – local if available, and definitely free range (actual free ranging, wandering around in the yard/field, eating whatever they want) chickens. Sound like too much for a skillet of fried chicken? Hey – I didn’t declare the category of “The Best Fried Chicken of Your Life” – I’m just working within the stated parameters. BTW, I’ve already had the best chicken of my life. It was on a farm prepared with one of their freshly dispatched farm-raised chickens. This was many years ago, and nothing since has even been close. (Unrelated Bonus Info: Only buy your store-bought extra-virgin cold-pressed olive oil in cans, and make sure it has a pine or evergreen smell to it.)

  • Brenda

    I plug my electric Skillet in outside to fry chicken. It seems rather tacky and I try to “dress the part” but it does prevent the fried smell staying in the house for days. (and I do it in the backyard, where I’m less likely to be seen”

  • Agent Strong

    Oh God… first-world problems.

  • lee5510

    Actually – no. But you’re doing a terrific job of showing how not to deal with what appears, in your case, to be information overload. Label it, mock it, dismiss it. Much easier than dealing with it. My post wasn’t an elucidation on dealing with one example of the panic-inducing strife caused by the daily minutia suffered by 21st century American Urban Dwellers. It is a response to, and clarification on, what constitutes “The Best”. Horrible oils and factory raised chickens are not ingredients in “the best fried chicken”. If you have a disagreement or contradictory information about any of the facts presented, please post them. If it’s simply a matter of disagreeing with how much effort should be put in to making fried chicken, that’s okay. That’s definitely a subjective matter. Even I am not going to run out and buy the absolute freshest spices called for in the ingredient list. But please don’t dismiss a well-researched and earnestly written response to a “Best” recipe as an example of “first-world problems”. By your logic, the whole concept of making the best fried chicken is a first-world problem! How about this – some of the entries under “Also On Amateur Gourmet” are titled “The Right Way To Eat A Muffin”, “An Avocado Horchata Smoothie”, “Look Who Made My Rainbow Cookie Cake”! Can I assume you plan to also offer your pompous dismissal in those posts as well?

  • Agent Strong

    Oh, I’m so sorry. I forgot YOU were the preacher. Proceed.

  • Dan

    Why cans, because of light exposure?

  • David

    Thanks cjayosburn and Brenda for your suggestions.

  • efnord

    If you pick the Value Pack at the Amazon link, you get a silicone handle cover and the price goes down to $24!

  • Mani

    Same recipe… But chick it in the Philips Airfryer (available at Williams-Sonoma)….gives you the same great taste minus all the unhealthy oil !!

  • Mani

    Same recipe… But chick it in the Philips Airfryer (available at Williams-Sonoma)….gives you the same great taste minus all the unhealthy oil !!

  • Mani

    Same recipe… But chick it in the Philips Airfryer (available at Williams-Sonoma)….gives you the same great taste minus all the unhealthy oil !!

  • http://foodwanderer.com/ Foodwanderer

    Never imagined using cast iron to deep fry! Awesome idea.

  • http://london-escorts.co.nf/ alex boyd

    it does look nice very good i guess the spices were just right

  • http://organicsfs.com/ organicSFS

    I love deep fried chicken and this recipe looks yummy. It’s going to be one fun weekend for us. Thanks for sharing this.

  • Linda Mathieu

    I saw a recipe the other day using duck fat to fry chicken in. That sounds intriguing to me-now I have to see if I can find the article again. I haven’t had fried chicken in ages. I’d rather grill because it isn’t so messy but it’s hard to beat the taste.

  • leonor sousa

    ola eu sou uma rapariga viciada em computador
    sou maria leonor maia de sousa esta foto que eu tenho a dias é de gary sinise no banho

  • lee5510

    Exactly. Even green bottles don’t completely block light, and light by itself will cause rancidity (this also applies to beer, except the issue there is skunking). Even with cans, the oil will go rancid eventually. When you replace your olive oil, smell the new stuff and then smell the old stuff. If there isn’t much difference, you might question how fresh your source is. If it’s really good olive oil, you’ll detect a distinct pine or evergreen scent that will be noticeably absent in the old oil. BTW, take a look around at all of the vegetable oils sold in the supermarkets – nearly all of them are sold in clear bottles, meaning they’ve been going (even more) rancid the moment they hit the store shelves (because, again, that’s what polyunsaturated oils want to do).

  • lee5510

    Interesting. A person offers suggestions in an attempt to make a recipe better, does so apologetically, and even backs up their comments with some facts to support their statements. Then, they’re obligated to respond when their remarks on a recipe have been called out and condescendingly insulted, which then causes them to be accused of preaching. All of this occurring on a website devoted to food, cooking, and recipes. All I can really do is ask again – if you have a disagreement or contradictory information about any of the facts presented, please post them.

