The Crusty, Juicy, Delicious World of Fried Chicken
How to make the best fried chicken, plus 18 favorite recipes including classic buttermilk-brined, Nashville, Korean, Japanese, and even healthy-ish fried chicken
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It seems like a straightforward dish — soak cuts of poultry in buttermilk, bread them in all-purpose flour, and dunk them into vats of bubbling oil — but there are as many ways to make fried chicken as there are days in the month, and then some. All the world loves fried chicken, as it turns out, and we're going to take a big bite as we explore it straight-up and crusty, slathered in hot sauce, simmered in spices and then fried, single-dredged, double-dredged, and just for kicks, air-fried and oven-fried. Did we include your favorite method and flavors? Read on.
Fried chicken actually traces its origins back to Scotland, but in the U.S., the oh-so-tender and flavorful delicacy is more associated with the American South, where locals added spices passed down through the American slave trade and West African cuisine. After the abolition of slavery and on through when segregation still kept Blacks from eating in most restaurants, fried chicken made its way across the U.S. as a dish that both traveled well and was affordable. Today it’s enjoyed coast-to-coast and around the globe.
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Tips for the best fried chicken
Here are some tips for making your own fried chicken, whatever version you choose.
Dark or light meat?
When it comes to chicken, dark meat such as thighs and drumsticks tends to stay more tender and juicy than white meat (breast and wings) and has more nutrients, though its higher fat content (which gives it a deeper flavor) means it takes longer to cook. Depending on the recipe, consider frying up a mix of dark and white pieces to satisfy everyone.
What is brining, and how is it different from marinating?
Brining is essentially soaking chicken in a large bowl in a solution of kosher salt or table salt and liquid, which locks in moisture, making the chicken more forgiving of overcooking. Most fried-chicken cooks tend to use a buttermilk brine. It imparts a tangy flavor to the chicken and is also acidic, acting as a tenderizer. Another plus: buttermilk helps the breading stick better. Marinades, on the other hand, are all about adding flavor and may or may not be salty or acidic.
What does “dredging” mean? Dredging is when you coat the chicken pieces with a dry ingredient, like flour or cornstarch (often with seasonings like salt, pepper, and garlic powder), before frying. Some recipes call for “double dredging,” which simply means dipping the chicken in a wet ingredient (such as an egg wash) before re-coating it with the dry one. This can help make your crust thicker, but if not done right might lead to a soggy exterior instead. If unsure, stick to one dredging first, and then get playful with it once you get more comfortable with frying.
What’s the best type of breading?
First off, remember that not all fried chicken needs to be breaded. There are plenty of delectable recipes that use a rub of herbs and spices or a simple seasoning, forgoing breading all together. If you do decide to bread your chicken, however, flour is the way to go. Consider also adding a bit of cornstarch, which can help make the exterior even crispier.
What’s the best way to fry chicken?
Many home chefs agree that frying chicken in a cast-iron or enamel Dutch oven or deep cast-iron skillet, filled halfway with vegetable oil, is the best way for controlling the overall cooking temperature and keeping the breading or crust intact. Other options include cooking in a deep fryer or an air fryer, or baking in the oven on a sheet pan.
For deep frying use a deep-frying thermometer that you can adhere to the outside of the Dutch oven for maintaining the temp of the hot oil, and fry in small batches. This will help you move the chicken around more easily, keeping any breading from clumping together and the oil from splashing.
A bamboo skimmer works best for lowering and retrieving the chicken from the oil. Cook the chicken in the hot oil until it's golden brown and reaches an internal temperature of 165°. Also, once it’s fried, place chicken on a wire rack atop a baking sheet in the oven at 250°. This way, any excess oil can drip from the chicken into the pan (much better than using paper towels) and the chicken stays warm while you’re still frying additional pieces. Keeping the chicken at a low heat also prevents the skin from getting soggy.
Which oil should I use?
You’ll want to consider an oil’s smoke point, or the temperature that it starts to burn and smoke, which in turn negatively affects the food's flavor. Most fried chicken recipes have you heat oil to around 325°, so any oil such as peanut oil or canola oil that has a higher smoking point and a neutral taste is ideal. Lard, which has a smoking point of 370° and adds a touch of caramel flavor, is also extremely popular in the American South.
