Why Breaking Down Your Own Bird Yields Juicier Fried Chicken

Sohla El-Waylly was in the CIA. Not the CIA you're probably thinking of, but rather the Culinary Institute of America. There, she learned all manner of cooking tips, such as the fact that whiskey is the ideal brunch beverage. However, one of the things she didn't learn from her fancy food school was how to make fried chicken. That was something she learned from her husband, per Serious Eats.

Making good fried chicken seems like it would be easy. Get some chicken parts, dip them in some egg and milk, douse them in flour or your choice of breading, then dump them in a pot of searing hot oil. It might be a little warm and dangerous, but it's not exactly as challenging as making, say, a three-way crème brûlée. (It's not even as difficult as putting all the accent marks in "crème brûlée.")

Unfortunately, if you follow those overly simplified instructions, you could easily end up with chicken tough enough to be on "American Gladiators." It will also likely lack flavor and could even go so far as to mock your home decorating choices, it's so tasteless. Which is why El-Waylly suggests breaking down your chicken to make it juicier and more flavorful.

Part of the trick to better fried chicken is smaller birds, smaller parts

Breaking down a chicken is a good skill to have for anyone who likes to keep more money in their bank account and enjoys doing things themselves. It also provides you with more control over your food. The Woks of Life explains that often buying a whole chicken is cheaper than buying the different parts, and you can typically get whole organic chickens, while you might not be able to find organic chicken parts.

When it comes to breaking down a chicken for frying, Sohla El-Waylly explains in her Serious Eats piece that you want to begin by selecting a smaller chicken. The higher ratio of bone to meat makes them juicier, and the small parts fry up faster, so you can get to the good, gluttonous part of your fried chicken recipe more quickly. El-Waylly says she also likes to split the breast into quarters, rather than halves, as most chicken breakdown instructions (such as this one from Foodal) advise.

The reason for the smaller pieces is, again, about ratio. Smaller chunks cook faster, which means less time that the chicken could be losing juices. The shorter the span that your chicken is actively under heat, the more tender and moist it's likely to be. When you break it down yourself, you control the size of the chunks, which means you can make the parts the right size to retain their juices.

What to do to improve the juiciness of your fried chicken

Using smaller pieces that can cook faster is one tip for making juicier fried chicken, but there are other aspects to consider as well. One of these is the brine, which many claim is the way to guarantee your fried chicken is juicy. While a brine is certainly important — and Sohla El-Waylly suggests using a buttermilk brine with hot sauce, garlic powder, black pepper, and onion powder — it's not the whole story.

Tablespoon explains that brining chicken allows it to retain more moisture because salt in the brine breaks the meat down so it doesn't contract while cooking. This allows more moisture to remain in the meat, so it's more flavorful after being cooked. How long your chicken needs to brine depends on the amount of chicken and whether or not it's broken into pieces.

This is another good reason to break down your chicken. How to Cook explains that the time your chicken sits in the brine is determined by weight. If you're cooking only the parts you want, that can mean less time brining and more time crunching down on that flaky, fried goodness. Broken down chicken parts also expose more surface area to the brine, which can make it more tender and juicy.