Seasoned Southern Fried Chicken

About four years ago, I posted a recipe for Southern Fried Chicken, which quickly became one of the more popular recipes on this site. I liked the recipe so much that I ended up adding it to my first cookbook, The Ancestral Table, and then improving it for my second cookbook, Paleo Takeout, to incorporate seasonings similar to those you’d find at a certain famous fried chicken chain restaurant (you know, the kind that comes in a bucket).

As I mentioned in that first fried chicken post, this dish is the convergence of three different events. First, the West African practice of frying chicken was brought to the US as a result of the slave trade. Second, the mass production of pork in the South resulted in an excess of lard for cooking. And finally, cast-iron cookware became a staple of every kitchen during the 19th century. It’s only natural that these elements came together as they did, to create one of the tastiest ways to prepare chicken.

Colonel Harland Sanders first started selling fried chicken during the Great Depression, in Kentucky, and opened his first franchise restaurant in 1952; his success challenged the assumption that “fast food” was limited to hamburgers. His original recipe of “11 herbs and spices” was finalized in 1940, and has been a closely guarded secret ever since. In honor of the original Kentucky Fried Chicken recipe, I also used 11 herbs and spices (although, to be fair, the pinch of thyme used in my recipe was added mostly to reach 11!).

The original preparation for KFC chicken was through traditional pan-frying, but it would take upwards of 30 minutes to prepare one batch of chicken. Ultimately, Colonel Sanders modified a pressure cooker to make the first pressure fryer, which is the method they use today. For my recipe, we’ll be returning to KFC’s roots and pan-frying the chicken – no modified pressure cooker needed.

Seasoned Southern Fried Chicken (Paleo, Primal, Gluten-free, Perfect Health Diet, Whole30-adaptable)

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: Easy

4 lbs bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs and/or drumsticks
2 cups full-fat buttermilk (see dairy-free note below)
1 tbsp sea salt

1/4 cup potato starch
1/4 cup tapioca starch
2 tsp sea salt
2 tsp black pepper
2 tsp paprika
1 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp dried sage
1/2 tsp dried basil
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground cloves
pinch of dried thyme
3 cups lard, for frying, or more if needed

1. Pat the chicken pieces dry with paper towels. In a resealable plastic bag, combine the chicken, buttermilk, and salt and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes but up to overnight—the longer the better. Drain the chicken in a colander, then let dry on a wire rack over a baking sheet for 30 minutes.

2. Preheat your oven to 170°F. Combine the coating ingredients in a wide, shallow bowl. In a cast-iron skillet, heat the lard to about 340F. Pat the chicken pieces dry with paper towels, then coat them in the seasonings, shaking off the excess. Fry the chicken in batches until the internal temperature reaches 165F, about 10 minutes per side. As you finish each batch, place the cooked chicken pieces on a wire rack set over a baking sheet; put them in the oven to keep warm as you fry the remaining pieces.

** Not a fan of buttermilk, or avoiding dairy? Substitute 1 1/2 cups coconut milk and 1/4 cup white vinegar or apple cider vinegar. The key to this marinade is its acidity, which tenderizes the chicken.

50 thoughts on “Seasoned Southern Fried Chicken

  1. Another great looking recipe! What would you suggest using if one didn’t happen to have a cast-iron skillet?


    1. Hi Stephanie, arrowroot or tapioca starch will work fine, a combination of those two will work even better; the chicken won’t be quite as crispy as with potato starch, but still plenty delicious!


  2. We fried your chicken last night and it was a big hit. I have heard family members opening the door to the fridge to snack on leftovers all day today–They can’t stay away. I have one question for you. We added a small amount of butter to the lard when we fried it—just couldn’t help ourselves. Is there any benefit to omitting the butter? It is a rare ingredient for us, but fried chicken seemed like a good time to indulge. Thanks for another great recipe.


    1. Hi Fran, butter has a smoking point of 350F, so as long as the lard stays below that temperature, there’s no fear of the butter burning – in this case, adding a bit of butter to the lard will add richness; good call!


    1. Sam, initially I thought that same, but after reading the category descriptions I felt that “Eat the World” would be better suited for travel blogs; while I do travel a lot for work, I never really blog about it. Either way, the Saveur editors will nudge blogs into the categories they think are most appropriate, so I may end up there anyway – thanks for the vote!


  3. Your blog is so interesting. I love that you write about the history and background of your recipes. Funny story… I had wonderful plantains once at the home of a Cuban man in the 1990’s. I loved them but they surprised me because I hate bananas. I then ordered them three more times at Cuban restaurants and they were disgusting (only to me, everyone else loved them) because they tasted like bananas. Thanks to your blog I learned that the wonderful plantains that I ate the first time were actually green plantains. I am so happy that you imparted the info on the distinction between the green and yellow. I will be making your green plantains soon and can’t wait to make this fried chicken soon. I made fried chicken only once in my life from a Martha Stewart cookbook and it was a disaster. Been scared to make it ever since but I have faith in your recipes! Phew… Lots of writing but I nominated you too!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I made this recipe tonight and it was delicious! I adapted the recipe to my AIP standards, using arrowroot and tapioca starch and a modified spice blend, as well as the coconut milk and vinegar. Fried in lard, of course – there’s no better fat for frying, as far as I’m concerned, especially when you want chicken that ends up crisp. Thanks for this recipe. My husband stated it was better than the fried chicken I used to make with flour, once upon a time. It really turned out beautifully.


  5. Looks wonderful. Looking forward to trying it this weekend. Can you use this spice blend on onion rings? P.S. I’m really getting a lot great recipes and info from your blog. Thank you! Your background is fascinating.


  6. Thanks for all the great recipes, Russ. Lately, however my success with your posts have been 50-50. In this one, for example, the chicken came out darn-near black as I waited for it to reach a temp of 160. As a bachelor who’s never fried chicken before, I guess I thought the instructions would have all I needed, but it didn’t specify at what heat setting to fry the chicken (e.g., high, medium-high). It’s kinda frustrating and a let down to have burned chicken, but maybe it will taste good.


    1. Hey Kevin, I had temp troubles too. If you keep an eye on the chicken and turn after 4-5 minutes, you’ll get better results. I didn’t need the full 20, it was more like 7 minutes per side. The size of the pan and amount of lard will impact how fast these fry. Definitely give it another shot – I cooked mine just right and these were amazing!


      1. Thanks for the tip, Knute. I’m trying it again this weekend. I’ve really liked all the recipes on this site, so I’m pretty sure I’m doing something wrong. I think I might buy one of his carb books for my friend, too.


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