Here's The Secret Behind Perfectly Cooked Fried Chicken

Crispy fried chicken is probably one of the ultimate comfort foods, especially if you hail from the South. Serve it alongside coleslaw, greens, or macaroni and cheese, and it becomes a meal that makes you feel at home. Despite a societal focus on healthy eating, Southern comfort food is seeing a resurgence in popularity, even being elevated to fine dining status by the likes of Marcus Samuelsson's Red Rooster in Harlem and Eric Huang's Pecking House in Brooklyn.

At its core, fried chicken is all about the brine. When we brine meat, like your Thanksgiving turkey or chicken, we're infusing the protein with salty, sweet, and spicy flavors through osmosis. Brining also tenderizes the meat, making sure it stays juicy as it's cooked, per Food Network. Chicken is bland on its own, so it needs all the help it can get, and a flavorful, kicky brine will get the job done. Fried chicken purists will insist that buttermilk is best for brining, especially if it's spiked with a generous helping of paprika and perhaps some hot sauce. 

However, consider brining your chicken in pickle juice – it will result in tangy, succulent flavor, and it's ready-made, so don't throw out leftover pickle juice when you finish that jar of dill spears. After the brine, you dredge and fry. According to some, liberally season your dredging flour with salt, pepper, and paprika. Alton Brown, on the other hand, doesn't season his dredging flour at all, according to a post on Facebook, and heavily seasons the chicken instead.

Frying chicken in batches ensures perfectly cooked chicken

After dredging comes frying, which intimidates a lot of first-timers. Southerners will swear by their trusty cast iron skillets with a few inches of oil in them, per Southern Cooking. It's really easy to undercook fried chicken, though, so temperature regulation is essential. If your oil is too hot, the outside will be done before the inside is cooked – a surprise no one wants. A candy thermometer or digital clip-on will help you maintain oil temperature. One chef's trick for perfectly cooked fried chicken? William Dissen, owner of The Market Place in Asheville and Haymaker in Charlotte, fries the thighs and legs separately from the chicken breasts, as they cook at different rates, according to Southern Cooking. Chicken breasts cook faster than a thigh because thighs are denser and have more fat, per How Long to Cook.

Another good trick of the trade is to think of the frying process as searing the meat and then sticking it in the oven to finish cooking. By the time your chicken is cooked through when frying, your crunchy crust will be an unsightly dark color instead of golden brown. So fry your chicken until it's a deep golden brown, then transfer it to the oven to finish cooking, as Ina Garten does. Of course, investing in a really good, instant-read meat thermometer will ensure you're cooking your chicken to the proper temperature. Bake your chicken until a thigh registers 165 degrees Fahrenheit and a breast registers 150 degrees Fahrenheit.