13 Common Mistakes To Avoid When Cooking Fried Chicken

Southern-style fried chicken is a true labor of love. Follow our advice for the crispiest, juiciest fried chicken you've ever made.

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 soggy, dried-out, or overly salty fried chicken. We've found the most common mistakes people make when frying chicken and what to do instead for a delicious batch that has a crisp crust and evenly cooked meat. Follow our advice for the crispiest, juiciest fried chicken you've ever made.

Sweet Tea-Brined Fried Chicken
Photo: Hector Sanchez

Mistake: Choosing A Giant Chicken

Bigger is not always better, especially when it comes to chicken. Look for a bird that's about two and a half to three 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.

Sweet Tea-Brined Fried Chicken
Photo: Hector Sanchez

Mistake: Skipping The Brine

Brining helps tenderize and flavor the meat. You can use a simple mix of salt and water (three quarts of water to one tablespoon of 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

Choosing the right pan, pot, or skillet for the job is as important as a good recipe. Unless you are 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 one-fourth cup of bacon drippings to infuse the oil with a deliciously smoky flavor.

Is vegetable oil healthy
dulezidar/Getty Images

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 degrees F. The key is to maintain that temperature between 300 to 325 degrees F 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 a 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.

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