Buttermilk Fried Chicken

4.97 from 29 votes
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Crispy and tender homemade buttermilk fried chicken recipe. Each piece is brined first to ensure juicy, flavorful bites, then dipped and dredged in a bold flour spice blend for the most irresistible golden-brown crust.

Buttermilk fried chicken recipe adapted from Thomas Keller.

When you bite into a piece of perfectly fried chicken, the crunchy sound is music to the ears. This particular meal is worth the greasy, burnt fingertips and ridiculous amounts of napkins.

I have tested many recipes, but I have found that Thomas Keller’s fried chicken served at his Ad Hoc restaurant in Yountville, California is the best—the techniques he utilizes guarantee undeniably delicious results.

Prepare the chicken

Raw pieces of chicken broken down and placed on a baking sheet.

This recipe uses a larger 5-pound whole chicken or two 2.5-pounders if they are smaller. I enjoy breaking down the chicken on my own, ensuring that there are ten pieces to fry.

If you’re uncomfortable cutting up a whole chicken, buy pre-cut pieces from your local market. You can also use skinless and boneless cuts of chicken, like breasts or thighs. However, the cooking time may be shorter.

Brine the chicken pieces

Brining is a crucial step that should not be skipped as it helps the chicken retain moisture during deep frying. For this recipe, you will use water, a generous amount of salt, whole black peppercorns, lemon, garlic, honey, bay leaf, thyme, and parsley.

This herbaceous mixture can be made beforehand, but plan for a 12-hour soak to ensure maximum flavor transfer.

Creating the flour mixture

The breading that coats the chicken combines flour, garlic powder, onion powder, sweet paprika, cayenne pepper, salt, and pepper. The salty crust will burst with flavor, and paprika gives it a gorgeous red hue.

I use a standard breading procedure to dredge the chicken before frying. First, a coating in flour creates a primer so that the buttermilk can adhere. Otherwise, the meat would be too slippery. The chicken is then dipped in buttermilk and then again in the flour to create a thick double coating of extra crunchy skin.

Why use buttermilk?

Buttermilk is an acidic dairy ingredient that helps tenderize the chicken but does not make it mushy. The lactic acid activates the cathepsin enzymes naturally found in poultry. This helps break down the proteins into smaller molecules that tenderize the meat.

Frying the chicken

Tongs holding up a piece of fried chicken.

The chicken is fried in a specific order so that each piece gets the right rest time before eating. The dark meat, thighs, and drumsticks are fried first at a lower temperature (320 degrees) for a slightly longer time. The light meat, the breasts, and the wings are fried 20 degrees higher for a shorter period.

Use an instant-read thermometer to constantly check the hot oil temperature to ensure it stays consistent, and adjust the heat as needed. I like to use a thermometer that attaches to the pot’s side so I can check it often, see fluctuations, and make quick changes.

What to serve with this

Several pieces of buttermilk fried chicken placed on a wire rack.

Recipe Science

Target internal temperature for safe eating

Fry the chicken to an internal temperature of 165°F to ensure fully cooked meat. When taking the temperature, test the thickest part of the meat, avoiding the bone. Let the pieces rest for 7 to 10 minutes after frying to allow them to cool down. If resting for longer than 10 minutes, place the tray in the oven at 400°F for a minute or two to ensure the crust stays crisp right before serving.

Buttermilk Fried Chicken

Crispy buttermilk fried chicken recipe inspired by Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc restaurant. Juicy flavorful bites made with a bold flour spice blend.
4.97 from 29 votes
Prep Time14 hours
Cook Time35 minutes
Total Time14 hours 35 minutes
Servings 10 pieces
Course Entree
Cuisine American

Ingredients 
 

Chicken

  • 5 pounds whole chicken, or two 2 ½ pound chickens
  • fine sea salt, for sprinkling (optional)

Chicken Brine

  • 8 cups water
  • ½ cup kosher salt
  • ¼ cup honey
  • 1 tablespoon black peppercorns
  • 1 lemon, halved
  • 1 head garlic, halved through the equator
  • ¼ bunch flat-leaf parsley
  • 6 sprigs of thyme
  • 3 bay leaves, fresh or dried

For Dredging and Frying

  • 6 cups vegetable oil, for deep-frying
  • 2 cups buttermilk
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper

Coating

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons garlic powder
  • 2 tablespoons onion powder
  • 2 teaspoons paprika
  • 2 teaspoons cayenne
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper

