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Fried Chicken à la Alton Brown

February 18, 2012

Fried Chicken resting on a cooling rack.Is there anything better than fried chicken sizzling away on the stove on a lazy Sunday afternoon? Ahhh. I think not. Fried chicken is a perfect creation; rich and crunchy, flavorful armor protecting succulent, perfectly cooked, juicy bird meat.  A problem I have run in to in the past is flavor discrepancy. Either the chicken had good flavor but the breading was bland or the breading was over seasoned and the chicken was bland.  This is a not a problem with this recipe – the chicken is marinated for tenderness, spiced by itself and a plain dredge is added… resulting in the chicken being perfectly seasoned and the underside of the breading being seasoned too – a perfect marriage.  This also isn’t a super thick encrusting of breading, just enough for crunch and good flavor.

A note on pans before we begin, and I can’t stress this enough: use cast iron!  Had the “salmonella on a plate” problem of the icky raw on the inside, burnt on the outside chicken??  They pan you were using probably didn’t conduct heat, and maintain temperature, like a cast iron pan does. I’m not saying that cast iron is the only way to cook chicken, just that it’s the best way to cook it at home.  A 12” skillet will work for this recipe, that’s like $20 from your neighborhood big box store.  Bonus: people will keep their distance if you wave it around in a threatening manner and it bakes up excellent corn bread too!

On to the main event! I use Alton Brown’s Fried chicken recipe, found on the Food Network® site here:

Alton’s Awesomeness


  • 1 broiler/fryer chicken, cut into 8 pieces
  • 2 cups low fat buttermilk
  • 2 tablespoons kosher salt
  •  2 tablespoons Hungarian paprika
  • 2 teaspoons garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • Flour, for dredging
  • Vegetable shortening, for frying

Now I don’t keep the giblets but I do save the wings (drastically different cooking time from the rest of the chicken so I don’t bother frying them), neck and back for stock. Check out my super simple stock recipe under “basics.”

Cut up your chicken. Place the thighs, legs and breasts (skin on but de-boned) in an 8×8 square glass pan or large plastic container that is only used for raw foods and pour your butter milk on top. Lift each piece of chicken with tongs so the buttermilk can ooze underneath too.  Place a lid on the container and place on the lowest shelf in the fridge where it won’t be disturbed for 12 – 24 hrs. I usually do 24hrs, it builds a nice coating on the chicken for the spices and dredge to stick too and makes it nice and tender.

After the allotted time, remove your chicken from the fridge and drain in a colander. I have a large colander so I actually spice my chicken in it too.

See Alton’s spice blend above? I’d use that exactly the first time, then make any adjustments you think you need the next time you make it. This is really good, trust me!  For my own tastes I use less salt and almost no cayenne since the heat isn’t important to me and it’s still some darn flavorful chicken without it. Liberally spice your chicken and don’t forget to do both sides! I actually put my spice in one of the glass shakers from the dollar store and spice that way.

Pour your flour in a gallon zip bag and shake one piece of chicken at a time. You’ll see that not much seasoning comes off if you plop the piece into the flour and not onto the sides of the bag. Let your chicken rest on a cooling rack while the shortening is melting and coming to temperature. This way it can come to room temperature before frying. I seem to get more even doneness this way and the dredge of flour, and thus final crust, sticks far better than cold chicken in a hot pan.

Splatter guard covering frying chicken.

Spatter guards save tons of clean up!

Bring your shortening to 325 degrees F but don’t let it go over or you’ll pass the smoke point and get all kind of nasty flavors you don’t want!  Make sure your instant read is in the shortening and not on the bottom of the pan. When the shortening is to temp, place the thighs in the middle, skin side down. Place the legs and breasts on the outside pan along the sides, also skin side down. Place a spatter guard over the entire pan and set a timer for 9 minutes.  Ideally at 325 degrees your chicken will cook for 10 – 12 minutes, but I start checking when it gets close so I don’t have burnt crust. Flip the chicken once else your breading will all be on the bottom of the pan instead of your chicken! As the steam pressure builds on the inside and the temperatures equalize the chicken crust releases from the bottom – that’s why if you start fiddling and adjusting the chicken before the 9 minute mark you’re ending up with bare or scarcely breaded chicken. The internal temp should reach 180 degrees F, make sure your thermometer is in the meatiest part of the piece, not on a bone.

Now after roughly 24 minutes of cooking, place the chicken on a cooling rack over a pan to catch any fat or juices. Don’t drain on paper towels because you’ll end up with greasy chicken and lose breading too as it gets soggy.

I wait about 10 minutes, or until my will power gives out, for the chicken to rest. Then it’s every woman for herself!  And I was wrong, there is something better – Fried chicken and homemade biscuits!

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