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Fried Chicken ... to soak or not?

I've been tasked to make fried chicken for a Memorial Day gathering.

I'd like to get some guidance and advice about whether the chicken should first be bathed or soaked in buttermilk (or yogurt) prior to dredging and frying?

I know some people don't bother with the buttermilk part, and I also know that some people are adamant that that the chicken should be soaked in buttermilk for a couple of hours, if not overnight.

Any thoughts?

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  1. Count me in as a buttermilk soaker.

    I add salt and pepper to the milk and I think that acts as a brine, making the chicken quite tender. I also think the milk draws out blood and such, also a positive.

    1. I also totally advocate soaking overnight in buttermilk. It just makes everything so moist and tender, and is such an easy step in what can be a messy undertaking.
      Also, a good amount of salt, pepper and cayenne in your flour is a most.
      Where is that old post for the best fried chicken anyway? I remember someone asked for an old BA recipe (or from some food mag) and miraculously, someone was able to dig it up. That recipe was definitely full of love.

      1. I'm a firm believer in the soak overnight in buttermilk method. No idea what the chemistry is behind it, but I'm always sorry when I don't do it. In addition to S&P, I also add a hit of Sriracha. But then, I add a hit of Sriracha to just about everything.

        1. Soak soak soak then drip drip drain then bounce bounce bread then dry then fry.

          Chicken is better when soaked in lactic acid (produced by lactobacilli in both buttermilk and yogurt).

          Soak 24 hours in buttermilk or yogurt, with added salt, white pepper, garlic. Add some vinegar (acetic acid) to give a complementary acid tang,

          Drain off the excess soaking solution on wire racks. (There should be 10 pieces per chicken, since you surely cut those humongous breasts in half).

          Dredge in your favorite mix of flour and 11 herbs and spices, using a clear plastic bag inflated with a lungful of air and spun-twisted shut. Kids love the "inflate-the-bag-and -spin-it-shut" part, and so do I. Then, enjoy the jubilant bounce as you shake it up and down and get a product that is coated, but not clumpy. Remove with care to causing no wet-clumped fingers destroying the breading. Let the beasts now air dry on the rack.

          Then fry.

          6 Replies
          1. re: FoodFuser

            I wish I would have seen this Tuesday. I did everything you said FoodFuser...except fry. I baked. And while the chicken meat was good because of the soak, my crust came out woefully soggy. I gotta keep trying 'til I get it right. I was a little hesitant to fry using all that oil for fear I would be able to control the heat in my skillet. At least I still got good taqsting meat, but I wimped out.

            1. re: JackieChiles

              Jackie, I don't deep fry, I pan fry my fried chicken, using just a couple inches of oil in a frying pan, and flipping halfway through cooking to cook the other side. This method makes great fried chicken. Also, I use the smallest chickens I can find. This is not the time for the Oven-Stuffer Roaster.

              1. re: TrishUntrapped

                Trish, I did use a bigger chicken, and usually do. Perhaps that is my problem. I've tried several times to do what you suggest, but more than a few times the chicken doesn't get cooked all the way through. The smaller chicken is probably the key. My two biggest problems thus far are soggy crust and under cooked bird. I'll give her another whirl. Thanks.

                1. re: JackieChiles

                  If I am feeling lazy, or don't want to smell up the house with pan frying, I will "oven fry" my chicken and it always comes out crispy. Try to allow for soaking time, but sometimes during the week, there just isn't enough advance thought & planning available. I dip chicken pieces or tenders in melted butter and then in mixture of bread crumbs, seasoning, crushed corn flakes or panko and air dry on rack for 30-45 min. Vake in 375-400 convection oven on rack, allows air to circulate all around, making skin very crispy.

                  Another tip - when I am pan frying multiple chickens for a large crowd, I do the dark meat first, then stick on rack over cookie sheet, keep warm in 275 oven and cook second batch of white meat. This allows more time for dark meat to "cook through". I try to find broilers in the 3 lb or 3.5 lb range and cut them up myself.

                  1. re: Diane in Bexley

                    You know, I didn't use a rack. I didn't have one big enough. I guess I need that. I did use a whole chicken, cut up myself. I soaked it in buttermilk over night, and I did use panko also. I feel I'm getting close from everything I've read, but I guess I'll keep trying with these additional suggestions. Thanks

                    1. re: JackieChiles

                      I'm not a perfect chef either and sometimes have cooked the outside of the chicken too fast in the pan, so I do something similar to what Diane does.

