The chicken wings I made for a Super Bowl party. Photo by Donna Turner Ruhlman

Fried chicken, done right, is one of the best things to eat on earth. It’s all about the proportions—crunchiness: juiciness: chewiness: savoriness. And this ratio hits golden proportions with the wing, lots of crunchy peppery surface area and sweet succulent meat.

The study of fried chicken began for me in 2007 during discussions, observations and eating with chef Dave Cruz at Ad Hoc in Yountville, CA, as we worked on the book Ad Hoc at Home. While Ad Hoc’s method of flour-buttermilk-flour is not unique, their trial and error experimentation with various methods (including sous vide), proved to them and to me, that this method is indeed superlative.

That was 2007, and I’ve since fried a lot of chicken. My recipe is in Ruhlman’s Twenty. I think it’s better than the one in Ad Hoc (I do a rosemary-lemon brine and season my flour differently). But talk to another chef, such as Michael Symon, and he’ll say his is better. If you want a great starting point, the exact Ad Hoc recipe is at the the amazon book link for Ad Hoc At Home above; it’s excellent. Here I’ll address the key points of great fried chicken, with a nifty slide show of pix by my wife Donna. (And I should pause briefly to thank her; as you can see, the gorgeous process shots, which fill Ruhlman’s Twenty are really what make the book both a great teaching tool and a powerful object. Thank you DT for your great work!)

A couple things to make clear at the outset, especially to those wary of deep frying. Use a big high pot, fill it no more than one-third full, and you shouldn’t have any worries about fire (if you ever do have one, don’t freak out, simply put a lid on it; those around you who are freaking out will marvel at your calm control).

About fat, yes there’s more fat in fried chicken than in baked skinless breast, but not all that much. Deep frying gets a bad rap. Eat a balanced diet, which as far as I’m concerned, includes fried chicken once every few months for its spiritual and mental health benefits in addition to being fun to eat.

 

Key Steps To Otherworldy Fried Chicken

  • Brine it. I use a 5% brine overnight and I’m partial to rosemary as the dominant herb flavor. Brine seasons and flavors the meat and also keeps it juicy.
  • If you have time, let the chicken sit out of the brine to let the skin dehydrate further.
  • Make a flavorful flour mixture. I think an aggressive use of ground black pepper is the critical factor (I use about a tablespoon per cup). I also use a lot of paprika and cayenne.
  • Buttermilk: it’s all about the viscosity, not the buttermilk. If you don’t have buttermilk thin yogurt or sour cream with milk. I don’t season the buttermilk, it’s a waste of the seasoning. All your seasoning should be in your flour.
  • Flour, buttermilk, flour, and into the oil. The first flour is to give the chicken a dry surface which the wet buttermilk will stick to. Flour in a separate bowl then sticks to the buttermilk.
  • I bring the oil to 375˚ F/190˚ C, because the heat drops so fast when you put all the chicken in.
  • Remove to drain on a rack; don’t let it sit on tray in its own oil.
  • For legs, thighs and wings, I like to finish them in a 250˚ F/120˚ C. oven, to make sure they’re super tender and to further crisp them. This lets me serve it whenever I want, no last minute frying if guests are invited. I brought the above wings to Mac’s house and reheated to crisp them up during the first quarter of the Super Bowl while we watched lame commercials.
  • Finishing garnish: it’s always nice. I deep-fried some rosemary and zested lemon over the chicken.

If you liked this post on how to fry chicken, check out these other links:

© 2012 Michael Ruhlman. Photo © 2012 Donna Turner-Ruhlman. All rights reserved

 

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36 Wonderful responses to “How To Fry Chicken”

  • Tim

    What struck me was the lighting through the bowls that shows off the background/countertop texture (and highlights the food) – Really nice work.

    As a thought on drying after brining – have you ever run compressed air under the skin to really dry the chicken skin out? Ala Peking Duck?

  • Nossi

    What are your thoughts on Kosher chickens and brining them? Most will say to not brine a Kosher chicken, so what would you do in that situation?

