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How to Fry Chicken – Southern Fried Chicken

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When my dear grandmother was alive and I would come home to visit, it did not matter if it was 2:00 in the morning or 2:00 in the afternoon—I would walk in the door and she would be standing at the stove frying chicken for me. Yes, clearly I was spoiled absolutely rotten. But also I think it’s pretty clear how I feel about the subject: there are few foods in this world I love as much as I love as Southern Fried Chicken. 

Last meal request? Fried Chicken.
Tired and grumpy?  Fried Chicken.
Homesick and missing Mama? Fried Chicken.
Celebrating a momentous occasion? Fried Chicken.

Wait, what? Where’d Lighten Up, Y’all go?

Well, here’s the deal and I even write about it in the headnote for Oven Fried Chicken on a Stick in Lighten Up, Y’all. Oven fried chicken is NOT Fried Chicken. It’s a good substitute, but we all know that a Broadway understudy is really, really good, but just not quite the star that everyone wants to see.

Fried Chicken is so loved in the South it’s become a caricature, a cartoon. But, to define Southern Food by only Fried Chicken is a gross oversimplification. Especially when there’s fast food fried chicken, gas station fried chicken, and grocery store fried chicken, none of which can hold a candle to real honest-to-goodness homemade skillet fried chicken. So, I save my calories for incredible fried chicken, not mediocre fried chicken. Southern Fried Chicken is serious business. And, if you thought there was only one Southern classic, I would simply remind you that there are as many Southern Fried Chicken recipes as there are Southern grandmothers.

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As if I didn’t love her enough, my dear and wonderful friend Rebecca Lang has written an entire book that celebrates and glorifies my favorite Southern recipe, Fried Chicken: Recipes for the Crispy, Crunchy, Comfort-Food Classic. Rebecca is one of my absolute favorite people on this planet. She is smart, beautiful, kind, talented, sweet, sassy, a great cook, and a positively brilliant cookbook author.  Her latest book goes straight to my heart! A whole book dedicated to Fried Chicken!

She covers all the Southern favorites such as Buttermilk-Soaked Fried Chicken, Fried Chicken Smothered in Gravy, and Nashville-style Tennessee Hot Chicken. Yet she goes beyond Southern Fried Chicken and explores international fried chicken—fried chicken from Saigon, China, Brazil, Mexico, and Korea. She’s even created a Gluten Free Fried Chicken!

The photography is mouthwateringly beautiful and these recipes are guaranteed to work. She’s a diligent and expert recipe tester and cooked through a whole hen house to make sure these recipes are the best they can be. This is the end-all, be-all book if you want to know how to fry chicken.

This blog post, as Rebecca’s lovely book, celebrates Fried Chicken. To tantalize your taste buds, I’m including Rebecca’s recipe for Chinese Lollipop Chicken and my recipe for my grandmother’s classic Southern Fried Chicken. And, at the end, I am sharing a short photo tutorial on “How to Cut Up a Chicken. I find it’s cheaper to buy a whole bird and break it down yourself.

Bon Appétit Y’all!

Fried Chicken on

Southern Fried Chicken
Serves 4 to 6

1 (4-pound) chicken, cut into 9 pieces (see below)
Coarse kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more if needed
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 cups canola oil

Season the chicken generously with salt and pepper. Set aside. Place the flour in a shallow plate and season with cayenne, salt, and pepper. Set aside. Line a baking sheet with several layers of paper towels. Heat the oil in a large skillet, preferably cast iron, over medium-high heat until the temperature measures 375°F on a deep-fat thermometer.

Meanwhile, to fry the chicken, starting with the dark meat (since it takes longer to cook) and working one piece at a time, dredge the chicken in the seasoned flour, turning to coat. Shake to remove excess flour. Reserve any leftover seasoned flour for the gravy.

One piece at a time, slip the chicken into the hot fat without crowding; the fat should not quite cover the chicken. Adjust the heat as necessary to maintain the temperature at 375°F. At this stage, a splatter guard (a wire cover laid over the pan) may prove useful to contain the hot grease. The guard lets the steam escape, while allowing the chicken to brown nicely.

Fry the pieces, turning them once or twice, until the coating is a rich, golden brown on all sides, 10 to 14 minutes. Decrease the heat to medium-low and cover the skillet. Continue cooking until the chicken is cooked all the way through and the juices run clear when pricked with a knife, an additional 10 to 15 minutes. (An instant-read thermometer inserted into a thigh should register 170°F.) Remove the pieces and drain on the prepared baking sheet. (Do not hold the chicken in a warm oven; it will get soggy.) Enjoy immediately.

