This is the best fried chicken ever. The smoke permeates the meat, seasoning it from the inside out. Combined with the crunchy exterior and juicy meat, it is revelatory. Just remember to let it rest before eating. It’s almost impossible not to dive in immediately, but when the chicken is too hot you can’t fully appreciate the texture and flavors.
We use rice bran oil for frying because it has a high smoke point and a clean, neutral flavor, which means that fried foods tend to cook evenly without burning or absorbing any heavy flavors from the oil. It is pressed from the hull of the rice grain and is high in antioxidants. It costs about the same as good olive oil, and its slightly sweet, nutty flavor is good for baking, cold marinades, and dressings. Once you try it, it will be hard to go back to canola. You can substitute whatever your favorite chicken parts are for the thighs. If you use breasts we suggest cutting them in half crosswise for the proper coating-to-meat ratio.
Whatever you do, just make sure you try this technique. It’s a little bit of work for a big reward.
- 12 chicken thighs
- 1 quart/912 grams buttermilk
- ¼ cup/56 grams hot sauce, preferably Crystal
- 2 tablespoons/36 grams fine sea salt
- 2 cups/300 grams all-purpose flour
- ½ teaspoon/3 grams fine sea salt
- ¼ teaspoon/0.5 gram cayenne
- 4 ½ cups/1,000 grams rice bran oil
Turn on the smoker, set it at the lowest possible temperature, and let it generate smoke for 10 minutes. Put the chicken thighs into one or two disposable aluminum containers that will fit in your smoker. Fill a third container with ice. Put the ice in the bottom of the smoker and put the chicken thighs on racks above the ice. Smoke the thighs for 1 hour and then turn them over. If the ice has melted, remove the container and replace with fresh ice. Smoke the chicken thighs for another hour.
Put the buttermilk in a bowl and add the hot sauce and 2 tablespoons (36 grams) salt. Stir to dissolve the salt. When the thighs are done smoking, place them in a large zip-top bag and pour the buttermilk mixture over them. Seal the bag, pressing out any excess air, and turn the thighs in the bag. Place the bag in the refrigerator and let the thighs brine for 24 hours. Occasionally turn the bag so that the thighs are fully submerged and coated in the buttermilk.
Set a baking rack over a sheet pan. Put the flour, ½ teaspoon (3 grams) salt, and cayenne in a bowl. Use a whisk to combine them evenly. Remove the chicken thighs from the buttermilk mixture and put them on the rack to drain. Dredge each thigh in the flour mixture and return it to the rack.
Put the rice bran oil in a deep, heavy-bottomed chicken fryer or other large skillet. Heat the oil over medium-high heat until it reaches 360 degrees F/182 degrees C). Turn the oven to 250 degrees F/120 degrees C). Take a second baking rack and put it on a sheet pan. When the oil is hot, add 3 or 4 thighs to the oil and fry until they are a rich golden brown, about 10 minutes.
Maintain an oil temperature of 350 degrees F/175 degrees C). Depending on the size of your pot, you may have to flip the thighs once to brown them evenly.
When the first set of thighs is browned, transfer them to the rack and put the rack in the oven to allow the meat to finish cooking and stay warm while you fry the remaining chicken. Repeat with the rest of the thighs, allowing the last batch to rest for 10 minutes in the oven before serving.