                      I take the chicken after it is browned on both sides, and put it on a cooling rack on top of a flatish pan or cookie sheet with sides, and cook the chicken at around 350 degrees until it is done. The nice thing about using the rack is the frying grease is repelled off the chicken and you don't need to put it on paper towels, or paper bags afterwards.

                      This works really well. The chicken is crispy and cooked through.

                      Also, in my flour mix, I use a lot of salt, black pepper and a pinch of cayenne.

          2. Hi All – This is an update to this thread.

            It is, after all, my favorite thread. Why? Because it was my first post on CH, and because I just started a new job and have not have any time to post lately. I’m happy to be posting and cooking again! There are a very many great people on this board that have eased my way into the CH culture and its been much appreciated.

            So to the fried chicken! See my two photos please.

            Question # 1) Why did it come out so dark? Well, it’s really not all that dark, but there are spots that are really dark? Is that blood? Did I fry it too long? It soaked in buttermilk for two days? Why did the blood not disperse – I still saw blood on the cut bones, even after the 48 hour soak?

            Question # 2) Look at my pan? The bits are the left over panko, I think. I used half Crisco, half Veg Oil. I think it looks clean but I’m not sure. I did not use garlic so that is not garlic.

            Overall – it tasted good, had a good crunch, but I think I can do better (well – I’ve tasted better anyway)

            Here’s how I prepared it.

            1) 48 hour soak in buttermilk. I put it in Wed, and didn’t have the strength to do it Thurs., so I waited until today.
            2) Drained chicken of the buttermilk
            3) Dredged in flour, panko (half a small bag of panko is all I had left so I added it), salt, pepper, and cayenne. (What amounts do you use? I eyeballed it).
            4) Fried in a cast iron skillet with half Crisco, half veg oil (I just didn’t have enough Crisco to go the whole mile).
            5) Let stand on a rack for 30 mins.

            Ok –As I said, the taste was good, but I’ve had better, and I’ve seen better. What can I possibly be doing different to make the perfect fried chicken? Or is this a case of sometimes it tastes better when SOMEONE ELSE prepares it. I’m not sure.

            Thanks All

            Oh - One other question. Why don't more people post pictures on this site? I'm so much of a visual cook, I love pictures, it really helps me a lot. I always feel a little let down when someone describes a great recipe or dish that sounds so good, but I don't get any pictures! Is it just me or what?

            3 Replies
            1. re: JackieChiles

              mmm fried chicken. so simple but so elusive. does any one have any tips on making the crust crispy but not overly greasy? i've had good results with flavorful, tender chicken but my crust, while crispy always ends up a bit on the greasy side? could it be the type of oil i fry in? i used peanut oil last. maybe i should just go for broke and buy that lard...

              1. re: cookswithcats

                I do have a tip for de-greasing fried chicken, as I stated above. I call it the "heat repelling" system.

                After the chicken is fried, put it on a baking sheet with a cooking rack on it. Place the chicken on the rack and bake in a preheated 350 to 400 degree oven for just a few minutes. The grease will run from the chicken skin through the rack onto the cooking sheet.

                By using the "heat repelling" system, I don't even need to drain the chicken on paper towels or a paper bag, etc... The heat and rack does the work for me.

                This method also helps if the chicken fries on the outside too quickly and is still undercooked inside. You can cook it until it is done in the hot oven.

                1. re: TrishUntrapped

                  Another southerner's vote for buttermilk. It makes it stickier for one, so the coating adheres better, but the acidity-tenderizing effect can't be beat with a brine.

                  I LOVE this "heat repelling" idea. I did it once by accident with some larger pieces that were getting a little too brown in the oil...moved them to the oven and they came out so dry and crisp. Perfect. I'll just do it like that every time now!

            2. Brine it, don't buttermilk it.

              Anyhoo- for pan fried chicken, you need the pan half full of peanut or canola oil.

              I like to use a frying thermometer, and you cant put too many pieces in the pan at one time I get the oil up to 375, and leave them in for 7 min each side.

              Keeping the temperature up is the secret to non greasy crust.

              1 Reply
              1. re: wallyz

                No brine, not needed if you use buttermilk. Just another step I don't have time for.

              2. Agree buttermilk, overnight. Always have, but I don't fry chicken to often, but yes.

                1 Reply
                1. re: kchurchill5

                  It is all about presentation. Arrange with the deli department of your favorite grocer to pickup as much freshly fried chicken as you want. Line a nice wicker basket with a red and white checkered napkin, arrange the chicken, and cover with another red and white checkered napkin. Keep quiet and accept the compliments.

