Gluten-Free Southern Fried Chicken

NOTE: An updated version of this recipe appears in my cookbook, The Ancestral Table.

We don’t eat fried foods that often, but every once in a while I get a craving for something crispy and crunchy. So I set out to make a gluten-free, Paleo-friendly Southern Fried Chicken. Bear in mind that this isn’t a smart choice for your everyday meals, but it’s a great way to change things up every once in a while.

The creation of Southern Fried Chicken is the result of several different influences: fried chicken was a West African delicacy brought over to the US by slaves, the mass-production of pork in the South made lard readily available, and the popularity of cast iron cookware in the 19th century created the fried chicken we now associate with the South. I kept my recipe true to those historical precedents, including the use of buttermilk as a marinade. If you’re dairy-free, omitting the buttermilk marinade will still leave you with a pretty tasty fried chicken.

You’ll Need:
2.5 lbs bone-in chicken thighs, breasts, wings or drumsticks
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
1/2 cup potato starch
1 tsp salt
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp black pepper
2 or 3 cups lard

Gently rinse the chicken parts with cold water, and pat dry with paper towels. Place the pieces in a gallon-sized resealable plastic bag, and add the buttermilk. Put the bag in the fridge and marinate overnight.

The next day, place the pieces in a colander and allow them to drain for 20 minutes. Move the pieces around every few minutes so they properly drain. This process will help bring the pieces to room temperature, which is a crucial part of getting this dish right. Meanwhile, warm the lard in a cast iron skillet on medium heat for about 10 minutes.

In a shallow pan, mix the potato starch, salt, paprika, and black pepper. Coat the chicken pieces with the potato starch mixture, then place them in the skillet. You only need to coat the pieces that you’re going to fry immediately.

Fry the pieces for ten minutes on one side, reducing the heat if the lard starts to smoke. Flip the pieces over and fry for another ten minutes. The internal temperature should be around 165 degrees.

Preheat your oven to 200 degrees. Drain the chicken pieces on paper towels for a few minutes, then place them in the oven (on a cooling rack if you have one, otherwise a plate or cookie sheet is fine) while you fry the rest of the pieces. Before adding new chicken pieces, check your lard and add more as needed.

That’s it! Season with a little salt and pepper right before serving, if you’d like.

79 thoughts on “Gluten-Free Southern Fried Chicken

  1. Dumb question…where do I get lard? I’ve seen it in stores but it always has the dreaded word “hydrogenated” on it.

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    1. Hey Eric, you probably won’t be able to find non-hydrogenated lard in a grocery store (maybe in a latin market, but that’s a stretch). Your best bet will be directly from a pork farmer, or from a butcher/meat supplier. You want to look for the stuff that’s either frozen or refrigerated, since that typically means that it’s pure and non-hydrogenated!

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  2. Totally curious here, what is not so great for us about fried food if the oil is a stable fat such as pastured lard, and the food itself – potato starch and chicken is fairly benign? My understanding on deep frying is that if the temp is hot enough, at least 375 degrees, the heat will immediately seal in the coating and oil will not be soaked into the final product being fried, so one isn’t really eating more oil then if the food was say, sauteed.

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    1. There are a couple reasons why we don’t fry food often. #1 is that it takes a lot of oil! :) I’m a bit of a cheapskate in that sense. Secondly, I’ve seen some people say that fried food from healthy animal fats are fine, and others have said that they’re no good. I’m not smart enough to know who to believe!

      There have been some studies where two groups of people were fed the same diet, with one group eating their food fried, and that group showed higher instances of insulin resistance. I think it’s a relatively uncharted avenue, and I’m not sure if saturated fats from healthy animals would reduce this phenomenon. Matt Lalonde talks about this a little in this podcast – http://livinlavidalowcarb.com/blog/ask-the-low-carb-experts-episode-9-all-things-calories-calories-101-mat-lalonde/13615 (about 35 minutes in).

      I guess for me the jury’s out health-wise, but I figure if it’s a point of contention then it’s better to err on the side of caution :)

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    1. Lard (the pure, non-hydrogenated type) is definitely hard to find, you either have to get it from a butcher or farm, or render it yourself using pork fat (which isn’t as hard as it sounds). It’s a very stable cooking oil, and surprisingly good for you, especially when taken from healthy, pastured pigs!

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      1. domesticman! excellent blog filled with epicurean recipes that would adorn a bacchanalian feast!

        For deep frying, I use Palm Oil shortening as it is more readily available than the lard, and also needs no refrigeration!.

        Here is a link where you can get it: http://www.tropicaltraditions.com/organic_palm_shortening.htm

        This place sells a bigger tub than the spectrum organics and it is cheaper on a per serving basis.

        I have used the product and it is like Crisco but without the nasty soybean oil and hydrogenated trans fat!.

        When I deep fry french fries with the stuff, it reminds me of the taste of the McDonald\’s fries of old, when they used the famous blend of beef tallow and cottenseed oil.

        Now, if anybody can tell me where to find beef tallow for deep frying, I would be in heaven, nirvana, or valhalla…take your pick!

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    1. Barbara, you could definitely use oil; I used lard in this recipe for a more authentic flavor and texture. I would also bear in mind that frying food in oils high in Omega-6 fatty acids (grain and seed derived oils like canola, corn, and vegetable oil) is most likely not good for you. Here’s some more info from Dr. Kurt Harris regarding these oils:

      http://www.archevore.com/panu-weblog/2009/6/22/fats-and-oils.html

      Hope that helps!

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        1. I recently switch to coconut oil for most things I use oil for. It is great and handles high heat! It is a bit odd (comes in a solid white form in a jar) and takes some getting use to. My father is on a gluten free diet. He grew up with fried foods, but doesn’t get them very often, so I am going to give this fried chicken recipe a try!