Instructions 

  • Prepare the Brine – In a large pot, combine water, salt, honey, lemon, garlic, parsley, thyme, and bay leaves. Boil for 1 minute, stirring to dissolve the salt. Remove from the heat and cool completely before using. The brine can be refrigerated for up to 3 days.
  • Breakdown the Chicken – Cut each chicken into 10 pieces: 2 legs, 2 thighs, 4 boneless breast quarters, and 2 wings.
  • Brine the Chicken – Add the chicken pieces to the pot of cooled brine or pour into large re-sealable plastic bags. Refrigerate for 12 hours. No longer or the chicken may become too salty.
  • Dry the Pieces – Remove the chicken from the brine. Discard the brine and rinse the pieces under cold water, removing any herbs or spices sticking to the skin. Pat dry with paper towels. Let rest at room temperature for 1 ½ hours or until they come to room temperature.
  • Prepare the Frying Oil – Add oil to a large pot (about 4.5-quart size). The oil should fill the pot with at least 2 inches of oil. Add more if needed. No matter what size pot you have, the oil should not come more than one-third of the way up the sides.
    Set a cooling rack over a baking sheet. Line a second baking sheet with parchment paper.
  • Mix the Coating – In a large bowl, combine flour, garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, cayenne, salt, and pepper.
  • Mix the Dredging – Pour the buttermilk into a separate bowl and season with 1 teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon pepper.
  • Setup Dipping Station – Set a cooling rack over a baking sheet. Line a second baking sheet with parchment paper. Organize the chicken pieces, one bowl of coating, and the bowl to dredge.
  • Dipping Sequence – Just before frying, dip the chicken into the coating, turn, and pat off the excess. Dip into the buttermilk, allowing the excess to run back into the bowl. Dip the chicken back into the coating. Transfer to the parchment-lined pan. Repeat with the remaining pieces.
  • Fry the Thighs and Drumsticks – Heat the oil to 320°F (160ºF). Carefully lower the thighs into the hot oil. Adjust the heat as necessary to return the oil to the proper temperature. Fry and move the chicken around as needed until the skin is golden brown, cooked through, and crisp, about 8 to 12 minutes.
    Transfer the cooked thighs to the cooling rack, skin-side-up, and let rest while frying the remaining pieces. Sprinkle with fine sea salt if desired. Bring the oil back to 320ºF (160ºC), and add the drumsticks. Cook until golden brown, about 7 to 9 minutes. Transfer to the wire rack.
  • Fry the Breasts and Wings – Turn up the heat and increase the oil temperature to 340°F (171ºC). Carefully lower the breasts in. Fry until golden brown, cooked through, and crisp, about 6 to 8 minutes. Transfer to the wire rack. Cook the wings until golden brown, about 5 to 7 minutes. Transfer to the rack and turn off the heat.
  • To Serve – Arrange the pieces on a serving platter. Add herb sprigs.

Notes

  • Substitute for Vegetable Oil: Use peanut oil or canola oil. 
  • MAKE IT GLUTEN FREE: Substitute gluten free flour for all-purpose flour using Bob’s Red Mill 1:1 is recommended.
  • Recipe Adapted From: Ad Hoc at Home cookbook by Thomas Keller.

Nutrition Facts

Serves: 10 pieces
Calories 349kcal (17%)Carbohydrates 19g (6%)Protein 24g (48%)Fat 20g (31%)Saturated Fat 7g (35%)Cholesterol 84mg (28%)Sodium 463mg (19%)Potassium 319mg (9%)Fiber 1g (4%)Sugar 2g (2%)Vitamin A 499IU (10%)Vitamin C 10mg (12%)Calcium 60mg (6%)Iron 2mg (11%)

Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000-calorie diet. All nutritional information is based on estimated third-party calculations. Each recipe and nutritional value will vary depending on the brands you use, measuring methods, and portion sizes per household.

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Jessica Gavin

I'm a culinary school graduate, cookbook author, and a mom who loves croissants! My passion is creating recipes and sharing the science behind cooking to help you gain confidence in the kitchen.

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18 Comments Leave a comment or review

  1. Dave says

    I have a 3-burner, gas camp stove and fry outside exclusively in an inexpensive, 14-inch, hammered-steel Wok. It works great with very little splatter. Add a splash guard and you’ll have none at all. And, being thin steel over gas, you can adjust the temperature almost instantly. Fascinating cooking invention.

    I also season with Marion Kay 99X chicken seasoning plus some from this recipe for added color and kick. It’s rumored to be the same ingredient blend (plus one more) that was used in “The Colonel’s” original KFC recipe. Don’t hold me to that – please – but it is as close as you’ll ever get.

    • Jessica Gavin says

      Thanks for sharing your fried chicken cooking experiences, Dave! I’ll have to look for the seasoning you mentioned.

  2. Grace says

    I followed this exactly except for not frying. I baked these in the oven at 375 degrees and used an instant-read thermometer to test for when it was done. It was absolutely superb!

    • Jessica Gavin says

      There is a lot of flour, about 3 cups for the breading, and makes a really flavorful coating. Feel free to reduce the amounts to your taste. Perhaps add a little bit to the flour mixture, taste, and increase to your liking?

  3. oregonhoney says

    Now that I have a glass cooktop and realize it is a never ending challenge to keep splatter free, I have stopped frying whenever I can use the oven. Chicken nuggets, using a similar formula for coating, has been my main way to prepare chicken. I can put a huge batch in the convection oven and it all turns out perfect in less time with a fraction of the cleanup. I’m going to incoporate your brining and coating with my oven nugget preference and see how it goes, it sounds great!

  4. JJ says

    All GREAT information!
    BRINE!! Doh! I’ve avoided frying chicken bc I’ve gotten blood spots come through, where the veins still hold blood, and released on the high-temp frying. Does brining help drain the veins? (If not, what can you do to remedy that issue?)

      • JJ says

        (Marie:) You’re lucky if you’ve never had black spots in your finished fried chicken legs. It’s gross, and it’s occurred a number of times so I just stopped cooking chicken legs anymore. I’ve never been able to figure out how to drain the last of any blood that might be left in the veins. You sound pretty alarmed and honestly appalled that I’d ask such a question, but believe me, it happens. I’m curious if soaking in brine can bring those lingering drops of blood out. (If you reply, please be polite).

          • Bill says

            Growth hormones haven’t been used in chicken in the U.S. since the 1950’s. YOU make no sense. Please don’t comment if you don’t have a clue what you’re talking about.