13 Ways To Ruin Fried Chicken

From the brining to the dredging to the frying, Southern-style fried chicken is a true labor of love. But you also need some cooking know-how to avoid common fried chicken mistakes. Follow our advice for the crispiest, juiciest fried chicken you’ve ever made.

Lisa Cericola
Sweet Tea-Brined Chicken
Photographer: Hector Sanchez; Prop Stylist: Heather Chadduck; Food Stylist: Marian Cooper Cairns

Mistake: Choosing a giant chicken.
Bigger is not always better, especially when it comes to chicken. Look for a bird that’s about 2 ½ to 3 pounds. A larger bird will take more time to cook, resulting in underdone meat and overdone crust.

Mistake: Frying the breasts whole.
Cutting each breast in half crosswise will prevent the white meat from drying out and help all of the pieces cook at the same rate.

Mistake: Skipping the brine
Brining helps tenderize and flavor the meat. You can use a simple mix of salt and water (3 quarts water to 1 Tbsp. salt) or buttermilk. An eight-hour soak is ideal. Be sure to drain and rinse the brine when you’re ready to fry to prevent overly salty chicken.

Mistake: Not patting it dry
This is a small step, but be sure to thoroughly dry the chicken with paper towels before you dredge it. If the chicken is too wet, you won’t get a nice, even coating of flour.

Mistake: Not seasoning your flour
You can flavor your flour with any spice you like, but for a classic fried chicken, stick to salt and pepper. Whatever you do, be sure to add some seasoning to your flour, otherwise you’ll end up with a bland crust.

Mistake: Double dipping
Too much flour will give you a soggy crust, so dredge the chicken once and keep the coating light. Simply place the seasoned flour in a plastic zip-top bag, add the chicken in batches (don’t overfill the bag), and seal it. Shake to evenly coat, and repeat with the remaining chicken.

Mistake: Using a pot
Unless you’re frying chicken for hundreds of people, you don’t need to use a deep pot. A high-sided cast-iron skillet will give you the best crispy texture and also make it easier to turn the chicken in the pan as it cooks. Be sure to choose a pan with a lid—more on that later…

Mistake: Choosing the wrong fat
Southern cooks have strong opinions about fat and frying. Peanut oil is the iconic Southern oil for frying chicken, but vegetable oil also has a high smoke point and neutral flavor. Want to make your chicken truly over-the-top? Add up to ¼ cup of bacon drippings to infuse the oil with deliciously smoky flavor.

Mistake: Frying at the wrong temperature
Oil temperature is the key to amazing fried chicken. When the chicken hits the pan, you want to start out with very hot oil—around 360˚. The key is to maintain that temperature between 300˚ to 325˚ as you fry the chicken. This temperature range will cook the chicken through without burning the crust.

Mistake: Skin side up
When you add the flour-coated chicken to the pan, make sure it is skin-side down. This will help the fat render, so you won’t end up with flabby skin.

Mistake: Overcrowding the pan
Always fry your chicken in batches so it browns evenly. There should be enough space to easily turn the pieces in the pan. Don’t move the chicken too much while it is cooking. You want it to turn deep golden brown on all sides.

Mistake: Not covering your pan while frying
As the chicken cooks, cover the pan with a lid to trap the heat. This helps render the fat and water from the chicken for crisp crust and evenly cooked meat.

Mistake: Eating it immediately
It’s tempting to grab a piece right out of the pan, but transfer the chicken to paper towels to drain as soon as it is done cooking. A short rest allows the juices inside the chicken to redistribute and the crust to cool down enough that it won’t scald the roof of your mouth, which is the fastest way to ruin a perfect piece of chicken.