We all have our arguments on which restaurant makes the best fried chicken, but whether your favor falls with the Colonel and his glorious KFC or the fine folks at Popeyes, one thing is for sure: the crispier the exterior, the better.
Pair that with a deliciously juicy, tender interior and you’ve got yourself a batch of the tastiest wings, thighs, legs or breasts.
Recreating the finger licking goodness at home, however, is a different story. And it all starts with one ingredient: your oil.
Again, it’s likely that every pro chef has their own opinion on which one is the best, so it’s really about personal preference alongside trial and error, but we’re here to speed up that process a little bit.
Today we’ll be talking about the characteristics of a quality frying oil, offering up seven examples, and then carrying you through to the finish line with a list of our crucial top tips for the most delicious chicken you’ll ever eat. Bon appetit!
First Things First - What Makes For A Good Frying Oil?
Deep frying is the easiest way to attain that all-important golden crust on your chicken, and that takes a whole lot of oil to achieve, especially if you’re feeding the whole family and not just whipping up dinner for one.
Don’t waste a thirty dollar bottle of olive oil on one batch of chicken, buddy. You can break out the budget stuff, just as long as it follows the other rules we’ve established below. You won’t achieve life-changing chicken if you just use a fancy one, trust us.
Most cooks swear by cheaper oils, like canola, peanut, sunflower and coconut, and manage to attain top notch results without springing for the organic stuff. Treat yourself once in a while, sure, but don’t make it an everyday thing.
Flavor - Or Lack Of
We want our cooking method here to impart as little flavor to our chicken as possible - it’s all about the seasoning, rub or marinade, and you want to let those tastes shine through. Therefore, an oil that’s as neutral as possible is what you’re after.
Most vegetable oils will allow that delicious umami flavor to flourish without adding their own twang to things, so they tend to be the frying oil of choice for amateur and professional chefs alike.
Others prefer the slightly more savory or nutty elements that, say, peanut oil can evoke in chicken, so this one is more about personal preference and palate than it is your cooking techniques. Don’t sweat it too much.
High Smoke Point
Perhaps the most important point for frying poultry, or any meat really, is ensuring your oil has a smoke point high enough to cope with the temperatures needed to cook up your chicken.
Each individual oil in your pantry will have a different smoke point, which refers to the temperature where it begins to burn, producing smoke.
As chicken is best cooked around 350 degrees, a smoke point that’s considerably higher than this is advised.
Again, vegetable oils are often preferred, as their smoke point is typically somewhere between 440 and 460 degrees Fahrenheit, offering plenty of leeway before it starts to smoke so you can make sure your meat is thoroughly cooked.
Also, because of this incredibly high smoke point, it can be reused! Be sure to let it cool down, sieve out any crispy chicken bits to prevent burning next time, then store it in an airtight container ready for future you!
The True Secret To Crispy Chicken: 7 Best Oils
OUR TOP PICK
If you’ve ever seen the incredibly emotional movie adaptation of The Help, you might remember a scene where Minnie teaches us how to make perfect fried chicken. What is her chosen cooking oil? Crisco!
Whilst we don’t recommend that you imitate her use of the pure vegetable shortening, this frying oil blend they’ve developed in the 70 or so years since the movie’s setting is still our number one choice.
A delightful combination of soybean and peanut oil, it’s ideal for everything, whether you’re whipping up fish or french fries, chicken or a whole fried turkey, the results are wonderful every time.
With an almighty smoke point of 440 degrees Fahrenheit, it’s the perfect vessel for frying up meat, suitable for attaining the high temperatures needed for thorough cooking without any nasty smoke.
For those among us with food intolerances, it’s also gluten free and suitable for anybody on a kosher diet, so it truly is a versatile all-rounder that makes a wonderful addition to any chef’s arsenal.
Naturally refined and ideal for fried dishes, this non-GMO avocado oil from BetterBody Foods can be used for just about any cooking method, and the added vitamins and minerals from millennials’ favorite vegetable are a bonus!
Its flavor is smooth and subtle in comparison to more traditional oils, serving to enhance whatever you’re cooking, whilst adding only 10g or monounsaturated fats to your meal with every serving.
