Buttermilk Fried Chicken

Comfort FoodSouthernButtermilkChicken

Old fashioned, buttermilk marinated, flour coated, crispy, tender fried chicken recipe.

Photography Credit: Elise Bauer

Recently at dinner my father instructed me, “tell your website readers that your dad says this is a good one.” Done, dad. This chicken is good—perfectly tender, well flavored, crunchy—just what one wants in fried chicken.

The Key To Perfect Fried Chicken

The secret? Buttermilk!

Buttermilk is lightly acidic. Soaking the chicken overnight in buttermilk helps tenderize it, and the chicken stays tender when you fry it. It’s helpful to use a high smoke point oil when frying chicken. We use rice bran oil or peanut oil, both of which have high smoke points. They can take being heated to the high temperature needed in frying without smoking or burning.

Many recipes call for frying chicken in a cast iron frying pan. Sometimes we use one of our trusty cast iron pans, and sometimes a hard anodized aluminum pan.

Cast iron tends to be quite heavy. It retains heat so well that if you have a problem and have to lower the heat rapidly, you won’t be able to do it.

Anodized aluminum can also take the heat without warping, but will be more responsive for heating and cooling. (I’ve started a kitchen fire with peanut oil in a cast iron skillet—not fun—if it ever happens to you, remove the pan from the heat element, and cover it quickly with a lid.)

Cool tool for testing oil temp

Here’s a tip on checking oil temperature. I have this perfectly justifiable fear of hot oil. So to measure it without getting too close to it, I use an infrared thermometer like this one. Just point the thermometer at the hot surface of the oil, pull the trigger, and you’ll get a fairly accurate readout of the oil temp.

Buttermilk Fried Chicken Recipe

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  • Prep time: 10 minutes
  • Cook time: 30 minutes
  • Marinating time: 8 hours
  • Yield: Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 3 pounds of chicken parts (thighs, drumsticks, wings, breasts), skin-on, bone-in
  • 2 cups buttermilk (can also use plain yogurt thinned with a little milk)
  • 1 large onion, sliced
  • 1/4 cup chopped mixed fresh herbs (parsley, thyme, tarragon) or a teaspoon each of the dried herbs.
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon onion salt
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 cups canola oil, rice bran oil, or peanut oil

Method

1 Marinate chicken in buttermilk mixture: Mix the buttermilk, sliced onion, herbs, paprika, and cayenne in a large bowl. Put the chicken pieces in the buttermilk mixture and coat completely. Marinate overnight (at least 8 hours).

2 Drain chicken, prepare bag with flour and seasonings: Place chicken pieces in a colander and let drain of excess buttermilk mixture. In a large paper or plastic (sturdy) bag, mix flour with garlic salt, onion salt, cayenne, salt and pepper.

3 Heat oil in thick-bottomed pan: Heat 2 cups of oil in a large, heavy-bottomed skillet (cast iron, stainless steel, or anodized aluminum—something that can take the heat) on medium high heat until a pinch of flour starts to sizzle when dropped in the hot oil (but not so hot that the pan is smoking), about 350°F. Remember when working with hot oil, always have a pan lid close by.

4 Coat chicken pieces with flour: Place chicken pieces in bag with flour mixture and shake until thoroughly coated.

5 Fry the chicken: Working in batches, add the chicken pieces to the hot oil in the pan and fry on one side for 12-15 minutes, until golden brown, and then use tongs to turn the pieces over and fry for another 10-12 minutes, again until golden brown.

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Be careful to keep the oil hot enough to fry the chicken, but not so high as it burns the chicken.

6 Remove to rack to drain of excess oil: Use tongs to remove chicken from pan. Place on a rack over a cookie sheet or broiling pan for the excess oil to drain. Add more salt and pepper to taste.

Buttermilk Fried Chicken Cooling on Rack Serving Fried Chicken on Plate

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Elise Bauer

Elise Bauer is the founder of Simply Recipes. Elise launched Simply Recipes in 2003 as a way to keep track of her family's recipes, and along the way grew it into one of the most popular cooking websites in the world. Elise is dedicated to helping home cooks be successful in the kitchen. Elise is a graduate of Stanford University, and lives in Sacramento, California.

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85 Comments / Reviews

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Did you make it? Rate it!

  • Shirley

    I’ve been making buttermilk fried chicken for years when my mom taught me. I’ve been putting the herbs into the flour mixture, but I like putting them into the buttermilk mixture. As for frying, I use an electric skillet. No one talks about these anymore, but let me tell you, it keeps the temp up to 375 degrees. Then I just fry it until golden and I use my hook shaped device to turn it and then put it on a pan with a rack (foil under to assist in cleanup) and put it into a 400 degree oven for 45 minutes. I start frying with the thighs and breasts and put those into the oven first while I then fry the wings and drumsticks, adding them to the pan in the oven. So crispy. I add a tablespoon of baking powder to the flour and that helps it puff nicely.

  • Deb Kinnard

    It was very easy and quick to make the marinade and then to fry the pieces. I used my old trusty cast-iron pan and canola oil, and never had a problem with the temperature. However, the breading fell off almost immediately once it browned, and I wonder how to keep this from happening? Needless to say, the pieces did not crisp well without the breading attached!

    For flavor, the pieces were very tasty however, I will about double the amount of spice in the breading and add a tad bit more salt, to bring up the flavor a bit more. Otherwise no quarrels with this recipe.

    xxxxxyyyyy

  • Big Pot

    Instead of a frying pan, I use a a six quart pot, which results in less splatter. Also, I tried using an instant read thermometer but the chicken burned. I lowered the heat a bit on subsequent batches until I figured out where the burner dial needs to be for fried chicken.

  • Sarah

    Loved this recipe!! It is better than mom made. Next time will try the cayenne pepper as well as maybe doubling the other spices. Thanks for a new go-to recipe for fried chicken. Yum. Looking forward to cold leftovers tomorrow!!

  • Brittany

    This was my first fried chicken experience and it was a complete fail. The chicken got way too hot even though I kept it on medium. The outside ended up burning and the inside as undercooked. I think maybe next time I’ll reduce the heat to low? This may be my last fried chicken attempt…

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