Instead of filling the house with fried food smells, spattering oil all over the stovetop, and setting off the smoke alarm, take the whole mess outside, where there is no fuss, no muss.
Outdoors there is no stovetop to clean and no smoke alarm. If oil gets on the grates or drips down, it will burn off quickly the next time you fire up the grill. And you can use part of the grill grate as a rack to drain your fried chicken! Before you start, please read my background article on frying here.
Fried Chicken On The Grill Recipe
Take it from someone who has tried every method imaginable: this is the simplest way to fry chicken, and it is superb. The breading is deep golden and crispy, and the chicken flavor comes alive. And it's all done outside! To ensure success, it helps to cut the chicken pieces into uniform sizes, so I cut the breasts in half, which has the added benefit of creating more crunchy breading! I also like to season the meat not the flour (DOH!). I dry brine the chicken and skip the buttermilk often used in fried chicken. Trust me. It works. After the basic recipe, you'll see options for amping up the flavors and getting the crust extra crunchy.
Course. Lunch. Dinner. Entree.
Makes. 10 pieces.
Takes. 50 minutes to prep, brine and season the meat, and about 15 minutes for each batch of 5 pieces to cook.
Special tools. I recommend you use a gas grill so you have better temp control, and use a cast iron Dutch oven because the thick metal retains heat and the high sides prevent spattering. If you don't have a Dutch oven, a frying pan works fine, preferably cast iron because it stores so much energy. You also need a rapid read digital meat thermometer, and, optional but very helpful: a spider strainer strainer or slotted spoon.
1 (3 to 4 pound) chicken
2 teaspoons Morton's kosher salt (1/2 teaspoon per pound of meat)
2 to 4 cups neutral tasting oil
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
For extra crispy. Many chicken frying experts mix corn starch with the flour. The ratios vary from 1:1 to 2 parts flour to 1 part corn starch.
Optional. 1/2 teaspoon or more chipotle or other hot pepper powder
1) Prep. Cut the chicken into parts, separating drumsticks, thighs, wings, and breasts. Cut the breasts in half crosswise. This will make them similar in size to the thighs. Cut off excess fat, but leave the skins on.
2) Dry brine. Lay the pieces out on a plate, sprinkle both sides with the salt, and let them sit in the fridge for at least 30 minutes. Called dry brining, the salt penetrates the meat, alters the protein and helps the meat retain moisture while amping up the flavor. If you prefer, you can wet brine.
3) Fire up. Place your frying pot over a burner on the grill grate. Add the oil to the pot about 1" deep. When frying chicken, I prefer shallow frying, where the oil does not quite submerge the chicken. I believe this technique works slightly better than deep frying, where the meat is completely surrounded by oil. In shallow frying, the meat is in contact with the bottom of the pan where hot metal conducts more heat than hot oil, and the steam that’s produced by the cooking meat can escape into the air rather than being submerged in oil. Fire up your grill in a 2-zone setup. Put the pot on the hot side and bring the oil temp up to about 375°F. If it goes higher, dial down the gas or move the pot off the flames onto the indirect side. Don’t let it go above 400°F or it could start smoking.
4) Flavorize and coat. As the oil is heating up, sprinkle the surface of the brined chicken lightly with the herb blend and black pepper, and if you wish, hot pepper powder such as chipotle or hot smoked paprika. Wash and thoroughly dry your hands again. Pour the flour in a bowl. Crack the eggs into another bowl and whisk them. With one hand, place the chicken pieces in the flour one at a time and completely coat the meat. Keep the other hand behind your back. Then dunk the chicken in the egg, and back into the flour. Then place the chicken on a sheet pan or platter. When you are done, discard the leftover flour mixture and the egg. This is called the wet-hand-dry-hand technique: one hand handles the wet chicken, the other handles the flour coated chicken. If you get confused, you will have a beautifully coated set of fingers perfect for frying. As an option, if you wish, after the last dunk of flour, dunk the chicken in milk and then back into the flour or dunk it into breadcrumbs, panko, corn flakes, corn meal, crushed pretzels, potato chips, crushed corn chips, or any combination you like.
5) Fry. If the breading has gotten soggy, give it another quick coating of flour. With a spider, slotted spoon, or tongs, slide the meat, skin side down, into the hot oil carefully so it doesn't splash or spatter. Do not crowd the pot and try to cook pieces of similar thickness together. Close the lid of the grill, but don’t put a lid on the pot. The cold chicken will knock the oil temp down a lot, and you should adjust the grill temp to keep the oil in the 325°F plus range.
6) Turn. After 5 minutes, you can look at the bottoms of each piece. When they are Golden Brown & Delicious (GBD), flip them over. After you flip, they should take another 5 to 6 minutes. Remove them when they are GBD all over, put them on the indirect side of the grill, and immediately check the internal temp of each and every piece. All pieces need to have an internal temp of at least 160°F to be safe. Thighs and drums (dark meat) are safe at that temp but they are best at 170°F. If the pieces are not all done, close the lid and let them drip dry and bake on the indirect side of the grill until the temp is just right. When the oil gets back up to at least 350°F, keep frying the rest of the chicken in batches.