American classic fried chicken recipes
For tried-and-true fried chicken like Grandma (or Colonel Sanders) used to make, or ever-so-tempting takes on a couple of U.S. classics, you can’t go wrong with these recipes.
Fried chicken is a delicacy in the South, where it’s most-often brined in buttermilk and spices and deeply coated with a flour mixture, resulting in juicy, flavor-filled pieces that are wonderfully battered and deliciously crisp. Sweet Tea and Thyme's Eden Westbrook has lived all over the U.S. South, and has perfected her recipe with a brine that includes a combo of hot sauce, thyme, fresh garlic, and onion powder with 5 cups buttermilk. Then there's a flour-cornstarch coating with baking powder for crispiness, oregano, chili powder, and paprika. It's a dredge-twice, fry-once dish that doesn’t specify the cut of chicken, but focuses more on recreating an authentic Southern classic.
The roots of “hot chicken” date back well into the early 20th century throughout Nashville's African-American communities. But it was the city's Prince's Hot Chicken Shack that popularized the dish, which today is a Nashville specialty — a chicken marinated in a spice rub, then breaded, fried, and covered in hot cayenne pepper-spiced sauce that will easily start your taste buds kicking. Stack it atop some white bread and pickles, pour a bit of extra sauce over the top, and get ready for a fried chicken unlike any you’ve ever experienced.
Chicken wings were a perennial favorite in my childhood home, where my brothers liked them hot. I think they’d be a big fan of these wings from singer-songwriter John Legend, in which the key to spiciness is both brining and breading them with a generous amount of cayenne. A helping of homemade honey butter hot sauce adds some sweetness without bringing down the heat.
Fried chicken around the world
Whether you’re looking for the perfect snack for your weekend movie night, or a new twist on a dish you thought you knew, here are some recipes to send your tastebuds on a global culinary journey.
These bite-sized bits of pop-in-your-mouth, breaded chicken are especially popular in Taiwan, where they're served up as snacks at night markets and bubble tea shops. The key to their spicy goodness is a glaze made of sweet chile and soy sauces and sriracha chili sauce, brushed on post-frying. They're especially tasty alongside a dipping sauce like garlic aioli, which balances out the heat.
South Korea is famous for its fried chicken, where the dish can be traced back to American troops who introduced it while stationed there during the Korean War. Unlike its U.S. counterpart, Korean fried chicken is known for its thin, crispy, and almost translucent crust and is best eaten right away, preferably straight out of the frying pan. It’s also tossed with a delicious sweet and spicy sauce — in this case one made with Korean gochujang red chili paste — after frying and then sprinkled with sesame seeds. Enjoy it chimaek, meaning paired with beer, for the ultimate South Korean experience.
There’s no bready exterior to ayam goreng, an Indonesian fried chicken that opts for simmering the poultry in a rich variety of spices instead, and then frying it. This particular recipe calls for a blend of ginger, turmeric, and galangal (aka Thai ginger, known for its citrusy flavor), all ground together into a paste along with shallots and garlic. The end result is highly aromatic and has plenty of savory flavor.
Karaage is both a Japanese style of deep frying, adapted from China’s method of frying tofu in soy sauce, as well as the name for a particular fried chicken dish that first became popular in Japan during the 20th century. Today you’ll find it at food stands, izakayas (Japanese bars), and even convenience stores throughout the island country. To make your own, simply cut boneless chicken thighs into bite-sized pieces, then lightly coat them in flour and cornstarch before frying them in a large pan or wok. There's no thick batter — only a marinade of ginger, garlic, and soy sauce, resulting in a deliciously refreshing flavor and texture.
Though it definitely originated in Chennai, India, there are many stories as to where the name of this spicy, deep-fried chicken came from. Some say it's from the chicken being cut (in the early years) into 65 pieces, others that it was invented in the year 1965. Whatever the case, you can easily recreate it with a seasoning that includes paprika, Kashmiri chili powder, and the Indian spice garam masala (a blend with cinnamon, cardamom, and cumin). Then fry it all up with green chilies and optional fresh curry leaves, which impart a citrusy, lemongrass-like taste, to serve.