  • Lt. Sanders

    After your spirited tweets back and forth with Chef Symon after his fried chicken episode, I think we need to have a fried chicken “Food Feud” taste-off!

  • chris brandow

    I notice that the guest gluten-free fried chicken post lacks a number of the steps that you take. I would guess that adding your procedure with brining and buttermilking to the basic gluten free coating would be a great way to combine approaches?

    • Michael Ruhlman

      yes, or see link to stephanie sitavetti’s guest post at bottom of this one

  • Joshua Lowitz

    The Ad Hoc recipe is my “go to” for fried chicken, and if I have it (which I usually do) I make sure to go all out and fry in home-rendered lard. Last time I rendered, I put the fatback through my meat grinder, then used my Crockpot to render it slowly. Got any rendering tips to share with us?

  • Patrick Dennis

    Usually when I make my fried chicken (as I am doing tonight coincidentally) I use 2 or more birds. Tonight we are hosting our dinner party and I have three birds. Is it recommended to fry breast then thighs then wings/legs in that order? Also what about fry times? Or do you just check them with your thermometer?

    • Michael Ruhlman

      I fry breasts last. legs wings thighs great to keep warm, breasts will dry out if you’re not careful but if you not smart enough to avoid breasts then you kind of deserve it.

  • Richard Scholtz

    The only recommendation I have for frying chicken is that if you have a large pot and and outdoor propane burner (aka a turkey fryer kit), I suggest that this is a great time to use it. It keeps the grease and smell outside, and if you should have the misfortune of having a fire, you’re not going to burn down your kitchen.

    The ad hoc recipe is my starting point, but I don’t use as much lemon in the brine, as I feel it gives the chicken too much of a lemony flavor. Other than that, it’s my standard. However, I shall try Ruhlman’s and Symon’s recipes as well.

  • Abigail Blake

    Very impressed with Donna’s photos, especially since fried chicken seems to my own personal photographic Waterloo. And your chicken looks scrumptious!

  • Peter

    Similar approaches to fried chicken and I think superior are Art Smith’s and Tyler Florence’s with Tyler’s edging out as per dinner guests’ opnions. Both recipes thoroughly cook the chicken while fried, no oven.

  • John in Seattle

    This morning I was just reading the section in book two of Moderinist Cuisine about cooking in oil. Timely post for me. Thanks. Guess I should get the deep fryer out of storage.

  • kitchenriffs

    I think an aggressive use of ground black pepper is the critical factor (I use about a tablespoon per cup). I also use a lot of paprika and cayenne. Bingo! This is exactly what I do, although I often omit the paprika. And I sometimes mix milk & egg, dunk chicken, season heavily, then flour – I can’t decide whether I prefer that method or the flour/buttermilk/flour method. Anyway, thanks for this.

  • Tom

    Michael, just got Twenty a couple of weeks ago. Your book is a work of art, between the quality stock it’s printed on, the cover, the built in bookmark, the gorgeous pictures, and of course, your recipes and writing, I won’t take it in the kitchen for fear something will splatter on it! Did the roasted chicken last weekend…outstanding! I’ll tackle the fried bird soon.

  • John Kerr

    I ordered a hardcover copy of Ruhlman’s 20 on Amazon in late December. Delivery was promised for sometime in early January. Then in mid-January I got first a notification from Amazon that the book might not be available, and then a final notification that it is not available and would not be shipped. What’s up with that? This has never happened with anything I’ve ordered on Amazon before. Amazon does list a Kindle edition of the book, but I would prefer to have a hardcopy version because it does not look like something that would translate well to Kindle.

    • Mantonat

      I wouldn’t get this for Kindle. The color photos are gorgeous and the book has such a nice feel and heft. Any book stores near you?

  • Tam

    Maybe I missed it here, or maybe I need to order the book, but thoughts on peanut oil vs shortening? The Bon Appétit recipe called for peanut oil. Last August’s Food & Wine said shortening. Thoughts?

  • james

    oh man I’m in!! every year we go visit my brother-in-law in yountville for a week and every time for the last three years we’re there when ad hoc isn’t making fried chicken. guess i’ll just have to make it myself. thanks!

