the great fry-off

Sometimes we believe our kitchen creations or family recipes are the best, and sometimes we need a contest to add validation to that belief. My friend Mel has always maintained that her grandma’s fried chicken recipe is the best. The double frying coupled with the secret ingredient of club soda is what sets Mel’s grandma’s fried chicken above all others. My husband thinks his fried chicken is the best. Brined overnight and the secret of air chilling is why his version is the best. 

Mel and my husband had a yearlong dose of competitiveness going surrounding the subject of fried chicken. The friendly sparing about whose chicken was tastier hatched (no pun intended) a fried chicken fry-off.

Not wanting to doubt my friend’s family recipe, or go against the man to whom I have pledged to stand by till death, I decided to jump into action and create an event around the fry-off. I set the date, invited a group of food-loving friends and made the appropriate Southern accouterments to complement the main event. I prepared pimiento cheese, collard greens, biscuits and peach cobbler. I also created a score sheet for our guests based on three categories: crispiness /texture of crust, tenderness/juiciness and seasoning.

To commence outdoor eating/picnic season, I present to you, my husband’s fry-off winning fried chicken.


My kitchen notes: 

This recipe is a two-day process. It’s worth it. Plan ahead.

The chicken tastes great accompanied with my 7 Up biscuits, which is a recipe I will share in another post.

Organic and antibiotic and hormone free chickens are worth the expense. It’s not like frying is an everyday occurance. Start with a good quality bird.

Frying in peanut oil is a must. It produces a perfectly brown crust.

Henry’s Skillet Fried Chicken  Adapted from Bon Appetit and Cook’s Illustrated magazines.

2 cups buttermilk, divided

1-2 dashes Tabasco or other hot sauce

1 teaspoon ground pepper

3 tablespoons kosher salt, divided

2 teaspoons, plus 1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper

1 3/4 teaspoons paprika, divided

3/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, plus a pinch

3/4 teaspoon garlic powder, divided

1/2 teaspoon onion powder

3-4 pound chicken cut into 10 pieces, or equivalent of your favorite pieces. We use thighs and drumsticks

1 large egg

1/2 cup water

3 cups all-purpose flour

3 teaspoons baking powder

1 tablespoon cornstarch

Peanut oil for frying

1. Brine chicken overnight (12-16 hours) in 1 cup buttermilk,  1 tablespoon salt, dash of Tabasco, 1 teaspoon black pepper, 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder, 1/4 teaspoon paprika and a pinch of cayenne pepper.

2. The next morning, pat the brine off the chicken with paper towels, and let air dry on a rack or a baking sheet in the refrigerator for the day.

3. About an hour before you’re ready to fry, take the chicken out of the refrigerator and stand at room temp for an hour.

4. Whisk remaining 1 cup buttermilk, egg and 1/2 cup water in a medium bowl.

5. Whisk flour, cornstarch, baking powder, remaining 1 tablespoon salt and remaining 1 tablespoon pepper in a 9×13 baking dish.

6. Working with one piece at a time, dip chicken in the buttermilk mixture, allowing excess liquid to drop back into bowl. Then dredge the chicken in the flour mixture and tap against the bowl to shake off excess.

7. Pour oil into a large cast iron skillet or other heavy straight-sided (not nonstick) pan to a depth of 3/4 inches. Prop deep fry thermometer in oil so bulb is submerged. Heat over medium-high heat until thermometer registers 350 degrees. Meanwhile, set up a wire rack for cooling the chicken.

8. Once the oil temp is up to 350 degrees, place up to 5 pieces of chicken in the skillet. Fry chicken, turning with tongs every 1-2 minutes and adjusting the heat to maintain a steady temperature of 300-325 degrees, until skin is a deep golden brown and an instant read thermometer inserted into thickest part of the chicken registers at 165 degrees. This will take about 10 minutes for wings and 12 minutes for thighs, drumsticks and breasts.

9. Using tongs, remove chicken from skillet, allowing excess oil to drip back into skillet. Transfer chicken to prepared rack. Repeat with remaining chicken pieces. Let cool for at least 10 minutes before serving.


2 thoughts on “the great fry-off”

  1. I’m a big fan of the cooks illustrated recipe. I’d guess the air-chill overnight is a big help. love it.

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