This bourbon buttermilk fried chicken has that incredibly satisfying combination of mind-bogglingly crisp skin and meltingly tender meat with an ever-so-subtle hint of bourbon. The hardest part is letting it marinate for 2 days.
This fried chicken recipe is an amalgam of recipes and techniques I’ve tried over the years in the pursuit of fried chicken that’s worth the work. Adding booze makes the coating crisper. You could use vodka for more neutral results, but my love of bourbon prompted me to try that and that and it has since become my default. Also, I love spicy hot Nashville-style fried chicken. So, this recipe is meant to bring all of the best iterations of fried chicken together in delicious balance. [Editor’s Note: This spectacular recipe comes to use from one of our recipe testers, Gina Medeiros.]–Gina Medeiros
Bourbon Buttermilk Fried Chicken
For the chicken
- One whole (about 4 pounds) chicken cut into 10 bone-in pieces (2 thighs, 2 drumsticks, 2 breasts cut in half crosswise to make 4 pieces, and 2 wings)
- Kosher salt (1 teaspoon per pound [454 g] of chicken)
- 1 to 2 tablespoons cayenne pepper
- Bourbon (1 tablespoon per pound [454 g] of chicken)
- 1 quart buttermilk
For the coating
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/4 cup cornstarch
- 1 tablespoon cayenne pepper or less if you don’t like things too spicy
- 2 teaspoons onion powder
- 2 teaspoons black pepper
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- 1 teaspoon ground coriander
- Vegetable oil for frying
- Kosher salt
- Honey for serving
- Hot sauce or chile-infused oil and chopped fresh chile peppers for serving
Marinate the chicken
- Pat the chicken dry. Sprinkle the pieces evenly with salt and cayenne pepper and place them in a large resealable plastic bag or a large bowl.
- Pour the bourbon over the chicken and then add the buttermilk. Either seal the bag and then squish things around to combine the ingredients or turn the pieces in the bowl to coat them well. Place the chicken in the fridge, turning the pieces occasionally, for 48 hours. (Yes, it’s a long time to wait. Trust us. It’s worth it.)
Make the coating
- In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, cornstarch, cayenne, onion powder, black pepper, paprika, and coriander.
- Place a wire rack on a rimmed baking sheet. Working with 1 piece of chicken at a time, remove the chicken from the brine and dredge it in the flour mixture. Place on the wire rack and repeat with the remaining chicken. Stash the chicken in the refrigerator until dry to the touch, about 1 hour.
- Remove the chicken from the fridge 30 to 45 minutes before you’re going to fry it.
- Preheat the oven to 170°F (77°C). Place a clean wire rack on a rimmed baking sheet.
- In a large deep cast iron skillet or Dutch oven over medium-high heat, add enough oil to reach a depth of 2 inches (5 cm). (Alternatively, you can use a deep fryer.) Heat the oil until it reaches a consistent 335°F (168°C).
- Start frying the chicken, about 3 pieces at a time, taking care to not move the chicken around too much while it's in the oil.
☞TESTER TIP: Fry the larger pieces first since they won’t dry out while staying warm in the oven. A good order is to fry 3 breast pieces in the first batch, then 1 breast and 2 thighs, then the drumsticks and wings in the last batch.
- Cook the chicken for 7 minutes on the first side and then flip the pieces and fry until the chicken is golden brown and the internal temperature is 165°F (74°C), about 7 minutes more.
- Drain the chicken pieces on paper towels, sprinkle with a little more kosher salt, then place them on the wire rack and keep warm in the oven while you fry the remaining pieces. Check the temperature of the oil and let it come back to 335°F (168°C) before frying the next batch.
- Drizzle the chicken with honey and hot sauce or chile-infused oil and fresh chile peppers before serving, if you like.
Recipe Testers’ Reviews
Crazy crisp and crazy tender! This chicken took a bit of work but I felt it was worth it. I thought the taste, before serving with any honey or hot sauce, would be spicy. It was not. This chicken recipe could be used in any execution. The chicken by itself didn’t have a ton of flavor other than nice salty chicken skin and juicy insides.
We drizzled it with red Thai chili-infused oil and topped it with chopped chilies and that was awesome! We also experimented by rolling the chicken in some Nashville hot chicken sauce. (We used Hattie B’s recipe—melt 1/2 cup butter, 3 tablespoons cayenne, 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder, 1/2 teaspoon paprika…roll chicken in sauce. Hot!).
I feel like this is a solid, go-to, tried-and-true fried chicken recipe. It definitely begs for the addition of sweet or heat in the end, but that way you can make it your own! [Editor’s Note: That stunning photo at the top of this recipe? That’s Jessie’s lovely handiwork!]
Wow! This chicken recipe is delicious. I thought the fried chicken recipe I tried a few weeks ago was good, but this one is better. Not difficult but time-consuming—and not easy to wait 2 days but worth it. I wasn’t sure about the bourbon and didn’t think it really would add to the recipe, but then you bite into the chicken and have just a hint of bourbon flavor, it’s very nice.
Everyone enjoyed the chicken very much, delicious hot out of the fryer as well as cold leftovers. If you have the space for brining and time for frying, I highly recommend making 2 chickens.
I used 1 tablespoon cayenne in the brine and 1 tablespoon in the coating. I served it with smashed potatoes and corn.
Originally published September 16, 2020