Golden brown, tender and juicy, and delightfully crisp, fried chicken has a long-standing love affair with cast iron. Although there are about as many ways to fry a chicken as there are Southern grandmothers, here is a classic version with helpful how-tos every step of the way so your chicken turns out perfect every time.
- 3 cups whole buttermilk
- ¼ cup hot sauce
- 1 (3-to 3½-pound) whole chicken, giblets discarded and cut into 8 pieces
- 4 cups all-purpose flour, divided
- 1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons kosher salt, divided, plus more for sprinkling
- 1 tablespoon ground black pepper
- 2 large eggs
- Vegetable oil, for frying
- In a large bowl, stir together buttermilk and hot sauce; submerge chicken in mixture. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
- Remove chicken from buttermilk mixture, reserving liquid. In a shallow dish, whisk together 2 cups flour, 1 tablespoon salt, and pepper. In another shallow dish, whisk together remaining 2 cups flour and remaining 2 teaspoons salt. Whisk eggs into reserved buttermilk mixture.
- Working in batches, dredge chicken in flour mixture with pepper, gently shaking of excess. Dip in buttermilk mixture, letting excess drip off. Dredge in flour mixture with only salt, coating completely. Place coated chicken on a wire rack, and let stand for 15 to 20 minutes.
- Meanwhile, in a large cast-iron Dutch oven or deep cast-iron skillet, pour oil to fill halfway, and heat over medium heat until a deep-fry thermometer registers 350°.
- Fry chicken in separate batches of white meat and dark meat, turning occasionally, until an instant-read thermometer inserted in thickest portion registers 165°, 6 to 12 minutes. (Adjust heat as needed to keep oil at 350° while frying, and let the oil return to 350° between each batch.) Let chicken drain on a clean wire rack. Sprinkle with additional salt, if desired.
FRIED CHICKEN STEP-BY-STEP
1. With the chicken breast side up, pull the leg away from the body and cut through the skin between the breast and the leg.
2. Bend the leg back until the thigh bone pops out of joint. Cut through the joint and skin to fully detach the leg.
3. Turn the leg skin side down and cut along a fat line to separate the drumstick and thigh.
4. Pull each wing away from the body and cut through the joint to remove the wing.
5. Turn the chicken breast side down and cut along both sides of the backbone to remove it. You can use a knife, but kitchen scissors make quick work of this part of the process. Save the backbone to make chicken stock.
6. Cut through the center bone of the breast and then through the meat and skin to separate into two pieces. If the breasts are large, you can cut each in half crosswise to make smaller pieces for easier frying.
7. Be sure the chicken is fully submerged in the mixture. The acid in the buttermilk tenderizes the meat. Add more or less hot sauce to your desired taste.
8. Create the flour mixtures. Remove the chicken from the buttermilk marinade; whisk eggs into reserved buttermilk mixture.
9. Working with a few pieces at a time, dredge chicken in peppered flour, and gently shake of the excess. Then dip the chicken into the buttermilk mixture, and let the excess drip off.
10. Dredge the dipped chicken in the salt-only flour mixture to fully coat; do not shake of excess flour. Let the chicken stand on a rack to help set the breading for a crunchy crust.
11. Fry the white and dark meat separately because they have different cooking times; you don’t want some pieces overcooked while others aren’t cooked through.
12. Let the fried chicken drain on a rack to allow the oil to drip of and help keep the crust crispy. The chicken will stay hot for up to 15 minutes after frying.