1. Buy chicken pieces.
Let’s be real here — everybody wants a drumstick. Avoid arguments over the two you’ll get from buying a whole chicken and breaking it down yourself by just buying the pieces you like best. Personally, I skip the breasts because of their longer cook time, and go straight for a 50/50 split of drumsticks and thighs.
2. Dry brine the chicken for juiciness.
Dry brine (meaning salt) the chicken itself first. You can do this overnight in the fridge or for just 30 minutes before coating and frying the chicken at room temperature. This salting step is critical for moist, flavorful chicken, as it gives the chicken direct contact with the salt. This helps to tenderize it, but also infuses it with flavor.
3. Make a strong spice mixture.
Last year, KFC’s secret spiced blend was reportedly leaked to the public via the Chicago Tribune. KFC uses a lot of spices and a large amount of them. I tried the recipe as written and found it too salty and too strong, so the seasoning mix you’ll find below reflects a lighter touch. Mix the seasoning blend together while the chicken is sitting salted, then put half of the seasoning on the chicken and the other half in the flour coating. Remember that the fat from frying is going to mellow some of the spice flavor and that some of the spices will be left behind in the coating process, so don’t be afraid at the large volume of spice here.
4. Use egg whites, alcohol, and cornstarch for a crispy coating.
The egg white addition is a trick I learned from my favorite tempura recipe. Alton Brown taught me to add bourbon to my buttermilk and egg mixture, although I’m more likely to use vodka, and my friend Erika taught me to use cornstarch in my flour for frying. These seemingly unrelated ingredients come together to make a super-crispy coating on the chicken full of ripples, nooks, and flakes — all the good things we love on fried chicken. Here is what each one does in the batter.
5. Fry in a Dutch oven.
I know that a cast iron skillet is the icon for Southern fried foods, but its shallow depth makes a mess (and is a fire hazard if you aren’t careful) when frying. Use a Dutch oven instead for frying. The high sides keep splatter to a minimum, while its heft helps to regulate the oil’s temperature as chicken pieces go in and out.
6. Use 2 thermometers!
Use a deep-fry or candy thermometer for the oil and a probe thermometer to monitor the chicken’s internal temperature. You’ll notice that the oil drops in temperature as chicken pieces are added to the pot. You’ll need to monitor the temperature by adjusting the heat as you fry.
The probe thermometer will guarantee that you have juicy chicken that is properly cooked. You can’t just rely on the chicken’s golden-brown coating to determine doneness, as the spice mixture will brown pretty quickly before the chicken is cooked. The chicken should reach an internal temperature of 165°F in the thickest part of each piece; make sure the thermometer’s not touching bone when taking the temperature for the most accurate reading.