Christy learned the art and science of cooking from her Southern kin. Her cooking secrets aren't secrets because she shares them freely.
I grew up in Kentucky, the land of basketball, bourbon, and Southern Baptist preachers. My kids’ first words were “Mama,” “Dada,” and “Go, Cats!” (Just kidding about "Mama" and "Dada.")
Kentucky is also the land of fried chicken. A certain colonel understood that in Kentucky, we fry chicken up good. Smell the aroma wafting the kitchen. Grab a pile of napkins and a drumstick—a fork and knife just won't do. Bite into that spicy, herby breading and then into the juicy meat. You’re in heaven.
Unfortunately, we’re not as good at teaching how to fry chicken, which is why I never learned it from my mom. I had to figure it out for myself.
Over time my recipe evolved. I experimented with seasonings. I tried different types of pans. I switched to boneless — for a while. Yes, I’m about to share my findings on all of these.
The best measure of success for a recipe is the amount left over. With this fried chicken, I never have leftovers — no matter how hard I try.
What Makes This Recipe Special?
- The seasoning mix: The Colonel’s original recipe has always been guarded as fiercely as the gold in Fort Knox. I worked out my own through years of trial and error. I tested the recipe the way everyone does — I experimented on my family. A few years ago, when the Colonel’s nephew leaked what he believed was the original recipe, the list of herbs and spices was the same as my own, except for the white pepper. (A few amounts are different.)
- Cast iron: Nothing beats cast iron for beautifully browning the chicken. A cast iron dutch oven keeps the steam, cooking the inside of the chicken in the same amount of time it takes to brown the outside. If you pan fry it instead, cover the skillet with a heavy lid. This keeps the steam in so chicken comes out as moist and tasty as if it came from the Colonel’s pressure cooker.
How to Properly Fry Chicken
Follow the steps below, and you'll eat juicy, flavorful fried chicken tonight without dropping $40 at a restaurant.
|Prep time||Cook time||Ready in||Yields|
4 to 6 servings
For the breading:
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 teaspoon rosemary
- 1 teaspoon basil
- ½ teaspoon thyme
- ½ teaspoon sage
- ½ teaspoon garlic powder
- ½ teaspoon onion powder
- ½ teaspoon paprika
- ½ teaspoon ginger
- ½ teaspoon dried mustard powder
- ¼ teaspoon celery seed
For the chicken:
- 1 fryer chicken, cut up
- 3 cups buttermilk, optional
- 1 cup milk, optionally substitute buttermilk
- 3 eggs
About the seasonings...
My friend's husband, watching her prep the breading: "So, half a teaspoon of everything in the spice cabinet."
Me: "Is that really all you have in your spice cabinet?!"
- Optional step: Marinate the chicken in 3 cups of buttermilk in the refrigerator. Use more buttermilk if needed to cover the chicken. Marinate for at least 2 hours, or overnight.
- About 20 minutes before you begin cooking, remove the chicken from the refrigerator, pour out the marinade, and let the chicken come to room temperature.
- Mix all breading ingredients in a 1-gallon Ziploc bag. Shake until well mixed.
- If you plan to make a flour-based gravy, set aside 3 tablespoons of breading.
- Pour a 1/4 inch of oil in the pan. Preheat the oil to medium heat (about 350°F).
- While the oil is heating, place the breading bag on the counter near the stove. Put the remaining 2 cups of milk (or buttermilk) in a small bowl next to the breading.
- Pat the chicken dry with a paper towel. One piece at a time, dredge the chicken in breading, dip it in the milk/egg mixture, coating both sides, and return it to the breading. Shake the bag to coat the chicken with breading. Set it on a plate and prepare the next piece.
- Let the breaded chicken rest for at least 5 minutes.
- Add the chicken to the Dutch oven or frying pan. Arrange the pieces in a single layer with space between the pieces. If you have more chicken than fits in a single layer, hold the rest for a second batch.
- Cover and cook for about 10 to 15 minutes, or until the bottom is golden brown. Turn chicken over and cook for another 10 to 15 minutes, or until both sides are browned.
- Let the cooked chicken rest for about 5 minutes before serving. This is the perfect time to make the gravy.
- Chicken: Instead of a bone-in fryer, you can use boneless, skinless chicken breasts or thighs.
- Buttermilk: If you prefer, you can use milk instead of buttermilk for the marinade.
- Herbs and spices: If you don't have all of the ones listed above, don't sweat it. Use what you have. Cooking should be fun!
Don't Forget the Mashed Potatoes and Gravy
While the chicken rests is the perfect time to make the gravy. For white or brown gravy, reserve 2–3 tablespoons of breading. Save the oil and scrape the browned bits stuck to the bottom of the pan (called the "fond"). The fond makes the gravy taste oh-so-good.
If you're using boneless chicken, shove the chicken up against the mashed potatoes and slather both in gravy. On the other hand, if you're using bone-in chicken and eating it with your hands, save the gravy for the mashed potatoes.
Perfect for Outdoor Cooking, Too
I'm a big fan of cooking at the campground. This recipe works well in a camp-style Dutch oven.
- Arrange coals on the lid in a circle around the edge, with a few in the center.
- Arrange the coals on the bottom a circle around the outer edge, with none in the center.
How many briquettes?
- 10" Dutch oven: Use 15 briquettes on top and 10 on the bottom.
- 12" Dutch oven: Use 13 briquettes on top and 8 on the bottom.
If you're using wood coals, burn the wood down until they're white-hot (in the daytime) or red-hot (at night). Use approximately the equivalent to the number of briquettes shown above.
Don't worry if you don't get it exactly right. The temperature in a dutch oven fluctuates wildly. Fortunately, fried chicken is very forgiving. It doesn't matter if it's a little too hot or cold. Just keep an eye on it to make sure it cooks thoroughly but doesn't burn.
Can You Fry Chicken in the Air Fryer?
Sort of. As convenient as an air fryer is, you have to remember one thing: it doesn’t fry food.
It bakes it.
Essentially, your air fryer is a big, expensive toaster oven. So if you wouldn't try to fry chicken in a toaster oven, then don't try it in an air fryer.
That means you can use this recipe in an air fryer, but the breading in this recipe will not set up the same way. It’s likely to be a little soggy in some places and too crisp in others.
Fortunately, there are recipes that will work in the air fryer. Think of baked chicken.
But for this recipe, stick with a cast-iron Dutch oven or skillet.
Now, Get Cooking!
There you have it. Now you can fry chicken like any good Southerner.
And I’ve done you one better—since my mom didn’t teach me.
© 2020 Christy Marie Kent
What Do Y'All Think?
Christy Marie Kent (author) from Minneapolis, Minnesota on October 08, 2020:
Thanks, KT! Bacon grease ... yum! She's also right that cast-iron makes everything better.
KT Dunn from United States on October 08, 2020:
This does sound good! I've never been able to master the art of frying chicken, so I will give it another try. My mother made it look so easy. She cooked virtually everything in cast-iron pans and also used a lot of bacon grease and salt. :D