Traditional, authentic, deep-fried buttermilk-brined southern fried chicken by a true Southern Belle! Learn the secrets to the juiciest meat, the crunchiest crust, and most flavorful fried chicken you’ve ever had.
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As some one who has lived all across the South, from Texas, to Maryland, to South Florida, and all in between, I would like to think I’m an expert when it comes to southern fried chicken.
I think every region of the world likes fried chicken. I have yet to meet someone who says, “We don’t eat fried chicken where I come from.” They may not fry it up like we do, but nonetheless, fried chicken is fried chicken.
Maybe somewhere in Europe they don’t fry chicken, like in Greece or Sweden or something…they’re pretty healthy, right? Probably don’t fry chicken there.
The perfect southern fried chicken is golden brown, with tons of beautiful, beautiful crag, juicy, tender meat, with lots of flavor both in the batter and within the chicken. It’s got a bit of spice (or a lot, depending on your tastes) and fantastically crispy skin.
But if you’ve never made fried chicken, you don’t have a clue how easy it is…as long as you have the right tools and the know-how.
Here are my tips, start to finish, for the perfect batch of authentic southern fried chicken:
The flavors in your southern fried chicken are important, you guys.
You could just go the salt and pepper route, you could add a ton of really good herbs like rosemary, sage, and thyme, you can do a mix like I do, but know what flavors you are using and how to use them. Too much hot sauce or rosemary can overpower, not enough salt won’t work in the osmosis process of buttermilk or completely make your crust flavorless.
My recipe is my all-time favorite mix of flavors, giving classic fried chicken flavor with some oomph with the hot sauce, thyme, the minced garlic. It’s full of delicious, well-rounded flavor, but I encourage you to try your own mix of flavors when you get comfortable.
Your Southern Fried Chicken’s Perfect Brine
A brine needs three things: liquid, salt, and tons of flavor. If you follow me on Instagram, you saw me make this chicken brine on my Stories! It’s such an easy thing to make but it’s such an important thing to making sure your chicken is juicy and flavorful from the inside out.
My brine starts with buttermilk, of course. It’s just not southern if buttermilk isn’t involved. Buttermilk’s acids help breakdown the proteins in chicken to make the meat very tender. Garlic, to add flavor, along with hot sauce, and some spices and fresh thyme. And, of course, salt to draw the moisture and all that flavor into the meat through osmosis (Yeah, science!). The chicken parts sit overnight in the buttermilk brine and are tender, seasoned on the inside, and ready to be breaded and fried.
Pretty sure that besides the chicken and the coating, that delicious southern fried chicken wouldn’t be delicious southern fried chicken without a good brine.
Your Light, Crisp, and Flavorful Fried Chicken Crust
I’m excited about this part, your earth-shattering, crispy, craggy crust supreme. We don’t just put flour on our chicken, and we certainly don’t want to put UNSEASONED flour on our chicken!
That’s blasphemy, and I’m judging you for the unseasoned plain flour on your southern fried chicken.
In this house, all-purpose flour is whisked up with cornstarch and baking powder! They make your crust light, crazily crisp, and give you that good crunch and that amazing crag (those nooks and crannies in your crust) so to me, these two magic ingredients are necessary for the perfect fried chicken.
As for the seasoning, you must make a well-seasoned crust. Period. Go with the same flavors you put in your brine, just in powdered forms. Don’t put any fresh herbs or minced garlic in your flour, please. They will burn up and be bitter and gross, don’t do it. Granulated garlic, onion powder, dried and ground herbs, those powdered spices are your friend here. They become sort of homogeneous with the flour, so you’re not just covering the chicken in flour and then covering the flour in seasoning, but covering them in seasoning and flour together at once.
Splash some of your brine mixture into the flour, just a few tablespoons. This is the best kept secret to creating great crag.
