Buttermilk Fried Chicken

The very best fried foods are golden brown on the outside and deliciously tender within—never greasy or soggy. Yet frying on the stove top is a technique that can elude even the most ambitious home cook. In this episode, Martha offers lessons in how to deep-fry and pan-fry to perfection at home in your own kitchen. Recipes and step-by-step techniques include French fries, pan-fried chicken (a Southern favorite marinated in buttermilk before coating), and Japanese tempura vegetables with dipping sauces. She shares lots of tips for keeping foods crisp without allowing them to absorb excess oil.

Serves 4


    • 1 whole fryer chicken, 2 1/2 to 3 pounds, cut into 10 parts
    • 4 cups low-fat buttermilk
    • 2 tablespoons coarse salt
    • 1 1/2 tablespoons dry mustard
    • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
    • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
    • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
    • 2 tablespoons yellow cornmeal
    • 1 teaspoon coarse salt
    • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
    • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
    • Vegetable oil, about 3 cups to start plus more if needed


  1. Place chicken in a large bowl and fill with cold salted water. Cover and transfer to refrigerator and let soak overnight.
  2. Remove chicken from ice water and arrange snugly in a large shallow bowl or baking dish (or divide between two dishes). Whisk together the buttermilk and seasonings and pour over the chicken, making sure the parts are completely submerged. Alternatively, divide the chicken and marinade evenly among large re-sealable bags; rest the bags on a rimmed baking sheet to catch any leaks. Cover tightly and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or up to overnight.
  3. About an hour before you plan to cook the chicken, remove the pieces from the marinade and allow them to drain on a wire rack set over a rimmed baking sheet. This allows the excess marinade to drip off and the remaining marinade to lose some of its moisture and become slightly tacky, so the coating will adhere better and produce a crisper crust. The chicken will also come to room temperature, allowing it to cook more quickly and evenly. Meanwhile, in a large clean brown paper bag or a shallow bowl or pie plate, shake or whisk together the flour,cornmeal, and seasonings, and spread in a shallow bowl or pie plate.
  4. When you are ready to begin frying, pour just under 3/4 inch oil in a large cast-iron skillet, and bring the oil to 375 degrees over medium heat. If you don’t have a thermometer, try this test: drop a cube of white crust less bread into the oil; it should turn golden brown within 1 minute. While the oil is heating, use tongs to dredge the chicken pieces. Make sure they are thoroughly coated, shaking off the excess flour for a nice, even, lump-free crust. Set the dredged pieces on a baking sheet fitted with a wire rack as you work.
  5. Heat oven to 200 degrees.
  6. Before beginning, set a wire rack in a rimmed baking sheet and set several layers of paper towels on top of the rack for draining the chicken. Working in batches, arrange the chicken pieces skin side down in the pan in a single layer, beginning with the dark meat. Remember to add enough pieces to fill the pan, without touching. After placing the chicken in the pan, the temperature of the oil will drop dramatically. Make sure to adjust the heat as needed to maintain a steady temperature of between 330 and 340 degrees during frying as this will help the parts cook evenly, inside and out.
  7. Cover the skillet during frying to help the chicken cook through evenly and reduce spattering, peeking inside to check on the progress. Using a probe-style thermometer allows you to monitor the temperature of the oil without lifting the lid. Once the first side is crisp and golden, after 4 to 5 minutes, carefully turn the pieces. Be sure not to turn them too soon or the crust will tear; they should release easily from the pan. Then cover the pan again and continue frying until the other side is crisp and the meat is cooked through (it should register 160 for breasts, 165 for thighs on an instant-read thermometer). This should take another 4 to 5 minutes, depending on the size of the pieces. Check each piece in the batch and remove it as soon as it is ready. Wings, drumsticks, and thinner breast pieces cook faster than the thighs and thicker breast pieces, so remove these first. Transfer to rack on prepared baking sheet and keep warm in the oven. Return the oil to 375 before adding the next batch.