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I am a fried chicken failure

I have been so consistently disappointed in every attempt I've made to make fried chicken! I feel like this kind of thing should be in my DNA since I'm from Georgia (but now a transplanted Californian), but I grew up surrounded by places that served fried chicken so much better than anything we could make at home that my family never made our own.

I'm a better than average cook and I feel like I've tried dozens of supposedly awesome recipes (including Ad Hoc's recipe that I just made tonight) and I'm still disappointed. I know I'm my own worst critic (my guests seem to think it's fine), but I just can't seem to replicate the kind of chicken I love. What I find to be the biggest stumbling block is the crust. I've used many variations of a dry crust (not battered) and my complaint is that the crust is just too tough. I'm searching for that crispy, crunchy, but not heavy crust and I can't seem to get it right. It's not too greasy - that's not the issue. And the actual flavor of the meat is fine - I either brine it or pre-season it well.

I use peanut oil to fry, my oil temp is right on (according to whatever recipe I'm trying) and I just can't seem to get it right. I haven't tried a battered crust. Could that be the secret? I get on these kicks and think this time I'm going to get it right! THIS is the recipe that half the country is raving about - and then it ends up disappointing me again.

Any ideas?

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  1. I am glad I am not alone. My fried chicken is never as good as Popeyes. I have also tried every kind of recipe. An old family recipe was to soak chicken in either canned milk or buttermilk and then dredge in seasoned flour and then fry in cast iron skillet. I have done exactly that and it is still not as good. One thing that I have heard is to use self-rising flour, and I haven't tried that--maybe that is the secret. Maybe we should just give up!

    5 Replies
    1. re: pepperqueen

      i've used seasoned flour at times, but mom always mixed some flour with some cracker meal crumbs for her fried chicken. and i've tried other ones where you use some corn starch - which also is supposed to cut down on the oil spatter......

      1. re: pepperqueen

        My niece loves using self rising flour. I tried it once and found the crust to be too brittle. It just kind of shattered when you bit into it.

        I just use chicken I have cut up myself. I try to get a chicken that is about 3 lbs. I go to a local source for my chickens. Supermarket chickens are too big to make decent fried chicken

        They get a quick rinse and then go into buttermilk seasoned with a lot of freshly ground black pepper and salt, more will go into the flour. I like to let the parts soak at least 2 hours. Drain, dredge in seasoned flour and fry in a cast iron skillet. Some times I use lard, from a farmer, not that supermarket stuff, or a good oil. I maintain the heat at 325 F and fry the dark meat first and then the light. Drain well and keep warm until ready to eat. I prefer the 325 F because it doesn't cook the chicken too quickly, it cooks through and browns slowly and evenly. Frying chicken is not a task for the impatient. It takes time and attention.

        1. re: Candy

          Whatever happened to the 3 pound chicken. I, also, cut up my own chickens and it is getting harder and harder to find them. They seem to be all well over 4 lbs and the last time I went they were just under 6. I roast 6 lb chickens, I don't fry them

          1. re: The Old Gal

            I go to a local butcher shop. They buy their chickens from a local producer. We are also lucky to have a couple of local producers here in Bloomington, IN where we can get farm raised chickens, turkeys etc. The supermarkets keep the good, smaller birds back for themselves for their store fried and rotisseried birds for them selves.

        2. re: pepperqueen

          it's impossible to get fried chicken cooked at home like fast food fried chicken because they pressure fry the chicken which you can't replicate at home.

        3. It's difficult to critique the exact you're using (looks as though you use several methods) but I'll offer some points that you may or may not have tried.
          I am assuming you are blotting your chicken pieces with a paper towel before drenching them in flour or dipping them into a batter.
          First, if you're simply dusting the chicken pieces (corn starch or flour) before frying, make sure you shake off the excess before dropping the pieces into the hot oil. I use a wire mesh strainer, one piece of chicken at a time, to shake off the excess dry material in this step.
          Otherwise, if you're using a batter, here's a method you might want to try:
          Use buttermilk rather than whole milk and dredge the chicken pieces in flour (then shake them off) before dipping them into the batter. Dust them lightly with additional flour after the batter dipping. I preheat the skillet with enough oil to cover just a little over half the height of the chicken pieces (I only want to turn them once) and fry at approx. 350 - 3775 degrees and fry only three pieces at a time in a ten inch skillet. When I've finished frying I put the fried pieces on paper towels in the warming oven to drain while the remaining pieces fry.