  • P6 Chad M

    welll i would love to know what s the recipe for that fried chicken. Looks pretty easy to make and appetizing!!

  • Agent Strong

    Oh dear, I didn’t mean to sound condescending, like you did:

    “You’ve already taken your recipe off of the “Best Anything” list.” (because you should know)

    “Remember —” (thanks for reminding us)

    “Folks have already been educated (I hope)” (Say your prayers!)

    “Think it doesn’t really matter?” (you’ll show us!)

    “Sound like too much for a skillet of fried chicken?” (Oh you poor, ignorant fools!)

    “Hey – I didn’t declare the category of “The Best Fried Chicken of Your Life”" (Just pointing out your terrible error!)

    “BTW, I’ve already had the best chicken of my life. It was on a farm prepared with one of their freshly dispatched farm-raised chickens. This was many years ago, and nothing since has even been close.” (Goody for you. If only our own lives were so rich and fulfilling)

    “But you’re doing a terrific job of showing how not to deal with what appears, in your case, to be information overload.” (Ah, you assumed I hadn’t read through your entire sermon)

    “Can I assume you plan to also offer your pompous dismissal in those posts as well?” (Oooh, is calling someone out on their I’m Better Than You attitude “pompous”?)

    You’ve outdone me. Maybe you should get off your high horse.

    BTW, I wasn’t disputing any of the information you offered, just annoyed by the self-righteous tone of the delivery.

  • shahidul935

    Health definition by WHO: According
    to WHO (world health organization) only 5% people are healthy. So, what
    about the others? If question arise in your mind then you are on the
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    healthy one among the 5% people.

  • Jeffrey Ng

    yum yum yum!

  • Hank Mirtl

    Fully agree with you. We live in the Philippines and use only coconut oil. And it’s the best for everything

  • http://www.pienieznastrona.pl/ Anonymous

    its fat but i ll eat it :D

  • lee5510

    Thanks, Hank. After the adversarial conversation with another party (not to mention the silly psychoanalysis), I’d decided not to join in on this conversation anymore. I’m curious – I get my coconut oil from Tropical Traditions, who say they get theirs from the Philippines. Had you used coconut oil elsewhere, and can you tell the difference in what you’re purchasing there?

  • PeterV

    From seriouseats.com:

    For the record: Many people claim that foods fried at a temperature that is too low will absorb more fat than food fried at a higher temperature. This is an easily unproven (but far-reaching) kitchen myth made up to make people feel better about eating delicious fried food. Don’t believe it. Foods fried at a higher temperature absorb more fat. On the other hand, they also gets crisper, and stay crisper longer.That’s why you want to fry at a high temperature.

  • Hank Mirtl

    I have found that there is no difference in coconut oil sourced from different companies here in the Philippines in any case. Saying that I can’t imagine anyone corrupting the oil to change the characteristics so what you buy from the Philippines would be similar from each Philippine supplier.

  • Anonymous

    nice

  • moleskinx

    that sounds delicious, cant wait to try it.

  • http://www.exclusivesavings.ca Sophia Garcia

    Ohhh nice – this recipe is awesome!

  • Jean | DelightfulRepast.com

    Adam, it looks gorgeous! I’m famous for my fried chicken and I use even less oil than you did. That’s the “secret” of great fried chicken – there IS no secret! You can deep fry, you can shallow fry, doesn’t matter. You just need to keep the oil at the correct temperature. (My best fried chicken secret? Cook it at friend’s house so I don’t stink up my own house! LOL)

  • Anonymous

    great article…..

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  • Anonymous

    great article…..

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  • Anonymous

    great article…..

    bestwishes4u.com

  • Anonymous

    great article…..

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  • Anonymous

    great article…..

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  • Debra Williams

    I hear the phrase “best fried chicken” all the time and sometimes end up disappointed, so I stick with what works for me: salt, pepper, garlic powder, paprika, all-purpose flour,and plain vegetable oil to cook with; you can’t go wrong!!

  • Debra Williams

    All-Clad is awful expensive to use just to fry chicken.

  • Debra Williams

    Try using a little plain flour to test the tempurature of the cooking oil; a lot easier and a lot less expensive. After all it’s just fried chicken, not Peking duck!!

  • Debra Williams

    I always use the oil twice for getting rid of it. As you can see from this post, it hasn’t killed me yet!!!

  • Debra Williams

    Vegetable oils haven’t killed me yet as you can see from this post, so I’ll stick with what works for me!!!

  • Debra Williams

    I pay for my chicken so I’ll cook it any way I see fit!!!

  • http://hkc.vn/ hkc vietnam

    i like Fried chicken so much. but i dont known how to do it? can you tech to me?

  • bozlul chowdhury

    BMW 6 Series Convertible

  • bozlul chowdhury

    bmw cars sorry