The Dredging Process and Your Oils
Rest is so important when dredging. Period! I dredge twice, as I usually do when frying, to make sure there is a thick, crunchy crust, and between the layer and before frying, I let the chicken rest on a plate for 5 minutes. It lets the batter kind of settle down, come together (instead of sizzling off the chicken while in the oil), and it makes a real good crust.
I use vegetable oil to fry. It’s flavorless, has a high smoke point, and it’s a good base to fry with.
I’m allergic to peanuts, but if you’re not feeding any peanut-allergy people, I suggest using peanut-oil when available. It’s an industry standard to many.
The Grandma standard, however, is Crisco. Maybe I’ll do a little post showing the difference in frying with different oils.
Your Temperature and Timing
I spent many a time wasting my time messing with the temperatures of my oil while frying chicken!
Too cold and the chicken will not only take forever to cook, but it will be heavy and greasy. Too hot (and I’ve had this problem many a time), you will end up with raw chicken inside and burnt, blackened batter on the outside. Oh, and smoke.
A lot of smoke.
And fire alarms.
325 degrees F, 20-22 minutes. It’s the magic time and temperature I’ve found that cooks your chicken to juicy perfection, and fries up your batter to golden perfection. No burning, no rawness, no having to stand over your pot anxiously glaring at the thermometer. Just perfect.
Get your brine right
Plain flour is blasephemy
Dredge twice, fry once.
325 degrees F, 20-22 minutes.
Oh, one more thing. Cut your chicken breasts in half (not length-wise, cut through the middle) so that the chicken breasts fry up around the same time as the rest of the pieces and don’t dry out or burn up. One whole chicken, with your breasts cut into two pieces each, make ten pieces, but you can use ten individual chicken parts.
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- 10 pieces of chicken
- 5 cups buttermilk
- 1 tbsp hot sauce
- 1 tbsp minced garlic
- 3 springs fresh thyme
- 1 tbsp onion powder
- 2 tsp paprika
- 3 tbsp kosher salt
- 2 tsp freshly cracked black pepper
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/3 cup cornstarch
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 2 tbsp garlic powder
- 2 tbsp onion powder
- 1 tbsp dried oregano
- 1 tsp chili powder
- 2 tsp paprika
- 1-2 tsp kosher salt
- 1 tbsp black pepper
- Vegetable oil
- In a large bowl or two gallon-sized zip-top bags, put brine herbs and spices in. Pour buttermilk into the bowl and whisk up to mix buttermilk and seasoning together. Add chicken pieces and make sure each piece is submerged in the buttermilk. Refrigerate at least 4 hours, overnight most prefered. You can brine the chicken to up to 24 hours.
- When you're ready to start frying, begin bringing a 6 quart enamel cast iron dutch oven (or any other large, heavy bottom pot) filled half-way with vegetable oil to temperature. Use a candy/oil thermometer to bring oil to 325 degrees F. When you place the stem of a wooden spoon in the oil, it should start to bubble around it. That's when you know it's ready. This is a good way to test the oil temperature if you don't have a thermometer.
- Preheat oven to 200 degrees F.
- While oil is coming to temp, in a large bowl whisk together flour, cornstarch, baking powder, and spices and herbs. Splash a bit of brine, about 4 tbsp, into the flour.
- Take each piece of chicken out of the brine and coat well in the flour mixture. Let rest on a plate, repeat until each piece is coated in flour. Let rest for 5 minutes, then dip each piece back into the flour mixture and let rest again for 5-10 minutes.
- Have a wire rack over a baking sheet prepared on a counter next to your range. Fry your chicken pieces, 2-4 pieces at a time, for about 20-22 minutes. When batch is done, place on prepared wire rack over the baking sheet and put into the warm oven. This will keep the batches warm while you finish frying. Repeat this step until complete.
- Serve immediately.
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 300
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Eden Westbrook is the recipe developer, writer, and photographer behind Sweet Tea and Thyme. A classically trained chef, Eden has inspired home cooks into the kitchen with cultural comfort foods, easy family-friendly eats and sweets, and glorious spreads for date night and entertaining since 2015.