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Southern Fried Chicken

Follow step-by-step, photo illustrated instructions for making our Southern Fried Chicken in a cast iron skillet, just like mama used to do it.  I’ll even share our families secret recipe of “herbs and spices,” so you can make this delicious old southern classic at home for you and your family to enjoy. Printable recipe included.

Southern Fried Chicken Recipe:

I’ve been asked numerous times over the past years, for a recipe on Southern Fried Chicken.  I think I’ve just been putting it off, because I must be honest, I can’t fry chicken the way my mother did.  Yes, I’ve tried, but it just never seems to be what I remember eating sitting at her table.

As I’ve mentioned before, we always had 11-15 people at our house for Sunday Dinner, each and every Sunday.  My older brother and sister had married and had children of their own, years before I ever did. Mama always expected ALL of us to be at her house on Sunday.  And, if that wasn’t enough, 9 times out of 10, she invited the pastor and his family.  But, all was well and good.  She always had plenty of food.

Mama would get up early on Sunday and start cooking, before she got ready for church.  What she didn’t finish by church time, she finished just as soon as she got home, and could get more comfortable shoes and her apron on.  She always had the apron.

Sometimes chicken would be frying away and she’d just cut the burner off, cover the pan, and go to church.  When she got back, she’d turn the burner back on and continue right where she left off.

Of course, back then, once everyone ate, Mama would just throw a big white cloth over the table after all the dirty dishes were removed.  The remaining food would sit right on the table, chicken and all, until supper time when we’d dig into it again.  Ahhh, those were the days.

I totally LOVED Mama’s fried chicken.  Always a drumstick or thigh, seldom the breast part.  Or, maybe I’d get lucky and find the wishbone. You know, I still can’t cut up a chicken to where it has a wishbone.  I’m not very adept at carving up a whole chicken anyway.  I get by, but that’s about it.

Mama fried chicken in her cast iron skillet during the week, but Sundays required the bigger, Electric Frying Pan that she acquired later on. Just so you’ll know, the skillet you’ll see pictured below IS the exact same skillet.  It’s my most treasured piece of cooking equipment.

I’ve often wondered why I can’t seem to fry chicken up the same way she did.  She always used Lard.  I use Lard.  As for that family secret of “herbs and spices,” Mama only used TWO… Salt and Black Pepper.  Tell that to the Colonel. Still, her chicken came out fabulously.  And, it wasn’t just me, most everyone else raved about how good it was.

I’ve read that the reason chicken doesn’t taste like it use to, is because of the way chickens are raised these days.  It appears the best way to even get close to the chicken of days gone by, is to buy organic and farm raised chickens.  I’m going to do that one day just to see if it makes a difference.  I’m just too quick to grab one at the big mart when I’m ready to fry up my own.

I will however, do my best to show you the process.  It’s the way Mama cooked hers, and the way I cook it myself, minus her special touch of course.  I hope you’ll try it in a big old cast iron skillet of your own, and come back and let me know how you like it.

Ready to give it a try?  Alright then, heat up some Lard and Let’s Get Cooking!

Southern Fried Chicken, you'll need these ingredients.

Skillet Fried Chicken:  You’ll need these ingredients.

I realized after I placed the pictures from the camera onto my computer, that the bucket of Lard wasn’t saying LARD but Manteca.  But, that was a good thing, because if you can’t find Lard in your grocery store, check one of the Hispanic stores.  Chances are they will have it under the name of Manteca. One side of this bucket says Lard, the other says Manteca… same thing.

I realize we could get into lots of discussion over using Lard, but let’s just enjoy the memories… OK?

Southern Fried Chicken, remove the packet of giblets.

Most whole chickens come packed with a packet of giblets inside the chicken cavity.  The neck bone will either be still attached, or also inside the bird.  You’ll want to be sure to remove the packet of giblets and save them for later.  You can use them to make gravy for your fried chicken, or freeze them for later, maybe to make your own chicken stock.

Southern Fried Chicken, rinse the bird.

Give the bird a good bath, inside and out.  Rinse it under cold running water inside the sink.

Southern Fried Chicken, cut up the chicken.

Cut up the chicken.  Now, that’s a whole step-by-step story within itself that we’ll save for another day. Maybe after I get a bit better at it myself.  Just saying.

Southern Fried Chicken, save the back and giblets.

Be sure to save the back, neck and giblet pieces.  We can use those in another recipe later.  It will make great stock or soup, so freeze it all together if you don’t have plans to use it within a day or so.

Southern Fried Chicken, add salt.

Lay the chicken out on a sheet pan and add just a little bit of salt to taste.

Southern Fried Chicken, add black pepper.

Give it some Black Pepper, also to taste.  Basically whatever you think you can get away with for your family.

Southern Fried Chicken, season both sides.

Turn all the pieces over, right there in the pan, and season the other side with Salt and Black Pepper.

Southern Fried Chicken, flour in a bowl.

Place about 2 cups of flour in a medium size bowl.  Use a fork to break up any large lumps that might be in it.

Southern Fried Chicken, dredge the chicken.

One piece at a time, dredge the chicken in the flour.  Just drop a piece in, turn it over a time or two, and coat all the sides and edges.

Southern Fried Chicken, shake off any excess.

Gently shake off any excess flour.

Southern Fried Chicken, no flour under skin.

If you have a piece of chicken where the skin has pulled loose from the meat, just fold it back down on the meat.  Don’t try to flour underneath the skin.  The flour will not brown once it’s in the hot oil, and you aren’t really going to like the outcome.  You can thank me later.

Southern Fried Chicken, add flour on top.

