Skillet Fried Chicken


Letting pieces rest in the rub and a last minute buttermilk splash is key to flavorful crispiness.

With trepidation, I’ve been working on a recipe for fried chicken, wondering why anyone needs another with Emeril Lagasse and Paula Deen crowding the kitchen. That, however, is a pitiful excuse. Up until now my fried chicken has been only so-so.

I grew up following generations of Alabama women who made outrageously delicious fried chicken several times a week. They could make it with their eyes closed, and I assumed when I came of age, frying up a mouth-watering batch would come naturally. Ain’t so. Being able to make crisp and juicy fried chicken, seasoned just right, is not genetic. I couldn’t make a batch that pleased my palate to save my life.  A chromosome must be missing.


A well-seasoned cast iron skillet distributes heat evenly.

Sadly, not one of my family recipes was left behind; only the memory of my grandmother shoving sweet butter underneath the skin of one of her yard walker before frying the bird in lard. I’m sure their recipes were not as fussy as the one I’ve penned below. I doubt they even had a recipe to begin with. But here’s what I’ve learned.

Using a well-seasoned, cast iron skillet’s a given. And no one on my family tree soaked chicken in buttermilk. But I love the tang the milk brings forward and began soaking mine a day in advance as so many recipes insist.  The result was tangy and moist chicken with a lovely golden hue, but the skin was limp, not as crispy as Aunt Suelas’. Omitting the lengthy bath, dipping the pieces into the buttermilk before just frying, and then adding cornstarch to the flour (per a Bon Appetit recipe) solved that problem.

Then there’s the heat of the oil and size of the chicken pieces; both need consideration or your chicken may burn before the flesh is cooked. Using a thermometer is foolproof, but I enjoy the art of “chicken whispering”. When frying chicken, it should sound like a steady patter of raindrops, not a torrential thunderstorm; like enthusiastic applause, never a thundering ovation.

Close to nirvana, I made another batch. What was that off-flavor about? I checked the expiration date of the flour that was hiding behind a jug of olive oil and, oops, should have been discarded a year or so ago; back to the frying pan. And here it is: my recipe for the best fried chicken I’ve  made to date. At last I can look you in the eye if you want to talk fried chicken.

Recipe: Skillet Fried Chicken


  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 2 tablespoons crushed dried basil, divided
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons plus 1 teaspoon kosher salt*
  • 2 tablespoons lemon pepper, divided
  • 2 teaspoons cayenne, divided
  • 4-5  pounds chicken pieces; bone-in, skin-attached**
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 cup lowfat buttermilk***
  • 1 cup all-purpose, unbleached white flour
  • 1 scant tablespoon cornstarch
  • Peanut oil or vegetable shortening, as needed****
  • Several pats cold unsalted butter, for breasts (optional)


  1. To make a rub, combine garlic powder with 1 tablespoon of the basil, 2 1/2 teaspoons of the salt, 1 tablespoon of the lemon-pepper and 1 teaspoon of the cayenne. Rub mixture over chicken and under skin, where possible; refrigerate, covered, at least 10 hours and up to 24. (Note that you may need to make additional rub, depending on the size of the chicken pieces used.)
  2. Remove chicken from refrigerator and allow to come to room temperature; about 1 – 1 1 /2 hours.
  3. In a large bowl, whisk egg into buttermilk. In a wide-mouthed, gallon-sized ziplock or baking dish, combine flour, cornstarch and remaining teaspoon salt, 1 tablespoon basil, 1 teaspoon cayenne and 1 tablespoon lemon pepper. (Note that you may have to make extra if your chicken pieces are large.)
  4. Add enough fat to a 10- to 12-inch cast-iron skillet to 3/4-inch depth. Heat fat until a drop of flour sizzles in pan, or thermometer reads 300-325 degrees.
  5. While fat is heating, dip chicken breasts in buttermilk mixture, allowing excess to drip back into the bowl. Dredge breasts in flour mixture, completely coating skin.
  6. Loosen skin with fingers, and insert butter slices under skin, if desired. Place breasts, meaty side down, in hot oil and fry 11-15 minutes or until deep golden brown; adjust heat, if necessary, so it doesn’t brown too quickly and occasionally move chicken with tongs, so chicken fries evenly. Flip chicken and cook an additional 10 minutes, or until meat is white at the bone (165 degrees). Lift chicken from skillet, letting excess oil drip back into skillet, then drain on a rack or triple layer of paper towels.
  7. Place dark meat in flour and follow the same process as you did with breasts, except omit butter, if using. Let rest 15 minutes before serving.

*Tastes in sodium vary. And the longer the meat sits in the rub, the more sodium flavor it will carry. You may want to reduce the sodium in the recipe, if desired, especially if the chicken sits in the rub over 12 hours.

**Make sure the pieces are similarly sized and not too large; otherwise the chicken will burn before the meat is cooked through. Select chicken (particularly the breast) insuring the skin totally covers the flesh. I use air-chilled chicken: 4 medium-sized split breasts, and 4, medium-sized thighs  I always select chicken from a full-service counter as I can’t inspect chicken that is pre-packaged and make specific requests.

***Full fat buttermilk makes the skin darken too soon. If you can’t find lowfat, mix 1/2 cup 2% milk with 1/2 cup buttermilk.

****I use a non-hydrogenated all vegetable shortening

Number of servings (yield): 4-6 (8 pieces)

Time to rest in rub: 10-24 hours
Fry time: 35-45 minutes

Copyright © Peggy Lampman’s dinnerFeed.



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