When we decided to have fried chicken for our Georgia state dinner, I’ll admit I was a little intimidated. I usually prepare “fried” chicken in the oven. It’s healthier that way, and I love anything that cooks without me having to stand over it. But fried chicken is a southern staple! So I knew I needed to figure out how to make perfectly crispy, moist, and flavorful fried chicken.
The Size of Your Meat Matters
Probably the most important, yet often overlooked factor in making buttermilk fried chicken is the size of your meat! Leave the oversized breasts for another meal. The perfect size for frying is about the size of your fist. I didn’t pay attention to this the night of our Georgia dinner, and the chicken breasts we got were more than twice the optimal size. It ended up being a bit of a disaster! The outside breading was done and the inside had barely risen in temperature. We ended up having to finish the chicken in the oven, which eventually worked, but it took forever and the outside got a little burned. Later, with smaller meat, we had much better success!
The next important factor is the temperature of your oil. Heat the oil to 350 degrees. When you put the chicken in the temperature will drop, but as long as it is always above 300 degrees and never above 350 degrees, you will be fine. A deep fryer thermometer is handy to have, so you know when to adjust your burner.
Secrets for the Most Flavorful Buttermilk Fried Chicken
Let’s back up and cover how to get the most flavorful and tender chicken possible! To get the most flavorful chicken I use a buttermilk marinade and a perfectly seasoned flour mixture. For the marinade, some people like to put hot sauce and other seasonings in the mix. I prefer 100% straight buttermilk. Super simple! Just put the chicken in a big bowl and cover it with buttermilk. Stir it around to get everything well coated, and refrigerate for 2-4 hours.
For the breading, we start with a mixture of flour and cornstarch. The cornstarch is what will give it a really good, crispy texture. Then mix in the flavorful seasonings, including paprika, garlic powder, and cayenne. By keeping the seasonings in the breading, and allowing the buttermilk to tenderize the chicken, you end up with beautiful layers of flavors. The chicken flavor is not overpowered by the seasonings, but each bite is still packed with flavor.
How to Keep the Breading from Falling Off
There are a few secrets that will help the breading stay on your chicken. To start, make sure there isn’t an excess of buttermilk on the chicken. It shouldn’t be dry, but slide your hand down both sides of the chicken to get all of the excess buttermilk off.
Next, cover it in the flour-cornstarch mixture and press the mixture into the chicken. If you want super-crunchy chicken, dip it in the buttermilk again, and then back into the flour-cornstarch. Otherwise, set it aside on a plate. Let it sit for at least 20-30 minutes. This resting time is key! It’s almost like this time allows the breading to glue itself to the chicken (not that you want to think about glue when cooking).
Back to Frying
Your breaded chicken has rested, your oil is at 350, and now you are ready to begin the frying. Place the chicken in the oil one at a time, being careful not to crowd the pan. You want each piece of chicken to have space around it, as this will help keep the oil temperature in the right range, and crowding can cause the chicken pieces to bump into each other, knocking off the breading.
Check the bottom of one piece of chicken after about 7 minutes. It should be a nice golden brown. If so, carefully turn each piece over. I find bbq tongs are a great tool for this step! Cook it on the other side until it reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees (dark meat can be cooked up to 175 degrees).
More Time to Rest
The last step in perfect and crispy buttermilk fried chicken is to let it rest. Place a sheet of parchment paper under a wire cooling rack. Carefully remove each piece of chicken from the oil and place it on the rack. Let it rest for 10 minutes before serving.
Buttermilk Fried Chicken
- 4 lbs chicken, cut into pieces
- 2 cups buttermilk
- 3 cups flour
- 1/2 cup cornstarch
- 2 tbsp salt
- 1 tbsp paprika
- 2 tsp onion powder
- 1 tbsp garlic powder
- 1 tsp pepper
- 1 tsp cayenne pepper (adjust to taste preference)
- Place chicken pieces in a large bowl. Pour buttermilk over the top and stir to coat each piece. Cover and refrigerate for 2-4 hours.
- Mix flour, cornstarch, and all seasonings together in a pie plate or other shallow dish.
- One piece at a time, remove chicken from marinade, wipe off excess buttermilk, and coat in flour mixture. Press flour mixture firmly into chicken. If a crispier coating is preferred, dip back into buttermilk and then again into the flour. Place on a plate and set aside for 30 minutes.
- Pour 1-2 inches of oil int a large skillet (no more than 1/2 way up the side of the pan). Heat to 350 degrees. Carefully place chicken into the hot oil, with space between each piece.
- After about 7 minutes, check the bottom of one of your chicken pieces. If it is browned, turn the chicken over to cook on the other side. Once the chicken has reached an internal temperature of 165 degrees, it is done. This usually takes 15-20 minutes, but depends on the size of your meat.
- Carefully remove chicken and place on a wire rack that is lined with parchment paper underneath. Let rest for 10 minutes, then serve.