Just spread the loose skin back out on the chicken piece and coat the top with flour.  Continue this with each piece, placing it back on the sheet pan after shaking off any excess flour.

Southern Fried Chicken, discard any leftover flour.

Discard any leftover flour.  I know it seems wasteful, but it’s better to toss it than cross contaminate some other food later.

Southern Fried Chicken, let the chicken rest and dry a bit.

Once you’ve coated all the chicken pieces, just let it set on the sheet pan and rest a bit.  This will allow the coating to dry and hold to the chicken better.  We’ll just let it sit out for the length of time it takes to heat up the cooking oil.

Southern Fried Chicken, lard in the skillet.

Place some lard in your cast iron skillet.  You’ll need enough lard, once it’s melted, to measure about 3/4 of an inch deep inside the skillet.

Southern Fried Chicken, add some butter.

Once the lard has melted and started to warm up, CAREFULLY add the Butter.  A Tablespoon full of Bacon Grease would also be really good, if you have that.  The butter will of course brown in the Lard but that’s the point.  It helps give the first pieces of chicken cooked in the Lard a nice brown color.  It also helps to add some flavor.

I say carefully, because the cold Butter going into the hot Lard, will start to bubble and splatter.  Just be sure you don’t let it splatter out on yourself.  A splatter screen comes in pretty handy for frying chicken. One day, I think I’ll actually buy myself one.  Sadly, I just look at it as another item that has to be washed after the meal is over.

Southern Fried Chicken, testing the lard.

If you take just a pinch of flour, and drop it in the hot Lard, it will start to dance and sizzle if the Lard is hot enough to start frying the chicken in.  As you can see here, it just wasn’t quite hot enough at this point.  A thermometer would be even better if you have that.  The Lard needs to get up to 350º to properly fry the chicken.  I’ve learned that placing my largest burner on just a little below Medium heat, works perfect for frying.  With a little practice, you’ll learn what works best for you.

Southern Fried Chicken, add the chicken.

Place the chicken, skin side down, in the skillet. That grease is hot, be careful lowering the chicken so it doesn’t splatter back on you.

Southern Fried Chicken, don't crowd the pan.

Don’t overcrowd the pan when adding the other pieces.  I’m cooking wings, thigh and legs in the first batch.  The breasts will cook a little quicker, so I’ll add them in the second batch.

I like to call the next steps, the 7-7-7 Method.  I’ve just found it to be an easy way to remember the steps involved. We’re going to fry the chicken 7 minutes with the lid OFF, then 7 minutes with the lid ON. Turn it, cover it, then fry 7 more minutes with the lid ON.  From now on, you’ll always remember the 7-7-7’s. Take a look.

Southern Fried Chicken, uncover and cook.

After 7 minutes the bottom edges will start turning a little brown. Overtime, you’ll learn to listen to your frying pan as you cook. If it’s bubbling really fast and furious, you’re probably cooking too hot and need to turn the heat down a bit. If it’s not sounding very active when the chicken gets to going, you might need to increase the heat some. Also, once the chicken is done, the sizzle will slow down a considerable amount to let you know its done. Takes a little practice, but overtime it becomes second nature.

Place the lid over the chicken and let it fry 7 more minutes with the lid ON. The lid forces heat down inside the chicken so it cooks more evenly on the inside and around the bone.

Southern Fried Chicken, turn the chicken.

Use some tongs and turn each piece.  You could also re-position the pieces in the pan if you see one area is cooking a bit hotter than the other.  You’d know this by seeing burned spots.

Southern Fried Chicken, cover again.

Place the lid back on the chicken once again.  We’ll let it cook for 7 more minutes on the second side with the lid ON the pan.

Southern Fried Chicken, uncover again.

Carefully remove the lid once again.  The chicken has cooked pretty well on both sides by now.  At this point, you could use a meat thermometer to see what the internal temperature of the chicken is.  It needs to cook until that temperature reaches 165º inside to be safe.  It just depends on how hot your pan is at this point. Make sure your thermometer is not touching a bone when you check the temp.

Southern Fried Chicken, drain on paperbag.

In order to keep the fried chicken good and crispy, remove it from the pan and let it drain on a piece of brown paper bag, or on a wire rack.  It’s best to not place it on paper towels unless you like a softer touch to the skin.  Experiment with it and find which you like best.  Placing the fried chicken in a bowl and covering with a towel will soften up the exterior, but still give a tender and moist fried chicken experience.

Southern Fried Chicken, enjoy.

Go ahead and cook the second batch.  Since we saved the breast pieces until last, they will cook a bit faster.  I still used the 7 minutes with the lid off, 7 minutes with the lid on – then turn, and cover and cook about 7 more minutes. When you remove the lid, check the internal temperature of the breast pieces.  It will probably be done and should be removed.  Thicker pieces of course will take longer to cook than the thinner sections.  You’ll just have to monitor it during the final minutes of cooking so as to not over cook it.  It takes a little practice, but you can do it.

Pan fried chicken is best if allowed to cool for about 15 minutes before serving.  You don’t want anyone biting into super hot pieces of chicken.


UPDATED -05-30-2019:  The USDA now says its best not to rinse store bought chicken before cooking. According to them, it increases the chances of contamination from raw chicken and could cause sickness. It’s kind of hard to cutup a whole chicken at home without splattering a little juice from the chicken around in the sink. Just use caution and be sure to sanitize your sink and surrounding counter areas anytime you’re working with poultry. Restaurants use a bit of chlorine bleach mixed in with water to spray and clean all of their work tables, sinks and cooking areas. You might want to do the same. Thanks for listening.

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