Literally nothing compares to that first bite of this crispy, crunchy coating and piping hot meat.
This is John Besh. He’s one of the best Southern chefs in America and the one recipe he thinks everybody should learn to cook is his grandmother’s fried chicken.
“One of my sons always asks for this fried chicken for his birthday,” says Besh, who has twelve restaurants, four cookbooks, and a James Beard award. “It’s his favorite meal.”
He put the recipe in his newest book, Besh Big Easy, which is a collection of all the meals he actually makes for his family. “When I cook at home, I like things that you can make in a single pot or pan,” he says.
And, it turns out, the best, most authentic, Southern fried chicken is the kind you can make with just a few ingredients, in one skillet.
So we asked him to show us (and you, obvs) how to make it.
Here is everything you’ll need to make the fried chicken:
Chicken, salt and pepper, canola oil, celery salt, cayenne pepper, garlic powder, flour, and buttermilk.
1. Set the chicken pieces on a cutting board and season liberally with salt and pepper on all sides.
Besh started with a whole chicken, then cut it up to end up with two wings, two thighs, two drumsticks, and four breast pieces (cut each breast in half). You can see a video of him butchering the chicken at the bottom of this post.
If you don’t want to cut up a chicken — hey, NO SHAME — just buy three pounds of bone-in, skin-on chicken. A mix of breasts, thighs, and drumsticks is great, but you could use only your favorite parts, if you want.
2. Transfer the chicken to a large bowl and add the buttermilk, then let it sit for at least 15 minutes. Meanwhile, stir together the flour with the seasonings.
If you want — or, if you plan far enough in advance — you can marinate the chicken in the buttermilk for as long as 12 hours. If you’re marinating for more than 20 minutes, cover and refrigerate the chicken-buttermilk mixture as it marinates.
3. Heat 1 to 2 inches of oil in a heavy skillet (cast iron is best) or Dutch oven over high heat.
“The more oil you have, the more consistent the temperature will be,” Besh says. “With less oil, it’ll fluctuate a little more, and you might get dark spots. It’s a little harder to get that beautiful, crisp crust.”
4. When the oil reaches 350°F on a deep-fry thermometer, turn the heat down to medium. You’re ready to fry!
You want to keep the oil as close to 350°F as possible for the entire cooking process, so you might have to adjust the heat of your burner up or down a little bit.
5. Transfer 3 to 4 pieces of chicken from the buttermilk to the flour mixture, letting any excess buttermilk drip off.
You want the chicken to be wet enough that the flour will stick, but not dripping.
6. Use your hands to pack the flour onto all sides of the chicken, then, working with one piece at a time, shake off any excess flour…
7. …and carefully place the dredged chicken in the hot oil.
8. Repeat with 2 or 3 more pieces of chicken. Make sure your oil temperature doesn’t drop lower than about 340°F. Try and keep it at 350°F.
9. Let the chicken fry for about 6 minutes, until it’s lightly browned on the underside.
10. Use tongs or a slotted spoon to carefully flip each piece of chicken.
11. Cook for 6 more minutes, until the chicken is cooked through and both sides are golden brown.
Bigger pieces pieces will take longer to cook than the smaller pieces.
Besh knows when the chicken is done just by its golden brown color, because he’s a true pro. If you don’t trust yourself to know, you can cut a piece open and make sure it’s cooked all the way through (no pink), or you can insert a meat thermometer right into the middle of the piece of chicken. “I’d take it out at 140°F,” Besh says. “The politically correct answer would be 160°F, but if you take it out at 140°F, it’ll carry over.”
By “carry over,” he means that the chicken will be so hot its internal temperature will continue to rise even after you take it out of the oil, so it’ll hit 160˚F anyway.
12. Lift the finished pieces of chicken out of the oil and transfer them to a paper towel-lined plate or baking sheet.
13. Repeat the process, cooking 3 or 4 pieces of chicken at a time, until all the chicken is cooked. Season the cooked chicken with a little more salt and pepper, as soon as it comes out of the oil.
14. We asked Besh if he serves his fried chicken with any kind of sauce, and he suggested Tabasco honey…
…which is literally just honey with a little Tabasco mixed in.
Turns out, Tabasco honey is really, REALLY good, and you should put it on everything.
You can spoon it right onto a crispy piece of chicken…
… or you can serve the chicken straight-up, with the honey on the side.
Grandmother Grace’s Fried Chicken
Makes 6 servings
Recipe by John Besh, from Besh Big Easy
For this recipe, you can use a whole chicken cut into 10 pieces, or you can just buy 3 pounds of bone-in, skin-on chicken pieces. Make sure the breasts are cut in half and the drumsticks and thighs are separated.
For the chicken:
3 pounds bone-in, skin-on chicken pieces, preferably from one whole chicken
Salt and pepper
1 quart buttermilk
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon celery salt
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Canola oil, for frying
For the tabasco honey:
1/2 cup honey
1 teaspoon tabasco, or more to taste.
For the chicken:
Season the chicken pieces generously with salt and pepper. In a large bowl, soak the chicken in the buttermilk for at least 15 minutes. The idea is that the lactic acids tenderize the chicken. Sometimes my grandmother would even put the soaking chicken in the fridge overnight.
Mix together the flour, celery salt, garlic powder, cayenne, salt, and pepper in a large bowl. Dredge each chicken piece in the seasoned flour to coat well. The batter should just barely adhere to the chicken, so make sure you give each piece a little shake to let extra batter drop off before frying.
Heat about 1 to 2 inches of canola oil in a heavy skillet or Dutch oven until it reaches 350°F (get a deep-fry thermometer here). Place a few pieces of the chicken in the oil — you can’t do more than 3 or 4 at a time without causing the oil temperature to drop, which makes for greasier chicken — and fry for 6 to 8 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, turn each piece over, then cover the pan to cook for another 6 minutes. The chicken is done when it’s deep brown, cooked through. Drain on paper towels and salt well.
For the Tabasco honey:
Mix the honey and Tabasco in a small bowl and serve alongside the chicken, for dipping or drizzling.