Cooking Techniques for Making the Best Southern Fried Chicken

Follow these tips and techniques for making a favorite comfort food.

| Summer 2017

A platter of fried chicken, mashed potatoes, and biscuits makes a delicious meal.

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Traditional Southern fried chicken is a comfort food everyone loves, but many cooks end up with disappointing results. Oftentimes the chicken looks beautiful on the outside, but it's bloody near the bones. Other times, when the cook monitors the internal temperature of the chicken, the outside will be extremely dark, almost burnt, before the proper internal temperature is reached.

The reason for such disappointing results is that today's chickens are enormous. An article in the December 2014 issue of the journal Poultry Science stated that in 1957, a grown chicken weighed about 2 pounds before slaughter. By 1978, the average weight was twice that. By 2005, it had more than doubled again, to 9.3 pounds. This means that the chickens we cook nowadays are literally more than four times the size of chickens 60 years ago.

In addition, most people don't go out to the chicken house with an axe to get their dinner, but instead get it out of the refrigerator and fry it while it's cold. This creates a problem because, when a piece of chicken is fried, the hot oil begins heating the meat from the outside, and the heat flows into the meat until it reaches the thickest part. This process takes time, and if the pieces are both large and near refrigerator temperature, the outside will be overcooked long before a safe internal temperature is reached.

There are a couple of things you can do to ensure delicious fried chicken every time. First, use a small chicken – one that weighs around 2 1/2 pounds in the package is ideal, but up to 3 1/2 pounds will work. Since the breasts are the largest pieces, cutting them into two or three pieces also helps. I usually cut them into three strips. Secondly, let the chicken warm up before frying it.

I placed a large chicken thigh on the counter in the kitchen, where the room temperature was 70 degrees Fahrenheit, and inserted a thermometer into the meat. The temperature climbed from 40 F to 50 F in an hour. During the second hour, it rose another 4 degrees. It should be noted that letting raw chicken sit out at room temperature longer than two hours is not recommended by the USDA, due to the possible risks of Salmonella and other chicken-spoiling bacteria.

If your chicken is between 2 1/2 and 3 1/2 pounds, setting it out for an hour is all that's needed. If your chicken is larger, you can warm the chicken more quickly by placing it in a plastic zipper-seal bag, squeezing all the air out, and placing the bag in a sink full of warm (100 F to 110 F) water, which should warm it to 70 F in about 15 minutes.

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