oven fried chicken is part of the fabric of Cooking. Between all the regional styles, the recipes passed down through generations, and the memories of gathering around a table with loved ones and fighting over the drumsticks, fried chicken has a cultural and emotional resonance few foods can match.
But, for better or for worse, many of us crave fried chicken more often than we’re willing to put in the time and effort to make it.
I wanted to find an easier way to get that crunchy, deeply seasoned exterior and juicy meat we all love—without deep frying. This meant using the oven instead of the stovetop.
Many oven-fried chicken recipes instruct the cook to coat the chicken pieces in bread crumbs before baking them.
This makes for good eating, but the crumb coating has a different texture than the crispy exterior of chicken that’s coated in seasoned flour and fried in hot oil. I wanted something closer to the genuine article and thus settled on coating my chicken in seasoned flour.
Knowing that I’d need plenty of heat to transform that flour coating into a crisp crust, I grabbed a 12-inch cast-iron skillet (cast iron is great at holding on to heat), tossed the chicken pieces in flour that I’d seasoned with salt and pepper, poured a few tablespoons of vegetable oil into the skillet, and baked the chicken in a hot oven.
What a disaster that was. The flour coating got soggy, and the chicken was totally overcooked and bone-dry by the time it picked up any exterior color.
That result made me take a new approach. If I wanted chicken that tasted like it had been cooked in a good amount of hot oil, logic said I’d have to cook it in a good amount of hot oil.
Through a series of tests over a period of several days, I came up with the following method: Preheat the skillet in a 450-degree oven.
When the skillet is nice and hot, pour in ½ cup of vegetable oil (it should measure roughly ⅛ inch deep), slip the floured chicken in skin side down, bake the chicken until the skin side is crisp and golden brown (which takes about 15 minutes), and then flip the chicken.
Fifteen minutes later, the chicken is cooked through but still moist, with a crisp coating that crunches like deep-fried chicken. As a bonus, it makes your kitchen smell amazing.
With my basic cooking method down pat, I could polish up the details on how to make oven fried chicken.
To season the flour, I added paprika, granulated garlic, cayenne pepper, salt, and plenty of black pepper (freshly ground is best).
To make sure the flour adhered, I dipped the chicken pieces in beaten egg before coating them and used my fingers to press the coating onto the pieces.
And to create an extra-crunchy coating, I added some water to the seasoned flour and rubbed it with my fingers until little shaggy pieces formed; these pieces added extra physical mass to the coating that, when fried, became very crunchy.
Is this oven fried chicken absolutely indistinguishable from true deep-fried chicken? No. But because it is fried in just ½ cup of oil, it is quite a bit easier to make and has excellent crunch. For me, this means I can make—and happily eat—fried chicken at home each and every week.