  • Tags

    A great account of fried chicken in the USA is John T. Edge’s “Fried Chicken: An American Story,” complete with recipes.

  • Kurt

    Any thoughts on subbing out some of the flour for cornstarch, if only for some crispy insurance? I’ve prepared the Ad Hoc recipe three times now, and used about 1/3 cornstarch the last time….and I it made a difference, though my evidence is purely anecdotal.

  • Bunnee

    Your roast chicken (and stock with the carcass) is a weekly event at our house. Just tried the fish tacos and I did a great job with the frying – crispy exterior, moist interior. Maybe it is time to try to fry chicken again under your guidance. I’ve failed at chicken repeatedly – too done on outside, too underdone on inside – with an assortment of recipes. If yours works, 20 will get the place of honor in my kitchen for sure!

  • Lyndsay Wells

    I’ve only ever fried chicken once and have never really perfected the technique because I’ve shied away from the calories. I love your philosophy on the spiritual aspects of friend chicken – I agree, every few months is just good for the soul. And I can see that it is far better to make my own than buying a *ahem* bucket. Thanks for another great recipe and how to.

  • Chris K.

    Have you ever played around with incorporating potato or corn starch in the second dredging stage? In my experience it helps create a crispier crust that doesn’t get soggy over time.

    I use a 6-quart cast iron Dutch oven for deep frying. Heat stabilization is easier to control and a silicone splatter guard minimizes the mess.

    If you’re going to deep fry at home – infrequently – why not go for broke? Use Crisco or lard. They’ll probably take years off your life, but the flavor can’t be beat.

  • Tommy

    I made your Fried Chicken last night for my in-laws and it was a hit. The juiciness of the chicken and the crispiness of the crust was amazing. Everyone loved how the aromats from the brine shined through in the meat of the chicken. Awesome, awesome dinner!

  • Pat M

    MR,

    Could you provide more details from Dave Cruz on their experimentation, especially the sous vide? It might save me a lot of time and more importantly a lot of chicken.

    The best parcooking angle I’ve found so far is brine first, then smoking at 250-300 degrees until internal temps are 150 for white meat, 160 or so for dark meat then chilling before frying. Good moisture, crust and (to me) better flavor than cold smoked then fried versions.

    The next parcooking experiment was going to be SV, but I’m not that optimistic so any lessons learned from the pros would be helpful.

    Cheers,
    Pat

  • EB

    There are few foods that better define “comfort” than fried chicken. I’ve done a lot of experimenting over the past couple of years and found our families sweet spot. Things I have learned:
    - the chicken makes a big difference — avoid enhanced birds (those injected with a solution containing XXX), and look for smaller chickens, ~ 3 lbs
    - a dry marinade (rub) for 24 hrs in the fridge is preferred to brining, the depth of flavor is as good if not better, the skin will be crisper, and coating adhesion will be much better
    - for a crust that is both tender and amazingly crisp, use a soft wheat flour (pastry flour with about 12.5% protein content works great)
    - between dredges an egg wash using 2 Tbl of water per whole egg (no dairy) gives the best adhesion and coating crispness; use of milk + eggs or buttermilk leads to excessive browning
    - if using a large bird (4+ lbs), dredge, rest 10-mins, then repeat the final dredge just before going into the oil
    - fry dark meat and white meat pieces in separate batches
    - fry in peanut oil and use a deep fry thermometer; use a suitable wire or trivet inside the pot so that the chicken can’t rest on the bottom
    - deep frying gives great crispness but with loss of coating adhesion; pan frying where about 1/3 of the chicken remains exposed above the oil leads to comparable crispness with great adhesion
    - turn the chicken about every 2 minutes while cooking (contrary to common teachings), and don’t use tongs (they break the delicate crust — long chopsticks, wooden spoons, etc. do the job better.
    - rest the fried bird for 15-30 min’s after done, then flash heat for 3-5 min’s in a 450 °F oven just before serving

    Now I’m hungry, again.

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