Southern Chef Shares His Secrets for the Best Fried Chicken

Southern Chef Shares His Secrets for the Best Fried Chicken

Fried chicken with the ultimate crisp, made by Southern chef William Dissen. (Johnny Autry)

Randy Tatano

Randy Tatano

6/1/2024

Updated: 6/3/2024

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It’s one of America’s classic dishes, with franchises in every town serving it and family recipes handed down through generations. So when one of America’s top chefs is willing to share the two biggest secrets to making great fried chicken, it pays to listen.
Are you ready?
The two most important ingredients are:
Quality chicken.
Time.
Don’t worry, there’s a lot more. But it’s not rocket science. Even if you’re a novice in the kitchen who could burn a salad, you’ll be fine. Veteran cooks will also find some valuable tips and tricks. If you have patience and attention to detail, your fried chicken will be a hit.

Meet the Chef

William Dissen is the executive chef and owner of farm-to-table restaurant The Market Place in Asheville, North Carolina, and author of “Thoughtful Cooking: Recipes Rooted in the New South,” published this April. He also runs Billy D’s Fried Chicken, with multiple locations in North Carolina.
Chef William Dissen. (Nate Burrows)

Chef William Dissen. (Nate Burrows)

“I live in the South—I think we’re all fed fried chicken at birth!” Mr. Dissen said. A West Virginia native, he saw the importance of living off the land at his grandparents’ farm, watching them raise livestock, plant a garden, and harvest and preserve the fruits of their labor. He got his start in the restaurant business washing dishes at a country club. He was drawn to the energy of the kitchen, and realized it was his calling.
“As I studied food and cooking, I realized that every culture has a love affair with some sort of fried chicken,” he said. “I decided I wanted to learn more, and it led me down the path to open Billy D’s Fried Chicken.”
He’s perfected a winning recipe. “My fried chicken has a crunchy and crispy golden crust that makes it moist, juicy, and tender in every bite,” he said.
Here’s how he does it.

Buy Good Chicken

“The most important thing,” said Mr. Dissen, “is making sure you have great chicken that was raised in a way that’s not pumped full of hormones and antibiotics. Good, clean protein.” He recommends buying free-range chicken.
 

Give It a Bath

After that, “the big thing for me is how you handle it,” he said. Mr. Dissen starts with a bread-and-butter-pickle-style brine, which includes vinegar, salt, sugar, and other seasonings. He brines the chicken in a Ziploc bag for about 30 minutes, which tenderizes the meat while infusing it with flavor.
“I love the tang that the pickle brine gives the chicken. It makes the fried chicken extra juicy,” he said.
Then he pats it dry and puts it in the fridge for at least two hours to let it dry completely.

Coat It Well

The right seasoning blend will add an extra kick of flavor. (studiovin/Shutterstock)

The right seasoning blend will add an extra kick of flavor. (studiovin/Shutterstock)

Next, the chicken needs breading, which adds both crunch and a kick of flavor. Mr. Dissen’s recipe calls for a multi-step dredging process, starting with a dry seasoning blend of kosher salt, black pepper, thyme, paprika, and cayenne pepper.
Powdered milk in the seasoning is one of Mr. Dissen's secrets to crispy, juicy fried chicken. (Madlen/Shutterstock)

Powdered milk in the seasoning is one of Mr. Dissen's secrets to crispy, juicy fried chicken. (Madlen/Shutterstock)

After seasoning the chicken, he coats it in a mix of flour, powdered milk, garlic powder, and some more seasoning blend, followed by a dip in a buttermilk and egg mixture.
Wait a minute—powdered milk? “It makes for a super golden crust on the chicken, and keeps the skin crispy and the [meat] soft, tender, and moist,” Mr. Dissen said.
Finally, he combines the flour mixture and buttermilk mixture until the texture is “coarse like wet sand,” and coats the chicken pieces with it, pressing to stick as much of the mixture as possible onto the chicken.
Now you’re ready to fry, right?
Nope. After breading the chicken, the ingredient of time comes into play again. You don’t want to lose that wonderful coating.
“Let it sit in the refrigerator for at least an hour,” Mr. Dissen said. “That allows the breading to really adhere to the chicken.”
Let the breading sit on the chicken meat before frying. (Candice Bell/Shutterstock)

Let the breading sit on the chicken meat before frying. (Candice Bell/Shutterstock)

Fry in Batches

When it finally comes time to fry, patience again is key.
Mr. Dissen’s recipe calls for canola oil, as fried chicken needs an oil with a high smoke point. Many restaurants use deep fryers, but you can get the same results by cooking your chicken in a large, heavy pot or Dutch oven.
“Always make sure that your oil is hot before frying,” Mr. Dissen said. He heats the oil to 325 degrees F.
There’s also an art to frying. “Don’t overcrowd the pan or fryer—this drops the temperature of the oil and makes for a soggy crust on the chicken,” he said.
When the chicken reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees, it’s done.
Be sure not to overcrowd the pan while frying. (moriyu/Getty Images)

Be sure not to overcrowd the pan while frying. (moriyu/Getty Images)

Invite a Crowd

Mr. Dissen is a firm believer in what he calls “thoughtful cooking,” a way to turn your culinary skills into something more rewarding than just throwing something together or zapping dinner in the microwave.
“It’s being connected to the world around you through food. Taking the time to slow down, to cook for people you love,” he said. “Eating is so intimate. When you invite someone to sit at your table and you want to cook for them, you’re inviting a person into your life. ”
A meal of fried chicken is sure to bring loved ones to the kitchen table. (Johnny Autry)

A meal of fried chicken is sure to bring loved ones to the kitchen table. (Johnny Autry)

“I think the world we live in is going one hundred miles an hour every second of the day, and for the last few generations we’ve industrialized our food system. I feel a lot of us have lost the connection of where food comes from,” he said.
So turn your next fried chicken dinner into an event. Take your time and savor the process along with the food.
“Food for me is the great connector,” Mr. Dissen said. “The human connections we get when we break bread and share a meal together—it’s a beautiful thing.”
Get William Dissen’s recipe: Billy D’s Fried Chicken
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Randy Tatano

Randy Tatano

Author

Randy Tatano is a former local television reporter and network producer who now writes political thrillers as Nick Harlow. He grew up in a New York City suburb and lives on the Gulf Coast with his wife and four cats.

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