Instead of filling the house with hot oil smell, spattering all over the stovetop, and setting off the smoke alarm, take the whole mess outside where there is no fuss no muss. Below is my straightforward dead simple foolproof recipe for great fried chicken.
Before you start, please read my background article on the concepts of frying here.
Fried Chicken On The Grill Recipe
We take the whole process outdoors. If oil gets on the grates or drips down, the next time you fire up your grill, it will burn off rapidly. But outdoors there is no stovetop to clean and no smoke alarm. My unorthodox approach has some other twists. In order to make the pieces more uniform in size, and to create more breading, we will cut the breasts in half, and we season the meat not the flour (DOH!). We dry brine and we skip the buttermilk.
Take it from someone who has tried every method imaginable: This is the simplest way to fry chicken, and it is superb. Lovely crispy breading, and the chicken flavor comes alive. After the basic recipe, we will discuss options for amping it up and getting extra crunchy crust.
Makes. 10 pieces.
Takes. 15 minutes to cut and trim the bird, 30 minutes to dry brine, 10 minutes to season and dredge, 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 meat thermometer, and, optional but very helpful: An Asian kitchen spider or slotted spoon.
1 (3 to 4 pound) chicken
2 teaspoons Morton's kosher salt (1/2 teaspoon per pound of meat)
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 raw eggs
2 to 3 cups neutral tasting oil, approximately
Optional. 1/2 teaspoon chipotle or other hot pepper powder or more if you want some heat.
1) Prep. Cut the chicken into parts, separating drumsticks, thighs, wings, and breasts. Cut the breasts in half. 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, alters the protein and helps the meat retain moisture while amping up the flavor. If you prefer, you can wet brine.
3) Flavorize and coat. Sprinkle the surface lightly with the herb blend and, if you wish, hot pepper powder. Wash and thoroughly dry your hands again. Pour the flour in a 1 gallon in a bowl. Crack the eggs and put them in another bowl. 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 flour, dunk it in milk and then back into the flour or breadcrumbs or panko, corn flakes, corn meal, crushed pretzels, potato chips, crushed corn chips, or combinations thereof.
4) Fire up. 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 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.
5) Fry. With a spider, slotted spoon, or tongs, slide the meat into the hot oil carefully so it doesn't splash or spatter, skin side down. Do not crowd the pot. I 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, but try to keep it 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 and 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 be 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 done, close the lid and let them drip dry and bake until the temp is just right.
7) Serve. When it comes to serving you have plenty of fun options. An added sprinkle of large grain salt on the breading is all these birds need, but taste first, remember, you dry brined them. If you want to amp it up to 11, serve 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 slays on fried chicken. 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. Likewise maple syrup pairs well especially if you serve the chicken with waffles.
Nashville Hot Chicken
All the rage and it comes packing heat and a great backstory. Here's my improved recipe.
My simple basic fried chicken recipe above makes a fine breading and I think you should make it that way before you try any of these variations. If you want an extra thick and crunchy crust, there are several ways to get it.
Lump it. 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 them on when you dredge.
Many cooks soak the meat overnight in buttermilk. That'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 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 molecules are too large and the muscle is already filled with liquid, there is no room for more. The acid effect is only on the surface which is good for the crust, but does nothing to the interior. And there are drawbacks. The buttermilk remaining on the surface after breading browns quickly, and often leads you to remove the chicken from the oil before the meat is cooked through. Then you have to bake the chicken a while to finish cooking it.
A number of chefs like to wet brine the chicken because salt penetrates the meat, seasons it, and holds onto moisture. If you like the vinegar and salt combo, then, the next time you kill a jar of dill pickles (not sweet pickles), save the salty vinegary, dill laced 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. Has the same effect on the surface that buttermilk has. 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, and then a few minutes over direct heat to make the breading crispy again.
"The best comfort food will always be greens, cornbread, and fried chicken."Maya Angelou