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Rebecca’s Chinese Lollipop Wings 
Serves 4
5 cloves garlic, peeled 
1 (2-inch) piece fresh ginger, peeled and sliced 
11teaspoons kosher salt 
1 tablespoon hot chile sauce, such as Sriracha 
2 tablespoons soy sauce 
2 teaspoons light sesame oil 
1 egg, beaten 
3 tablespoons cornstarch 
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour 
1teaspoon ground white pepper 
2 pounds chicken drumettes Peanut oil, for frying 
Cilantro, chopped, for serving
To make the marinade, process the garlic and ginger in a food processor fitted with the metal blade until finely chopped. Add the salt, chile sauce, soy sauce, sesame oil, egg, cornstarch, flour, and pepper and pulse twice to combine. Transfer the marinade to a large mixing bowl. 
To form the lollipops, grab the exposed bone at the end of each drumette and use a paring knife to push all of the meat to the other end, exposing the bone and forming a rounded lump of meat at one end (to look like a lollipop). The bone should be stripped of all meat to form about a 1-inch stick for the lollipop. Transfer the chicken to the bowl with the marinade, toss to coat, cover, and refrigerate for 1 hour. 
In a deep fryer or large, deep stockpot, heat 2 inches of peanut oil over high heat to 350°F. Set a wire rack over a rimmed baking sheet. 
Remove the chicken from the marinade and discard the marinade. Carefully place the lollipops in the hot oil. Fry for 6 to 8 minutes, or until golden brown. Maintain a frying temperature of 325°F. Drain the lollipops on the wire rack.  Serve sprinkled with cilantro.

Reprinted with permission from Fried Chicken, by Rebecca Lang, copyright © 2015, published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC. Photographs copyright © 2015 by John Lee. For more information about Rebecca, please visit

How to Cut Up a Chicken

IMG_1002 Cut the wing tip off and save it for stock. Sometimes, when frying chicken, I leave the wing fully intact in its three sections and cut it off so they are their own piece and not connected to the breast.
IMG_1004 Remove the thigh and drumstick.
IMG_1006 Make sure to insert the knife into the meaty area of the thigh known as the oyster.
IMG_1007 Look for the line of fat that divides the thigh and drumstick. This indicates where the joint meets and where best to cut. If you have a hard time here, it means your knife is in the wrong place.
IMG_1008 If the knife is directly between the joint it will cut easily through the cartilage.
IMG_1010 Cut through the rib cage to nearly separate the full chest from the backbone.
IMG_1011 Place the tip of your knife through the hole nearest the neck. You’ll need to put some umph into it to cut through the bone and completely remove the back from the chest.
IMG_1012 Divide the full chest down the middle. The sternum will require a little effort and leverage, but the soft cartilage at the point of the triangle is soft.
IMG_1015-2 Chicken breasts are so large, I often divide the breast into 2 pieces.
IMG_1016 The method results in 4 breast pieces, 2 thighs, 2 drumsticks, and 1 back. You can fry the back as a cook’s treat or save it for stock.


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photography by Virginia Willis

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Virginia Willis

Georgia-born French-trained Chef Virginia Willis’ biography includes making chocolate chip cookies with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, foraging for berries in the Alaskan wilderness, harvesting capers in the shadow of a smoldering volcano in Sicily, and hunting for truffles in France. She is talent and chef-instructor for the digital streaming platform Food Network Kitchen. Her segments feature authentic and innovative Southern cooking. She was the celebrity chef at the Mansion at Churchill Downs for the 143rd running of the Kentucky Derby. Virginia has spoken at SXSW, cooked for the James Beard Foundation, and beguiled celebrities such as Bill Clinton, Morgan Freeman, and Jane Fonda with her cooking — but it all started in her grandmother’s country kitchen. Recently, her work has been inspired by her weight loss success story, Virginia has lost 65# and kept it off for over 2 1/2 years! “If a French-trained, Southern chef can do it, you can, too.” She is the author of Fresh Start; Secrets of the Southern Table; Lighten Up, Y’all; Bon Appétit, Y’all; Basic to Brilliant, Y’all; Okra; and Grits. Lighten Up, Y’all won a James Beard Foundation Award of Excellence in the Focus on Health Category. Lighten Up, Y’all as well as her first cookbook, Bon Appétit, Y’all, were finalists in the Best American Cookbook for the International Association of Cookbook Awards and were also named by the Georgia Center of the Book as “Books Georgians Should Read.” She is the former TV kitchen director for Martha Stewart Living, Bobby Flay, and Nathalie Dupree; has worked in Michelin-starred restaurants; and traveled the world producing food stories – from making cheese in California to escargot farming in France. She has appeared on Food Network’s Chopped, CBS This Morning, Fox Family and Friends, Martha Stewart Living, and as a judge on Throwdown with Bobby Flay. She’s been featured in the New York Times, the Washington Post, People Magazine, Eater, and Food52 and has contributed to Eating Well, GRLSQUASH, Culture, Garden & Gun, and Bon Appétit, and more. The Chicago Tribune praised her as one of “Seven Food Writers You Need to Know.” Her legion of fans loves her down-to-earth attitude, approachable spirit, and traveling exploits. Her culinary consulting company, Virginia Willis Culinary Enterprises, Inc specializes in content creation, recipe development, culinary editorial and production services, cookbook writing, media training, spokesperson and brand representation, and public speaking. Virginia is on the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch Blue Ribbon Task Force, the Atlanta Community Food Bank Advisory Board, as well as the Community Farmers Market Advisory Board. She is a food and hunger advocate for No Kid Hungry and a premier member of the No Kid Hungry Atlanta Society. She a member of The James Beard Foundation, Chef’s Collaborative, Georgia Organics, and Southern Foodways Alliance.

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