7) Serve. You have plenty of fun options. I like a final sprinkle of large grain salt. But taste first because the meat has already been dry brined. If you want to amp it up to 11, serve the chicken with a dipping sauce. Mumbo Sauce is a specialty in Washington, DC, and those who know it crave it on fried chicken. Traditionally, Alabama white BBQ sauce is served on smoked chicken, but it's fantastic on fried chicken. Maple syrup pairs well especially if you serve the chicken with waffles. When I lived in Central Florida, I discovered fried chicken is often served with a drizzle of honey. I absolutely love it drizzled with hot honey butter, a mix of honey, melted butter, and hot sauce. If you serve biscuits with the chicken, and you absolutely should, hot honey butter is great on them too.
"The best comfort food will always be greens, cornbread, and fried chicken."Maya Angelou
Nashville Hot Chicken
It's all the rage, and it comes packing heat and a great backstory. Here's my improved recipe.
Add 1/4 cup of milk to the flour and mix it lightly. This makes it lumpy and those lumps stick to the chicken and make really crunchy shards. Tack on the lumps when you dredge the chicken.
Extra Extra Korean-Style Crunchy
Fry it once. Take it out. Let it cool for 10 minutes. Then fry again for 3 to 4 minutes.
Many cooks soak chicken overnight in buttermilk. It's tradition. In theory, the acidity breaks down the surface proteins a bit and helps them hold onto moisture and also the breading. Real buttermilk is what is left after you churn cream into butter. However, most of what is sold as buttermilk nowadays (cultured buttermilk) is really whole milk that has been inoculated with special bacteria. Close, but not the same. Many chefs think the buttermilk penetrates, but it does not. The buttermilk molecules are too large and the muscle is already filled with liquid, so there is little room for more. The acid effect is only on the very surface of the meat, which is good for the crust, but does nothing for the interior. And there are drawbacks. The buttermilk remaining on the surface after breading browns quickly, and often required you to remove the chicken from the oil before the meat is cooked through lest the breading burns. Then you have to bake the chicken a while to finish cooking it. I prefer to skip the buttermilk altogether.
A number of chefs like to wet brine their fried chicken because salt penetrates the meat, seasons it, and holds onto moisture. If you like the salt and vinegar flavor combo, then the next time you kill a jar of dill pickles (not sweet pickles), save the pickle brine. I have been known to bum some pickle brine from a local grocer that sells pickles from a barrel. Soak the chicken in the pickle brine for 30 to 60 minutes. It will have the same effect on the surface that buttermilk has. If you pickle brine, skip the dry brine step, and go straight to the herbs and spices, then the breading. If you don't have pickle brine, just use plain old distilled vinegar with salt, a brinerade, for 15 minutes. A quick swim in vinegar and salt has the same effect as buttermilk and gives chicken a flavor reminiscent of salt and vinegar potato chips, to which I could easily become addicted. I love the tang!
Cut up the bird, dry brine it, flavor it, and then give it 30 minutes in the smoker. Then dredge and fry.
It is not likely that you will have any chicken leftover, but you can bring leftovers back to life on the grill in the indirect zone at about 225°F for about 30 minutes to reheat the meat, and then a few minutes over direct heat to crisp up the breading.
How KFC fries its chicken
Here's how they do it at KFC. First they dunk about 16 pieces of fresh chicken parts in a wet brine for only a few seconds. This deposits salt on it evenly and wets the surface so the flour will stick. Then they shake most of it off and it goes into a small tub with the flour, the original spice blend, dried milk and egg, and it is coated thoroughly. Excess flour is shaken off and the pieces are set on wire racks in a pressure fryer and they are then deep fried under pressure at a top secret temp for about 10 minutes.
Sanders started in skillets as was traditional in the South, and eventually went to pressure cookers. Pressure frying is a technique used at Broasted Chicken restaurants and many others. It reduces cooking time by about half and reduces moisture loss. You should not try this at home in a pressure cooker. Most can't get up to the proper temp, and the oil can melt the gaskets. An explosion could be very dangerous.
Is this the original recipe?
The internet is overflowing with copycat recipes for the original recipe by Col. Harland Sanders. KFC has carefully kept the list of the original 11 herbs and spices under wraps. They are reputed to use two different suppliers to prepare the blend so than no single source has the list. In 2016, Jay Jones of the Chicago Tribune visited the Sanders Cafe in the tiny town of Corbin, KY, where Sanders first started selling his famous chicken. Built in 1940 and listed in the National Register of Historic Places, the restaurant and the nearby museum is a memorial to Sanders, who died in 1990, and you can order fried chicken at the restaurant. If you want to really celebrate fried chicken, check out the World Chicken Festival in London, KY any September, just 20 minutes from Corbin.
Anyway, Jones visited with Joe and Jill Ledington. Joe worked for Sanders back in the day. At his home, they leafed through a family album started by their Aunt Claudia who was Sanders' second wife. In it, he found Aunt Claudia's will, and on the back was a list of 11 spices to be mixed with 2 cups flour:
1) 2/3 Ts Salt
2) 1/2 Ts Thyme
3) 1/2 Ts Basil
4) 1/3 Ts Origino (sic)
5) 1 Ts Celery Salt
6) 1 Ts Black Pepper
7) 1 Ts Dried Mustard
8) 4 Ts Paprika
9) 2 Ts Garlic Salt
10) 1 Ts Ground Ginger
11) 3 Ts White Pepper
The Trib determined that capital T meant tablespoons and set about duplicating the recipe. After fiddling with the fryer temp, they determined that by adding a sprinkling of MSG just before serving, the recipe was almost identical, and KFC confirmed that they do use MSG in addition to the 11.