The Smoky Ingredient You Should Be Adding To Fried Chicken

If you simply batter some chicken and toss it in the fryer, you'll technically end up with fried chicken, it just won't be flavorful. To ensure your fried chicken doesn't turn out bland, seasoning is crucial. Most people rely on an overnight brine to flavor the chicken itself, but according to TODAY, you'll get better results if you season every component, from the buttermilk to the breading.

The traditional way to go about this, Martha Stewart shares, is by mixing the flour with salt, pepper, and cayenne, and by stirring Tabasco sauce into the buttermilk. Many recipes call for other hot sauce brands and different combinations of herbs and spices, but there's one area that consistently seems to be lacking in seasoning: the oil. That's precisely why celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson (via Culture Map Houston) recommends adding fresh rosemary to the oil when making fried chicken. TODAY alternatively suggests ginger or bay leaves, but if you don't want the flavor to be too herbaceous, there's another ingredient that you should consider adding instead.

Try adding bacon fat to your fried chicken oil

There's no denying that the right oil is essential to making fried chicken. Per Bon Appétit, vegetable oil is the most common choice because of its high smoke point. This effectively allows the oil to reach the higher temperatures required by frying before it starts to smoke. Since vegetable oil has a neutral taste, however, Lacademie instead recommends corn oil because of its buttery notes, and peanut oil, which is — you guessed it — slightly nutty.

While you could easily settle for a slightly more flavorful oil for frying your chicken, you'll actually get tastier results by simply combining vegetable oil with bacon fat. According to Southern Living, you'll just need to reserve the pan drippings left over from frying bacon and measure out a 1/4 cup of it to mix into your frying oil. This one addition is enough to impart a deliciously smoky flavor to every bite of chicken.

Bacon fat and lard aren't interchangeable

Most fried chicken recipes call for using vegetable oil, but you'll find that some opt for lard instead. As Big Oven explains, lard was (and still is) a common frying medium in Southern cooking, and historically was substituted for bacon fat when it became unavailable. However, the two aren't interchangeable. According to BBQ Host, both are forms of pork fat that are rendered down and then solidified, but bacon fat has a more pronounced flavor. That's because bacon is a specific cut of pork that's first cured and smoked. Lard on the other hand is fat taken from any part of the pig. If you use lard to fry your chicken, therefore, it won't affect the flavor all that much because it has a relatively naturally neutral taste.

You can use the grease leftover from any type of bacon, but if you want the smokiness to really shine through, look for kinds smoked with hickory or maple wood, The Spruce Eats says. Mix it into your vegetable oil, or even use it by itself per Big Oven's instructions, and your fried chicken will be all the more savory.