Buttermilk Fried Chicken

Recently at dinner my father instructed me, “tell your website readers that your dad says this is a good one.” Done, dad. This chicken is good—perfectly tender, well flavored, crunchy—just what one wants in fried chicken. The secret? Buttermilk. Buttermilk is lightly acidic. Soaking the chicken overnight in buttermilk helps tenderize it, and the chicken stays tender when you fry it. It’s important to use a high smoke point oil when frying chicken (or anything else for that matter). We use rice bran oil, canola oil, or grapeseed oil, all of which have high smoke points. In other words, they can take being heated to the high temperature needed in frying without smoking or burning. Many recipes call for frying chicken in a cast iron frying pan. Sometimes we use one of our trusty cast iron pans, and sometimes a hard anodized aluminum pan. Cast iron tends to be quite heavy. It retains heat so well that if you have a problem and have to lower the heat rapidly, you won’t be able to do it. Anodized aluminum can also take the heat without warping, but will be more responsive for heating and cooling. (I’ve started a kitchen fire with peanut oil in a cast iron skillet – not fun – if it ever happens to you, remove the pan from the heat element, and cover it quickly with a lid.)

Buttermilk Fried Chicken Recipe

  • Prep time: 10 minutes
  • Cook time: 30 minutes
  • Yield: Serves 4.


  • 1 (3 pound) fryer (see Wikipedia on the difference between broilers, fryers, and roasting birds), cut into pieces
  • 2 cups buttermilk
  • 1 large onion, sliced
  • 1/4 cup chopped mixed fresh herbs (parsley, tarragon, thyme) or a teaspoon each of the dried herbs.
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon onion salt
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 cups canola oil, rice bran oil, grapeseed oil, peanut oil or other high smoke-point oil


1 Soak chicken overnight (at least 8 hours and up to two days) in buttermilk with onions, herbs, paprika, and cayenne pepper. (Regarding the use of buttermilk, my mother has had good results from soaking chicken in plain yogurt instead of buttermilk.)

2 Drain in a colander, leaving some of the herbs on chicken. In a large paper or plastic (sturdy) bag, mix flour with seasonings. Meanwhile, heat 2 cups of oil in a large, heavy-bottomed skillet (cast iron, stainless steel, or anodized aluminum - something that can take the heat) on medium high heat until a pinch of flour starts to sizzle when dropped in the hot oil (but not so hot that the pan is smoking). Remember when working with hot oil, always have a pan lid close by.

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3 Place chicken pieces in bag with flour and shake until thoroughly coated. Add chicken to hot pan and fry on 1 side for 12-15 minutes, until golden brown, and then use tongs to turn the pieces over and fry for another 10-12 minutes, again until golden brown.

Be careful to keep the oil hot enough to fry the chicken, but not so high as it burns the chicken. To do this on our electric stove we have to alternate the settings between high to medium high several times while we are cooking.

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4 Use tongs to remove chicken from pan. Place on a rack over a cookie sheet or broiling pan for the excess oil to drain. Add more salt and pepper to taste.

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Showing 4 of 83 Comments

  • The Old Foodie.

    I think there is an interesting cultural difference here. In Australia we use buttermilk predominantly in baking – scones (“Biscuits” to you in the USA!), muffins etc. I often marinate chicken in yoghurt, especially for Indian-style dishes, but I will definitely try buttermilk next time and see what the difference is. Thanks for the idea.

  • Deb

    Elise, after almost 26 years of marriage, I can count–not on one hand but on one finger–the number of times I’ve fried chicken. For some reason, even though I’m a true Southerner, I always either grill or bake my chicken for the family.

    However, all that to say…this recipe sure seems worth a try! Thanks for posting the pictures to show me exactly how to do it!

  • Heather DeYoung

    I was wondering if I could “oven fry” with this recipe. I know that it will not taste as good but I am really paranoid about frying on the stove top because of fires. Already been there and done that! I am a fairly good cook I ust don’t fry much at all!

  • Don Ray

    Growing up on a farm in Oklahoma, one of my favorite foods was fried chicken. This looks great. It is just not the same down here in Panama. Maybe I need to share your recipe down here.

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