                2. The perfect chicken recipe - crispy, non-greasy, and tons of flavor that's great hot or cold. Just brine, soak/dip, and fry.

                  Prepare chicken - cut into 10 pieces (legs, thighs, wings (clip end), quartered breasts), clean, and trim large deposits of fat. Personally, I'd just use about 12-15 legs and thighs.

                  Bring to boil and simmer until melted - in water a handful of salt, half again of honey, lemon zest, smashed garlic cloves, bay leaves, thyme, peppercorns, and fresh parsley (or cilantro). Cool to room temperature with ice cubes and cool water. Put in a bag with the chicken pieces and brine for between 1 and 4 hours in the ref.

                  Remove chicken pieces from the brine, discard the brine and rinse/wipe bag. Place chicken pieces and buttermilk in the bag and let soak for an hour. Prepare dip of 2C flour, 1T salt, 1t cayenne pepper, 1t chili powder, and 1T cumin plus 1-2T of buttermilk. After soaking, dip chicken in flour mixture and place on a rack over a pan. Let rest for an hour. Re-dip the chicken pieces in the flour mixture.

                  Preheat oven to 375. Heat a neutral oil to 350 in a fryer (or a cast iron pan). Put chicken in the pan (or fryer) - do not crowd pan. Cook until golden brown on each side. Put pieces fried chicken on a rack over a pan and finish in oven until done (157) - do not overcook.

                  I like to serve the chicken with a chipotle sauce.

                  17 Replies
                  1. re: alwayscooking

                    I have never (at least knowingly) tasted fried chicken prepared with buttermilk. I see it helps with the preparation/cooking but does it add flavor somehow? Do you taste the buttermilk after the chicken is cooked?

                    1. re: IndigoOnTheGo

                      The buttermilk is critical for both the texture of the meat and the crisp crust. It adds a very small amount of flavor so is enhanced by the flour and spices. This recipe will be unsuccessful without it - it is one of the many layers of flavors. I encourage your to make it - my SO who is typically fried food adverse, asks for it frequently.

                    2. re: alwayscooking

                      I have not fried chikcen before and would like to try this recipe, however I am concerned about heating oil and frying in a shallow cast iron pan. Can I use a dutch oven?

                      1. re: chowboy55

                        Any pan that can get the oil hot enough 350-360 can be used. I assume that you can use a dutch oven - and with enough oil, it could become a full fryer. Be careful putting and pulling the chicken - the pieces might shift the pan with its the higher sides.

                        Happy eating and let me know!

                        1. re: chowboy55

                          I made this chicken last night for dinner. It was simple but took a few hours to make. It was really good. The chicken was moist and you could taste some of the things from the brine. The crust was crispy, flavorful and not greasy. I will make this again.

                        2. re: alwayscooking

                          "Prepare dip of 2C flour, 1T salt, 1t cayenne pepper, 1t chili powder, and 1T cumin plus 1-2T of buttermilk."

                          I have a question about the dip recipe above - what do you mean by "plus 1-2T of buttermilk"? Do you add buttermilk to the flour mixture? Doesn't that make a gooey mess?

                          Another thing is that I don't like to brine because of the salt content. We have to watch our salt intake and I think that would make it too salty. What's your opinion on that, AC?

                          1. re: danhole

                            The added buttermilk to the flour mixture will barely dampen it - it's there to make the flour mixture a bit denser so that it makes a thicker and crunchier crust.

                            As for the brine, it will add salt to the chicken and so I reduce the amount of time that other recipes recommend. There is enough time to allow the salt to break the protein fibers and allow the water to enter - giving moister meat with a slight hint of the herbs, etc in the brine water. If you are concerned about salt, omit the salt in the flour mixture - I'd hate to give up on the benefits of the brine. My salt-abhorrent SO has never commented on this chicken being too salty (a frequently heard compliant in most other dishes) and has asked for this chicken often. It's also a favorite with everyone that's eaten it - even those who typically refuse fried foods.

                            1. re: alwayscooking

                              Instead of omitting the salt in the flour mix, do you think I could reduce the amount of salt in the brine? Or maybe cut back on the time of brining even a bit more than you have. I really appreciate your help. My DH begs me for fried chicken, and makes some really good stuff but I think it's a real pain so I don't do it very often. Still I am very unhappy with the stuff they serve at restaurants and fast food places, and I have a chicken in the freezer.