          1. Sounds liike your solution is to use a batter. I don't use a recipe; I just put some flour in a bowl, put in some water. add a beaten egg, then enough water to make a decent batter. Put herbs and spices of your choice into the flour.

            3 Replies
            1. re: mpalmer6c

              todao and mpalmer come close to mine. never tried the buttermilk soak, just saltwater for an hour or two to leach out any blood and pat dry. then - dredge, dunk, dredge - using herbed flour, then a weak milk and egg batter, then more herbed flour.

              you're not a failure. try throwing yourself at the feet of the impossible deity known as "biscuit"

              1. re: hill food

                I think my problem is overdoing it with the coating. The dredge, dunk, dredge routine - which I always think will just give me more good crispy bits - ends up being too thick and dense. Next time (because OF COURSE I can't really admit defeat on this, despite countless disappointments) I will either do one light dredge in seasoned flour or maybe try the batter idea.

                LOL re: the biscuits. I can make a pretty good biscuit - if I have my mom ship me some White Lily flour all the way across the country ;)

                1. re: catherino

                  c: I've done the too dense thing as well, why I do a weak batter.

                  sometimes works, never has to be perfect IMHO.

                  just dunk-dredge has worked also.

            2. I marinate the chix in buttermilk overnight and then blot it dry, season the chicken itself and then flour a few pieces at a time in a plastic bag.
              Then, let it sit for 30 minutes on a cookie rack to "dry".
              Then fry in a cast iron pan.
              Most of this is courtesy of Alton Brown with a few variations.
              Good stuff.

              1. This is my go-to fried chicken recipe. It is adapted from the California Culinary Academy, and was featured on a PBS cooking show eons ago. It is pan fried in a cast iron skillet. Not totally immersed in a deep fryer. The oil comes up halfway on the chicken.

                The secret to the seasoning I think is the salt and pepper. The cayenne gives it just the right kick without making it spicy (of course more can be added to make it spicy). The crispiness is helped by the baking powder I think.

                My only note about this excellent recipe is I have a heavy hand when it comes to dipping and I usually double the amount of seasoned flour I use. I also sometimes have to add a little more buttermilk for the double coat. If you have a light hand, you'll be fine.

                Buttermilk Pan-Fried Chicken

                1 chicken (about 2 1/2 pounds), cut into eight pieces
                1 cup buttermilk

                Seasoned flour:
                2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
                2 teaspoons ground black pepper
                2 teaspoons salt
                1 teaspoon dried garlic
                1 teaspoon dried onion powder
                1 teaspoon baking powder
                1 cup all purpose flour

                For frying:
                2 cups peanut or other oil


                1. Place chicken in a shallow pan and cover with the buttermilk , turning to coat all sides.
                2. Cover and refrigerate at least 8 to 10 hours or overnight.
                3. To prepare seasoned flour, combine the spices, baking powder, salt and flour in a bowl large enough to dip the chicken (I use a glass pie pan).
                4. Heat the oil in a deep sided, cast iron pan (or other heavy pan suitable for frying), over medium heat to 325 to 340 degrees.
                5. Remove chicken from the buttermilk, shaking off excess milk. Reserve the buttermilk. Roll the chicken in seasoned flour and dip a second time in the buttermilk, shake off excess buttermilk and roll pieces again in the seasoned flour. Set aside. (Placing on a cooling rack is good.)
                6. When oil is hot, carefully lower chicken pieces into the hot oil with a pair of tongs. The oil should cover no more than one half of the chicken.
                7. Cover the pan and fry for 8 to 10 minutes. Lift off cover, turn the chicken over using the tongs and continue to fry, uncovered, for 25 minutes longer or until cooked. Pierce the chicken with a fork to test doneness. When the juices run clear the chicken is done.
                8. Remove the chicken from the oil and drain on a paper towel before serving.