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  3. An excellent gluten free version! I grew up in the South and I must say your recipe is spot on, including the lard. Just an fyi, Spectrum organics now makes a palm oil lard that works beautifully. thanks for posting!

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    1. Hi Marie, modern Crisco is a blend of soybean oil, fully hydrogenated cottonseed oil, and partially hydrogenated soybean and cottonseed oils; all of which are high in Omega-6 fatty acids and likely an underlying cause of the increased inflammation and heart disease found in the Western world over the past century. I would highly recommend using something that can be found in a less-processed state like saturated animal fats from healthy animals (lard, tallow), or virgin oils like coconut or palm oil.

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  4. A few questions, my friend is gluten intolerant and I was thinking of making this for him. What could I use instead of a cast-iron pan? Would Tenderflake by Maple Leaf (pure lard) be ok? It does not say anything about being non-hydrogenated and to keep at room temp – meaning? probably not… Might have to visit the parents for some real lard, they butcher their own pork and use lard (Belgians – what can I say)

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    1. Hey Lisa, if the lard is shelf-stable then it’s been partially hydrogenated, which means that it has trans fats. Something from a real farm/butcher that needs to be refrigerated or frozen is the way to go. As far as the skillet/pan, anything that’s large enough will do, really, it’s just that a cast iron skillet is the traditional cookware used for this dish and heats very evenly. Before getting a cast iron skillet, we had one of these:

      http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B001ASBBSG?ie=UTF8&tag=thedomman-20&linkCode=xm2&camp=1789&creativeASIN=B001ASBBSG

      Let me know if you have any other questions!

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  5. Can’t wait to try this. I’ve tried the almond flour version but I’ve been in the mood for the real thing. This looks like the best grain-free version so far. Thanks for posting

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  6. I am preparing this chicken for my 92 year old mother who is gluten intolerant for the 4th of July because this is what she grew up having…I forgot to get Crisco or lard so I’m using liquid vegetable oil and a little tiny bit of butter…am eager to see how it comes out…I expect it will be very good. I used Kinnikinnick All Purpose Mix, didn’t have black pepper so I used a pinch of cayenne. Thanks for posting this recipe, I had no idea where to start.

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      1. it was really good. The Kinninnik all purpose mix has some sugar in it which gets too brown too soon, so next time I will try plain potato starch. My mom really enjoyed the chicken! We all did! thank you so much

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  7. Soo excited to try this, I’ve never made fried chicken before! I don’t have lard, but do have some duckfat and pastured butter at home that I’ll use instead. Would you mind if I wrote about it on my blog and linked to yours?

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    1. Sheila, I would be wary of trying to fry the chicken in butter, it will probably burn at that high of a temperature. Duck fat would be excellent though! Others have told me that coconut oil worked okay as well. You’re most welcome to write about this recipe on your blog!

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      1. Thanks, that was definitely helpful! I ended up using ghee, which worked really nicely. The only time using ghee became an issue, I had left it on a bit too long without chicken, at too high a heat. But other than that it worked really well and it was delicious, and my friends loved it. Just posted on my blog about it with your link! Thanks again :)

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  8. Made this tonight for dinner….Oh My Gosh….. YUMMY!!!! I have’nt had fried chicken in so-so- long.
    Did’nt have enough potato starch needed 1/2 cup more, so I used almond meal to the potato starch for the equal the amount needed for frying. Really came out “Delicioso” I did’nt stop there… just had to make homemade chicken gravy! for the mashed potatoe’s or biscuit’s :) soooo good! Talk about fattening, but was worth it, I never get to go all out, so I did! The family kept going on and on about the nice crunchy flavor of the chicken.
    Thank you for sharing

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  9. I just started to Marinate the chicken, I am very very excited to try this recipe tomorrow. I will let you know how my friends, and boo like it!!

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      1. I just wanted to say THANK YOU, I’ve haven’t had fried chicken in such a long time. It was extremely good, thanks for the tip about keeping it at a lower temp. I put some hot sauce on half of them, which turned out amazing. Thank you soo soo much for this recipe, I am going to try a few more!!

        :) Everyone loved it BTW :)

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  10. Made this for a family gathering tonight and it was a hit. Tasted just like southern fried chicken. Used boneless chicken breast and ended up finishing them in the oven on the wire rack at 350 degrees for 10 more minutes. The buttermilk marinade made the chicken extremely juicy. Thanks for this recipe.

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  11. This looks fantastic!!! Do you know if there is a dairy free alternative to buttermilk? And I am thinking of using coconut oil instead of lard – all my southern friends say its the best AND it’s an plus with Omega3s.. Thoughts?

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  12. Those who are looking for a cheap source for fresh lard can find it easily at a Latino market. It is normally rendered daily at my market.

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    1. I have used coconut flour and coconut oil for chicken nuggets in the past and it turned out fine, but it would definitely change the taste. The potato starch and palm oil/lard, gives the southern fried chicken an authentic flavor.

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    2. If it’s the potato content you’re concerned with (and not the fact that it’s a starch), a combination of arrowroot and tapioca would be okay as well. Like jaschewe said, you can definitely use coconut oil and a nut flour but the taste will be altered.

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    1. It depends on the fat – some can be strained and reused (lard and duck fat especially). For the stuff we’re going to discard, we pour it into a glass jar to cool overnight, then spoon it into a plastic grocery back, tie it up tightly and toss it out with the trash. We don’t have local recycling for it, as far as I know. I’ve heard of people pouring it in with old litter to absorb it.

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