This recipe takes the traditional Filipino Chicken Adobo, a sweet and savory dish of braised and tender chicken legs or thighs marinated in a garlicky sauce, and adds some twists: subbing in wings and frying it all up in cornstarch to crispy perfection. You can make your own tangy adobo sauce at home with white vinegar, soy sauce, and bay leaves. Toss the wings in the reserved adobo sauce post-frying, sprinkle with chicharrones and cilantro, and you’re ready to go.
This style of Japanese fried chicken originates from Nagoya, Japan’s fourth-largest city, and differs from karaage in that it uses bone-in chicken wings and forgoes breading. Instead, there’s a glaze of homemade sweet and savory tebasaki sauce (a soy-like sauce that also incorporates garlic and ginger). Twice-fry each piece of chicken in a thin layer of potato starch for extra crispy skins, then dunk them in the tebasaki immediately after frying. Add a dusting of black pepper and toasted sesame seeds, and get eating!
Well-known food journalist Mark Bittman starts his recipe off in what he calls the “classic way,” buttermilk-brined and dredged in 3 cups flour, but then adds a Szechuan-inspired twist: a finely ground seasoning of cumin seeds and Szechuan peppercorns sprinkled on generously before serving. He also suggests frying up thinly sliced garlic cloves and dried red peppers like Chinese Tianjin chiles, then scattering them over the chicken for a notch-up flavor and a more colorful appearance. (The peppers are more for presentation, but Bittman says go ahead and nibble on the them if you dare.)
Known also as Pollo Frito a la Mex, this Mexican-inspired fried chicken utilizes a marinade made from both buttermilk and the sauce from a can of chipotles in adobo, a tangy red sauce that provides sweet-sour flavor and smoky heat (from smoked jalapeños, aka chipotles). Once breaded and fried, a light sauce made of honey and sliced habanero chilies completes the dish.
Healthy-ish fried chicken recipes
Why yes, you can enjoy fried chicken without feeling like you’ve sacrificed your diet, or that the excess oil is doing a number on your stomach. Check out these recipes for a meal that’s both relatively heart-healthy and finger-licking good.
These are quick to prepare and easy to make, and with only a handful of ingredients; even the clean up is relatively stress-free. Just drizzle the chicken thighs with olive oil and bake for about 45 minutes cook time, resulting in crispy-skinned, oven-fried chicken perfect for a mid-week meal.
Picture all the flavors you love in Korean fried chicken, including spicy gochuchang and a little honey. But then cook it on the stovetop over medium-high heat with only 2 tablespoons of oil. Another bonus: This recipe calls for boneless chicken thighs, meaning it's fork-friendly and you have a fighting chance of keeping your fingers clean.
This Keto-approved take on Nashville’s mouthwatering hot chicken includes a cayenne pepper-based sauce (traditionally brushed on after frying, as is the case here), but forgoes breading for a spicy rub seasoning. Culinary Lion oven-bakes the chicken on a sheet pan for added simplicity, though suggests air-frying as an alternative to deep-frying if you'd like to make the thighs extra crispy.
Because it utilizes less oil than traditional deep frying, air frying chicken provides a healthier option. The circulating heat still creates a crispy chicken crust (though not as crispy) and helps retain juices. It’s like deep-frying light. Simply Recipes suggests buying a whole chicken and cutting it up yourself. This way, you get some dark meat and some white meat. They also recommend going for skin-on, bone-in cuts, which tend to retain more flavor.
If “healthy” for you translates as no gluten, then it’s lucky you can simply sub in almond flour for wheat flour for a totally satisfying gluten-free fried chicken meal. This recipe calls for triple-coating the chicken for added crunch, and offers instructions for deep frying, air frying, and baking (as well as a take on Nashville-style hot chicken that works with deep frying only).
Craving classic buttermilk fried chicken, but not the deep frying? How about if you rub chicken drumsticks in buttermilk and let them stand at room temperature for 30 minutes. Then coat them in seasoned flour, mist the coated chicken with cooking spray, and bake on a rack in a hot oven. In about 1 ¼ hours total time, you’ll have juicy, crispy, flavorful not-fried chicken.
Perfect chicken recipes for every occasion
With over 300,000 chicken recipes to choose from, you could say we wrote the cookbook on chicken at Yummly, and then some. Here are some more tips, tricks, and favorites not to be missed.