Gluten-free and without the use of any additives, it’s a great choice for those following a keto or paleo diet looking to whip up some chicken, and it has a truly clean flavor thanks to the use of all-natural ingredients.
If you thought the cooking point of Crisco was impressive, this bad boy can hit 500 degrees Fahrenheit before it starts to burn - the former only won by a nose because it offers a better value for money.
Like to serve your fried chicken with a salad on the side? This oil also makes an excellent base for a delicious dressing! Chill it in the fridge for a while before you get started though.
With more healthy fats and lauric acid (an ingredient that fights against bacteria and viruses) than other vegetable oils, coconut is fast becoming one of the most popular frying oils as it’s considerably better for you.
This hefty bucket of organic coconut oil from Nutiva has been the top selling brand in the whole of the USA for more than a decade, so it’s clearly the best of the bunch, and for good reason.
Registered organic with the USDA, it’s non-GMO, kosher, non-hydrogenated and there is absolutely no cholesterol present. Think about it - deliciously fried chicken, with no guilty feelings afterward (not that you should have those!)
At around 400 degrees Fahrenheit, its smoke point isn’t as high as some of the other choices out there, but it’s still well within the safety cushion for frying chicken, so there’s nothing to worry about on that front.
You might expect a considerably coconutty taste, but unlike virgin coconut oil, there isn’t a distinct flavor or smell. It’s neutral enough to prevent any lingering taste, so don’t worry if you’re not a fan of the tropical treat!
Having been crafted using grapes imported all the way from France, with the same dedication, passion and expertise as their olive oils, Pompeian’s 100% Grapeseed Oil is an impressive offering at a more affordable price.
As manufacturers, they’ve been producing their artisan oils since 1906, so you know they’re of quality. This oil in particular is an especially good source of Vitamin E, Omega 6 and nutrient-filled fatty acids the body needs.
With satisfied customers reporting a smoke point of around 420 degrees Fahrenheit, it’s also just what you want in terms of reaching the perfect frying temperature without burning up.
Like most oils, it has a neutral flavor and shouldn’t impart any unwanted tastes into any of your ingredients, and it’s also great at preserving the natural flavors of whatever you’re whipping up.
If you like shopping in bulk, you’ll be pleased to know you can get six of their 24 fluid ounce bottles for a very reasonable price, which should keep you stocked up for the foreseeable future.
It’s pricier than some of our other selections, but if you’re dedicated to the clean eating lifestyle, this sunflower oil from Healthy Harvest promises to bring only the very best of nature to your table.
Created to fry perfectly without the use of chemicals, GMOs or hydrogenation, it’s naturally processed and ensures the preservation of omega 3, fatty acids and plenty of Vitamin E, without those pesky trans-fats.
Thanks to an approximate smoke point of around 450 degrees, you’ll have absolutely no problems frying up your chicken perfectly, with a neutral flavor profile that won’t penetrate your poultry!
You’ll also notice it has a longer shelf life, can be reused several times in your fryer and retains more stability of flavor over time, as a result of their superior, all-natural processing methods.
Healthy Harvest’s ethos of connecting responsible eaters with responsible farmers holds sustainability at its heart, offering what they like to call “food with integrity”. Enjoy delicious food and help save the planet, too!
At such an affordable price, the sheer value for money offered by Whole Foods canola oil affords it a place on our list, as does its ability to create deliciously crispy fried chicken, every time.
Coming from such a reputable brand, too, you can purchase with peace of mind knowing the product has been sourced as sustainably as possible, and will be healthier and more natural than other options.
Contributing nothing in the way of additional flavoring to your food, it’s ideal for deep frying and any other stovetop cooking, aided further by its high smoke point to prevent unwanted smoke.
Although a few customers report it can be tricky to open, the easy pour lid means you’ll never use a drop more than you’re intending to, ensuring maximum bang for your buck - even more than you first thought!
Because it requires minimal processing and makes use of expeller pressed oil, there are no chemicals or additives present, so it’s a great choice for healthy eaters trying to avoid nasty preservatives.
