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A chef gives us the secret key ingredient to make perfect fried chicken (and the one step most people get wrong!)

The secret to perfect fried chicken is simpler than you think

Fried chicken
Shardar Tarikul Islam/Unsplash

Beautifully executed fried chicken is, perhaps, one of the few perfect things we get to have as human beings. Its warm, crispy, decadently crunchy crust with a hot and steamy, sinfully juicy, rich, and savory center is enough to make most grown men weep with pure joy. This classic dish is arguably one of the most important staples of American cuisine, and the pressure to get it right can be intense. The good news is, no one knows how to make fried chicken better than Chef Trevor Stockton, of The Restaurant at RT Lodge, and he graciously agreed to be our guide with a few of his best tips.

Chef Stockton shared with us the secret to perfect fried chicken, and the answer is a simple one. “The most important thing, other than using a quality chicken, is using quality buttermilk,” he said, adding that he uses Cruze Farm Dairy buttermilk, which is churned and not homogenized. “If you can get your hands on real churned buttermilk, it will give you nice tender chicken because it still has all of its original qualities. We season our chicken very simply and then cover it with the Cruze Farm buttermilk for a minimum of 24 hours.”

Scientifically speaking, the reason buttermilk works so well as a marinade for fried chicken is because its lactic acid breaks down collagen, which makes the chicken more tender and allows added moisture to penetrate into the meat. But that’s not the only key to this southern favorite.

“The other key is that when you are breading your chicken, you should be placing the buttermilk-soaked chicken straight into your seasoned flour and then straight into the hot oil. Don’t bread it all at once, then lay it on a tray. This will cause the flour and buttermilk to flatten and give you a not-so-light and crunchy texture,” says Chef Stockton.

This is our favorite recipe for fried chicken, made even better by these great tips from Chef Stockton. Be sure to make a few batches of this one, because it’s going to be popular.

Fried chicken
Andrea Nguyen / Flickr

Buttermilk fried chicken recipe

Ingredients:

Buttermilk marinade

  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon dried mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried sage
  • 2 cups 3.5% fat buttermilk

Flour dredge

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 teaspoons garlic powder
  • 2 teaspoons smoked paprika
  • 2 teaspoons dried basil
  • 2 teaspoons dried thyme
  • 2 teaspoons onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne powder
  • Vegetable oil (for frying)

Method:

  1. Place the chicken pieces in a large bowl and toss with salt, pepper, garlic, dried mustard, paprika, and sage.
  2. Pour the buttermilk over the seasoned chicken, mixing gently to coat. Refrigerate for at least one hour, or up to 12.
  3. In a shallow baking dish, mix together the flour, baking powder, salt, garlic powder, paprika, basil, thyme, onion powder, and cayenne pepper, whisking to combine fully.
  4. Pour oil into a large pot until it is 1-2 inches deep. Heat to 350F.
  5. Remove each piece of chicken from the marinade and coat in flour mixture, taking care to coat thoroughly and evenly.
  6. Working in batches of 3-4 pieces at a time, carefully place the chicken pieces in the oil.
  7. Fry until golden brown, turning pieces regularly, about 12-15 minutes, until the internal temperature is 165F.
  8. Drain chicken on wire racks to remove excess oil and season with salt and pepper while warm.
Lindsay Parrill
Lindsay is a graduate of California Culinary Academy, Le Cordon Bleu, San Francisco, from where she holds a degree in…
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