How to make the perfect buttermilk fried chicken

Fried chicken's best friend? An ice-cold beer.
Fried chicken's best friend? An ice-cold beer. Photo: William Meppem

When fried chicken is good, it's very, very good. The chicken is juicy and tender, the coating crisp, the suntan golden brown and the flavour out of this world. Here's how to get it that way.


  • 6 chicken thighs
  • 6 chicken drumsticks
  • 300ml buttermilk
  • 1 tbsp salt
  • 150g (1 cup) plain flour
  • 2 tbsp cornflour
  • 1 tbsp ground ginger
  • 1 tbsp mustard powder
  • 1 tbsp garlic or onion powder
  • 2 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp cracked black pepper
  • ½ tsp cayenne
  • 1½ litres vegetable oil for frying
  • dill pickles for serving


1. Wash chicken pieces and dry. Mix buttermilk and salt in a large bowl, stirring well. Add the chicken, coat well, cover and refrigerate for 2-4 hours.

2. Combine the flour, cornflour, ginger, mustard, garlic or onion powder, paprika, salt, pepper and cayenne in a bowl.

3. To set up your dipping station, first remove the chicken from the buttermilk, and rest it on a plate. Place in order of use: chicken, seasoned flour, buttermilk and a wire cooling rack set over a tray lined with paper towels.

4. Take one piece of chicken and toss well in the seasoned flour until coated. Shake off any excess and dip into the buttermilk again until coated. Toss in the flour once more, then rest on the wire rack (this all gets a bit gluey, but it's worth it). Repeat with remaining chicken.

5. Pour the oil into a heavy-based, tall-sided pan and heat to 180C or until a cube of bread turns golden brown in 20 seconds. Carefully lower three chicken thighs into the oil and cook for 10 minutes, turning occasionally with tongs, until crisp and golden brown. Remove and drain on the wire cooling rack set over a tray lined with paper towel.Step 6 Repeat with the remaining chicken thighs and legs and serve hot, with dill pickles.


Serves 4


  • The secret to a thick, crisp coating is to double-dip in buttermilk and seasoned flour.
  • Add cornflour to the plain flour to help keep the coating crisp.
  • Buy chicken marylands, and cut through the joint to separate drumsticks and thighs.
  • Cook same-sized chicken pieces at the same time.
  • Eat with your hands – it tastes twice as good this way.
Chilled sriracha-fried chicken and pickles, plus portable cucumber gin and tonic cocktails.

Picnic-friendly chilled fried chicken and pickles. Photo: William Meppem

Mix it up

  • Serve fried chicken with purple cabbage slaw, crisp green beans, mashed potato, warm potato salad or buttered corn cobs.
  • Buttermilk fried chicken is just as delicious cold, which makes it perfect picnic (or Cup Day) fare (pictured above).
  • You'll be needing pickles. Try dill pickles, pickled chillies, pickled onions, sweet gherkins or cornichons.
  • Or make your own quick pickle: finely slice a red onion and pickle in 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar, 1 tablespoon salt and 1 tablespoon sugar for a few hours, then drain.
  • Skip the deep-fryer and pan-fry instead. Brine and flour the chicken, pan-fry in 2 tablespoons  of olive oil until golden, then bake at 180C for 45 minutes or until cooked.
  • For the best fried chicken burgers ever, make this recipe with boneless chicken thighs and serve in burger buns with coleslaw, pickles and mayo.
  • Got a crowd? Serve miniature fried chicken as cocktail party snacks – joint two or three poussin (small chickens) into eight pieces each, dip in buttermilk and spiced flour and deep-fry for 6 minutes until crisp.
  • For super-hot Nashville-style fried chicken, add 2 tablespoons hot sauce (such as Tabasco) to the buttermilk brine and double the cayenne in the flour. But don't say I didn't warn you.