                              1. re: danhole

                                Brine for at least an hour. Not all of the salt will be absorbed by the chicken but you need to allow enough time for it to get moist and to allow the other flavors to be absorbed. Lots of recipes call for 4+ hours (even overnight) and that would definitely be too salty.

                                This isn't a difficult recipe - it just has a number of steps. The only thing I don't care for is the grease from the frying getting over the stove but it's worth the clean-up.

                                1. re: danhole

                                  Ms Dan - I just realized it was you! (only quickly glanced when I responded)

                                  So some additional thoughts - 45 brine will be fine and a warning - this chicken does have some flavor ;-) will Mr. DH like it? Do please let me know what you (and he) think. My SO, who eats everything but would prefer a grilled chicken breast and mashed potatoes (sigh), loves this chicken and asks if he can help make it just to get the train rolling.

                                  The chipotle sauce that I serve with it is very spicy but great.

                                  1. re: alwayscooking

                                    He does like flavor in his chicken! Thankfully I got that much into him! The fried chicken I have made before has a lot of seasoning in the flour mix and I double dip it to get a good crust. Also, I remembered that my daughter told me that the last time she made fried chicken she accidentally spilled some buttermilk into her flour and that made it even better.

                                    I won't be making this very soon, but when I do I will let you know. I have to get to the store to stock up - don't keep buttermilk around here! But we will be skipping the chipotle sauce - that would not fly with Mr. Hole! No sauce with his chicken.

                              2. re: danhole

                                I was curious about the added 2T of buttermilk. I usually just soak in buttermilk and then do the spicy flour mix and fry.

                                The brine, I agree, I try not to use too much salt and to me the buttermilk overnight makes it so tender and moist the brine is not needed to me.

                                1. re: kchurchill5

                                  The 2+T of buttermilk in the flour mixture is to make it slightly denser - the flour should not be moist at all. This will make the crust a bit thicker, crunchier, and crisper.

                                  I find that soaking for long periods of time in buttermilk softens the meat too much - it becomes mushy. The brine is to both add a bit of herb flavor to the meat as well as ensuring a moist product.

                                  1. re: alwayscooking

                                    Never had the problem with the soaking, but can understand. I agree with the brine and have before but not with the buttermilk. We all have favorites and I am sure it is great. I understand about the flour mix now.

                              3. re: alwayscooking


                                I read your Fried Chicken post and it sounds divine. I am doing Keller's Ad Hoc Fried Chicken for a dinner party this weekend. I did a test batch tonight (20 pieces, which is 1/2 of what I will be frying Saturday).

                                Overall, I was quite pleased with the results. Appearance: 10, Flavor: 10; Texture: 8. I would like a crispier crust, one that shatters when you bite into it, so I am concentrating on tweaking that aspect. I brined overnight, rinsed/dried, refrigerated 4 hrs, brought to room temp (2 hrs), then did Keller's dry dredge + buttermilk dip + 2nd dry dredge. Fried in peanut oil at 320-330 degrees as Keller instructs; drained on paper towel-lined wire rack, again per Keller. Note: I did not allow any additional resting times once the dredging process began because he doesn't say to do so. Also, I kept finished pieces warm in a low oven, but I piled them in an Emile Henry baker, which I think was a mistake.

                                Based on reviewing your technique, I am considering:
                                1) adding 1-2T. buttermilk to the dry dredge mix
                                2) 86ing the paper towels and using only the wire rack to cool
                                3) oven-finishing in a single layer on a wire rack over a pan

                                Do you think those refinements will produce a crispier crust? Any additional suggestions?

                                --Many thanks!

                                1. re: culinarynomad

                                  i made this awhile back and let it rest after both dredgings.

                                  frying didn't quite cook through, so i finished it in the oven, just on sheet pans, no racks. when the pieces were all cooked, i put everything on a platter, and we ate it almost room temp, but still kind of warm. the crust was incredibly crunchy, and i think it was the best fried chicken i have ever made. a few people said it was the best they had ever eaten.

                                  piling the pieces up definitely would make your pieces lose their crisp.

                                  1. re: culinarynomad

                                    I'm pretty certain you'll need a wet batter for your crust if you are looking for it to shatter when you bite into it,

                                2. a few weeks back i made the ad hoc/thomas keller fried chicken. it uses both overnight brining and buttermilk dunking. it was time-consuming, although not labor intensive. best fried chicken EVAH. crazy crispy, kinda salty (which we like) and not at all greasy.