Most notably responsible for those incomparable delicious fries at Five Guys, peanut oil is also a stupendous choice for frying chicken, particularly this 128 fluid ounce jug from LouAna, which comes in a recyclable bottle.
One hundred percent pure and offering zero grams of trans fat in any serving, it’s a more healthful option in comparison to other oils, and has also been prepared using non-GMO derived ingredients.
The formula is easy to work with and very forgiving, having been specially curated to work well at high temperatures, so getting that deliciously crispy and perfectly moist chicken is well within your grasp.
Achieving an ideal crust without the lingering greasiness some oils can create, thanks to its neutral flavor and well-crafted formula, it plays well with most foods and cooking methods.
At such a large size, the value for money here is immense, especially if you are a larger household or tend to eat a lot of fried chicken. The built in handle makes it easy enough to achieve precise pouring, in spite of its stature!
Top Tips For Perfect Chicken Every Time
We’ve already covered what oils you need to be using, but achieving poultry perfection is about more than finding the ideal cooking liquid. Here’s what you need to do, from prep to plating.
Don’t Overlook the Humble Marinade
Any chef worth their salt (hehehe) will tell you that the secret to succulence when it comes to fried chicken is your brine or marinade of choice.
Most commonly used in kitchens across the world is buttermilk, and that’s what we’d suggest going for too.
If you like to mix things up a little, you could whip up a brine by combining spices, salt and sugar to taste and dissolving into water.
Whichever method you go for, make sure you give it plenty of time to take hold with a good long soak in the fridge!
Slow and Steady Wins the Race
Not to be melodramatic or anything, but for world-class fried chicken, you’re going to have to wait.
Each piece needs a long soak in buttermilk - think of it like a relaxing bath, enjoying a luxurious swim before they meat their fate!
For maximum crunch, 24 hours is your minimum soak time, with 48 hours being the maximum.
After a while, things just get a bit too soggy, so trust us when we say that one to two days is your best bet!
Properly Prepare Your Meat
No matter if you’re a self-proclaimed butcher or you leave your slicing to the experts and buy pre-packaged meat, you can go the extra mile.
Large chicken breasts tend to crisp up before they’re able to cook all the way through, so slice ‘em in half again.
This way, you’ll ensure that the thighs, legs and breasts will have a similar enough cooking time that everything can be eaten together, in less time, with a higher rate of success in achieving the desired crispiness and tender meat.
Cook at the Correct Temperature
You’re going to want to get a decent cooking thermometer for this part. Experts argue about the best temperature for deep frying, but approximately 335-350 degrees Fahrenheit is the sweet spot for equal parts crunchy and moist chicken.
Lowering your pieces in just a few at a time prevents the oil from cooling down too fast. Make sure you give yourself ample cushioning between the temperature you begin cooking at and the smoke point of your chosen oil!
Indulge in a Double Fry
Adding another step to an already lengthy process might not sound like a tip, but trust us on this one.
Starting with a high heat flash fry and finishing it off low and slow is sure to achieve you the crisp crust and decadently juicy interior you’re after.
Don’t mistake this for overcooking! You don’t want to exceed the smoke point of your oil, nor take the breadcrumb crust from crisp to burnt, so keep a close eye on each individual piece and remember not to crowd the pan.
Remove Excess Oil - But NOT With Paper Towels!
You’ve spent time, money and patience crafting the perfect recipe and cooking method for your fried chicken, so please don't ruin it by soaking up the oil with paper towels! This is a one way ticket to steam, which inevitably leads to soggy skin.
An alternative method for draining away a little of the lingering grease is to transfer each piece to a wire rack immediately after cooking, whilst still piping hot. The additional oil will drip away thanks to the wonder of gravity, retaining the crisp.
Season With More Than Salt
Yes, even after all of that buttermilk soaking, you still want to toss some extra spices in there.
Whilst salt is imperative and you ought to add a pinch or two at every step of your cooking method, it’ll still be lackluster and a little bland if this is all you do.
When you hit the breadcrumbs stage, consider throwing some black pepper, MSG, cayenne powder and garlic powder into the mix; buttermilk can be amped up a little with a slug of sriracha or another hot sauce of your choosing.