                2 Replies
                1. re: TrishUntrapped

                  I find a brown paper bag or a rack is better than a paper towel for draining. The towel fibers often stick to the chicken

                  1. re: Candy

                    Now that you mention it Candy, I sometimes drain it on a rack too, and also put the chicken very quickly in a hot oven (for about 2 minutes) on the rack after it is fried to repel any excess oil. Results in non-greasy chicken.

                2. I prefer a simple method for fried chicken.

                  First off, finding quality chicken is a must. I buy my chickens from a local farm that raises their own free-range, natural chickens. The flavor of the meat is so very different than commercial.

                  Cut the chicken into pieces and season liberally with salt and pepper. Place uncovered in the refrigerator for no less than one hour.

                  In a cast iron skillet, heat two inches of peanut oil to 375F.

                  In a large ziplock bag, place one cup of all purpose flour and shake coat the chicken in flour.

                  Place chicken pieces skin side down in pre-heated skillet. Fry until golden and flip.

                  White meat must cook for at least 15 minutes, but no more than 25 minutes. Dark meat must cook for at least 20 minutes and not more than 30 minutes.

                  If you're cooking large quantities, you can crisp both sides of the chicken in the skillet and then finish cooking them in a 375F oven.

                  This yields me a fried chicken than I adore.

                  1. I made fried chicken for the first time in August using the method set for by another poster, here, and was very happy with the results:


                    My only variation was that I could not find lard, and so used vegetable oil instead, but I did cook the ham and butter in it, and added a little bacon fat that I had.

                    (P.S. Thanks, moh, for posting that.)

                    8 Replies
                    1. re: MMRuth

                      That does sound good. I've always got a big jar of bacon fat in the fridge - I bet that would be a decent substitute for the ham-oil. I notice the recipe says to pat off the excess flour - I think that might be my biggest mistake in all my attempts to fry good chicken. I keep coating it too thickly with the flour.

                      Thanks for the recipe link!

                      1. re: catherino

                        It really was wonderful, and turned a wonderful almost mahoganey (sp?) borwn. I have trouble keeping the oil temperature constant, so any tips you have on that would be appreciated.

                        1. re: MMRuth

                          One trick that took me forever to learn, but is a big help: heat your oil to the temperature you want over medium to med-high heat. (I usually have it on 7 out of 10.) That way, when you stick the cold chicken into the oil, you can turn the heat up to nine or ten to minimize the temperature drop from the cold food.

                          1. re: BarmyFotheringayPhipps

                            Excellent tip - thanks - I think I get impatient and heat the oil on the highest flame.

                      2. re: MMRuth

                        MMRuth, I'm glad you had good results with the recipe! Edna Lewis is one fine chef, I really love her recipes. I'm about to embark on her pickled watermelon rind recipe, and I am very excited. I haven't had watermelon rind pickle in several years, turns out it is not a Quebec thing...

                        Catherino, I think you are correct, you may have ben coating the chicken pieces too thickly with the flour. The recipe we used had several useful tips, and the chicken crust is very crispy, light and delicious with this recipe. We definitely let it dry on a rack for a bit, about a half hour, after we remove it from the buttermilk. So there is not a large amount of buttermilk left on the piece of chicken before we dredge it. This reduces the amount of coating that adheres to the chicken. Also, we do shake off all excess dredging material before frying. This keeps the crust thin and light. Very yummy!

                        I am also a big fan of the rendered lard and ham/butter oil!

                        1. re: moh

                          I so wanted to use lard, but to get it where I was on vacation would have cost about $75 with shipping, and, well, that's awfully expensive fried chicken! I didn't let it dry after removing it from the buttermilk - must have missed that bit.

                          1. re: MMRuth

                            $75??? Wow, I would have balked at that too....

                            Perhaps I should plan to render up a bunch of lard before it gets too cold to keep the windows open. Although, it sounds like you had good results with vegetable oil. Very good to know for when we don't have time to do the lard rendering thing!

                            1. re: moh

                              Most of the cost was shipping.