                                  4 Replies
                                  1. re: hotoynoodle

                                    I use to think buttermilk was necessary but having just eaten the greatest fried chicken I've ever tried at Gus's in Memphis I now say no to the buttermilk. I don't think Gus's uses buttermilk because the coating is so thin. From what I could see by peering into the kitchen the chicken is left to marinate in a dry "rub" and then tossed with seasoned flour and fried.

                                    1. re: KTinNYC

                                      In a southern time long ago, when folks were poor and could not afford buttermilk to soak chicken in. Fried chicken consisted of four elements Salt, Pepper, Flour and Hot Oil, then pan fried. The skin is crispy,nicely browned and delicious. The buttermilk was saved for making cornbread, and serving the "Preacher"on hot summer Sundays.

                                      1. re: kpaumer

                                        I used to soak in buttermilk, but not any more since a friend made the salt, pepper, flour and hot oil basics and use Lawry's garlic salt instead of plain salt. We wash the chicken pieces in water, lay them out on the butcher paper (do not dry them) and sprinkle with the garlic salt and alot of black pepper. Put a bunch of flour in a brown paper grocery bag and shake the pieces to coat with flour. Fry in hot canola oil. The skin is perfect, not heavy and not greasy.
                                        My kids gave me an electric frying pan for Christmas and it makes the best chicken ever since it self regulated the temperature. It is also big and deep and doesn't make a mess of my stove. I highly recommend it.

                                        1. re: pcdarnell

                                          I suspect Gus's does something akin to what you do but with the addition of cayenne pepper.

                                  2. I don't soak mine in buttermilk or brine. I simply rinse it and pat dry, then sprinkle with salt and pepper or a creole seasoning or mix of my own spices. Then I roll it in self-rising flour. Meanwhile, my cooking oil is heating in the trusty iron skillet with a drop of water. When the grease starts singing, it's almost time to put in the chicken. When it stops singing, I start with dark meat first since it takes longer to cook. I put my pieces in so the pan is full but the pieces aren't touching. I can't tell you what temperature I'm cooking at but I like for it to slowly turn golden brown. I flip it ever so often so it doesn't brown too much on one side. I also can't tell you how long it takes to cook each piece, it's one of those things I've just learned by doing. The best chicken I've ever fried was on Easter Sunday. I cooked it outside on the side burner for the propane grill. The ambient temperature was in the 50s and the burner was on high. I couldn't turn the burner down without losing the flame but it was the perfect conditions for frying chicken. My family is still raving about it. It wasn't greasy but if you're using the correct temperature to fry, it shouldn't hold too much grease. I do not drain it on a rack but do it like my mother and grandmother, on a paper towel lined platter. That chicken was crunchy but not overwhlemingly so like KFC Extra Crispy.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: alliedawn_98

                                      I been doing both equally but lately it's been totally dependent on whether I "plan" for buttermilk chicken or not. The daughter-units can't tell if I've soaked it over night, either, so I've been doing it less often.

                                      Like Alliedawn, I've been simply patting the chicken dry, seasoning with salt-and-pepper accordingly, dredging, and then frying. I've tried egg washes in times past but those didn't turned out so well.

                                    2. Fried chicken I made for Dad last night. The best. NO brine, soaked over night with buttermilk, cayenne and then dredged in a spicy flour mix. Fried in just a cast iron never even used a thermometer, just a medium high, just watched how the chicken cooked, and then removed. The thick breasts I did send to the oven only because they were very large I like smaller ones but these were not, cooked another 10 minutes, removed then salted. It was crispy, golden brown, very little work and very little time. The crust was crunchy and perfection and the chicken was moist and juicy. The breasts I normally get smaller ones and never use the oven. This time it was just what I had.

                                      The only reason I don't make it often is the splatter. But love the taste and always comes out good

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: kchurchill5

                                        I pan fry it just like my mom and grandmother did. No buttermilk, just soak in ice water for an hour or so (Mom said it pulls the blood out - ? - ). Anyway, I pat dry, season real well with Tony's, flour it, and fry in a cast iron dutch oven, in about an inch of oil, taking care not to crowd. It takes quite a while, but well worth it. I have to take care not to over heat the oil and burn it. I think it's just one of those things that you just have to practice doing...... I love, love, love, fried chicken cooked at home - although Popeyes is pretty darn good too. :-)

                                      2. The front runner so far for pan fried chicken so far is a 5+ day bath in buttermilk, salt, pepper and sirracha (rooster) sauce.

                                        And a fry job in about 25% lard and the rest crisco.

                                        The chicken gets a little of a sour tang to it that is quite pleasant.