When you hear the words “fried chicken”, what image comes to mind? For me, it’s the vision of summer picnics complete with a basket and red and white checkered blanket. The fried chicken was always the star of my mother’s beautifully packed picnic baskets, with a supporting cast of potato salad, fruit, and of course pie for dessert.
Maybe you don’t have idyllic memories involving fried chicken, but everybody can enjoy the inimitable flavor of a perfectly fried batch, with a crispy, flavor-filled exterior giving way to tender, moist and juicy meat.
Fried chicken isn’t always such a fine specimen, though. Many things can go wrong during the cooking process, resulting in chicken that is unevenly cooked, lacking flavor, or that comes out soggy and leaden, lacking the signature crispy exterior. Luckily, it’s easy to overcome these possible pitfalls once you’ve learned some key steps in preparing fried chicken.
9 Common Mistakes to Avoid for Cooking Fried Chicken. Usually, when fried chicken goes awry, it’s due to one of these common mistakes. Here, we’ll go over each mistake and discuss how to fix it.
- You fry the chicken while it’s still cold. It’s important to keep meat and poultry chilled before cooking for safety reasons. But it is acceptable to let your chicken sit at room temperature for up to 30 minutes before frying. This step also ensures that your chicken cooks evenly and has a superior texture.
Think of it this way: if you were to transfer the chicken directly from the fridge to the frying pan, the very cold chicken would reduce the temperature of the cooking oil, which could affect your cooking time and result in uneven cooking.
- You don’t believe in soaking. A nice, long soak in an acidic mixture such as buttermilk can be the difference between a lackluster, dry texture and moist, juicy chicken.
Southerners have been keyed in to this trick for ages, and Southern fried chicken will frequently call for soaking your chicken in buttermilk for several hours or even overnight before frying. The acid contained in buttermilk will work to break down the cartilage in the meat, making it tender, and the long soak in liquid will help seal in moisture.
The process is fairly similar to brining a Thanksgiving turkey, but on a smaller scale: you’ll simply pour the buttermilk in a large bowl, submerge the chicken, and let it sit for as short as an hour or as long as overnight.
Brining might seem like an unnecessary and finicky extra step, but the flavor rewards to be reaped by this simple process make it worth the added time.
- You only fry the drumsticks. Yes, drumsticks are probably the most famous fried appendage when it comes to chicken. But really, you can fry the whole bird.
In addition to the drumsticks, the thighs, wings, and even the breasts can be fried. To keep things cooking evenly, try to work in batches, frying similarly sized pieces at the same time.
- You try to omit the breading. Seriously? Why are you even making fried chicken if you’re thinking about omitting the breading?
Joking aside, it is understandable that you might have various reasons for wanting to avoid the breading–going low carb, or trying to eating healthier, for instance.
But the fact is this: the breading is really the key to fried chicken’s success. Not only does it form the crispy crust that makes fried chicken so crave-worthy, but it also helps seal in the moisture so that your finished chicken will be juicy.
Different recipes will call for different breading mixtures, but I like a simple double-dipping version. First, you dredge the chicken in flour, then dip it in either a beaten egg mixture or buttermilk. Then, you dip it in flour again. This process is teamwork at its best: the initial flour dip helps the wet mixture stick, and the wet layer helps the second coating stick. It’s the combination of liquid and flour breading that makes a beautifully crisp, fully coated piece of fried chicken.
- You think you can only make fried chicken with a deep fryer. Nope, you don’t need clunky or expensive kitchen gadgetry to make fried chicken happen in your kitchen. Actually, your fried chicken will fare not only fine but possibly better in a large cast iron skillet.
According to Bon Appetit, “The cast iron retains heat better and stays at the temperature you want.”
In addition, the cast iron skillet’s wider and more open surface area will be more accessible if you need to reach in and rotate or move any chicken pieces around.
A cast iron skillet is a useful tool for all sorts of baking and cooking projects, so it’s a worthwhile investment for making more than fried chicken.
- You use the wrong type of oil for frying. Whatever type of oil you’ve got in your cabinet is fine for frying chicken, right? Wrong.
Not every type of oil is suitable for frying, and it basically boils down to smoke point. Frying chicken requires maintaining a fairly high temperature of around 350 degrees F, and not every type of oil can withstand this heat without scorching. This guide details the smoke points of various oils.
Even with a high smoke point, some oils, such as walnut oil, are prohibitively expensive for frying chicken. For the best results at the most economical price, stick with a neutral oil with a high smoke point such as canola oil or peanut oil.
- The heat is too high or too low. If the heat is too high in the pan, you’ll end up with chicken that has a dark, browned exterior but is still raw and uncooked inside. That’s not a pleasant surprise to bite into.
On the flip side, if the heat is too low, it can take too long for the chicken to fry, and it will become over-dense, oily, and leaden. The skin won’t be crispy, and it won’t be a memorable eating experience.
To make sure that your oil’s temperature remains steady at around 350 degrees F, keep an instant-read kitchen thermometer nearby so you can continually monitor the oil’s temperature.
- You rely solely on visual cues for doneness. As noted above, visual cues aren’t always the best way to detect when your chicken is done. Thermometers are your friend. In addition to monitoring the temperature of your oil, you can use a thermometer to check the internal temperature of your chicken.
Insert a meat thermometer into the thickest part of the meat, avoiding bone. Ultimately, you’re aiming for 165 degrees F, which the USDA deems the ideal internal temperature for chicken.
If the temperature registers within a few degrees below 165 degrees F, it’s generally fine to remove the chicken from heat, as the internal temperature will continue to rise slightly after it is removed from the heat source.
- You blot excess oil on paper towels. It’s a common mistake, and one I made until quite recently: you want to blot the excess oil, but if you do it by laying the freshly fried chicken on top of paper towels, this will create steam. The moisture from this steam will soften that nice crispy crust you worked so hard to attain on your fried chicken.
To keep your crust but banish excess oil, set your chicken on a wire cooling rack perched above paper towels. This way, the excess oil can drip down but the chicken won’t become soggy on the the moist, humid surface.
Conclusion: As you can see, by following a few simple guidelines, making perfect fried chicken is attainable for anyone, right in their own home with minimal supplies. Armed with these tips, there’s no need to feel any fear of frying.
What is your favorite cut of fried chicken?
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