On most days, I love eating healthy. Greens, whole-grains or protein-packed snacks are my go-to meals. But every once in a while I’ll treat myself to some good ol’ American fried food. (It’s practically unavoidable when you’re living in Wisconsin.) And boy, no matter how delicious you make your kale, nothing beats the taste of a crispy golden-brown chicken wing or an extra-indulgent cheese curd.
What exactly is deep frying? Also known as “deep fat frying” and just plain old “frying,” this cooking method involves submerging food into very hot oil (around 375 degrees) to cook. The oil instantaneously cooks the outer layer of the food, sealing off the center. This typically results in a crispy exterior and soft interior, giving french fries their glorious golden crunch.
It’s easy to find deep-fried treats at your local fast-food joint, but how about deep frying at home? It may seem daunting, but with the right knowledge, it’s easy. In fact, home cooks around the world fry on a regular basis.
With a little help from our Test Kitchen, we’re sharing 13 tips you should know when learning how to deep fry at home. Follow along and you’ll be whipping up homemade fries, crispy fried chicken and beignets in no time.
#1: You Don’t Need to Buy a Fancy Fryer
If you’ve been in a restaurant kitchen (or seen one on TV), you’re familiar with large deep fryers. Most home cooks rely on countertop deep fryers, which are convenient but not necessary. If you’re not frying every day, they’ll probably just take up space in your kitchen. Here are some tips to get more counter space in the kitchen.
We recommend frying on the stovetop. To do this, find a large, deep pot, preferably with high sides and a long handle. You’ll be filling the pot with a few inches of hot oil, so you want to make sure there’s plenty of room for food to float without the liquid rising near the top. We like to use this 5-quart cast-iron Dutch oven from Lodge ($40). Learn why the best pot to fry in isn’t a pan at all.
Bonus Tip: Since you’ll be dealing with very hot material that’s easy to spill, it’s important to have a firm, steady surface to work on. I wouldn’t have attempted deep frying in my college apartment because the burner grates would always rock back and forth!
#2: Have A Few Tools on Hand
Successful deep-frying calls for a few extra tools. To lift and lower food you’ll want a wire basket, slotted metal spoon or kitchen spider. I prefer the spider because it’s lightweight and easy to maneuver as I scoop delicate mashed potato balls or onion rings. You’ll also want a pair of long tongs for flipping food from a distance and plenty of paper towels for draining the cooked food.
#3: Safety First
Frying is fun, but as with any other cooking method, it’s important to practice safety at all times. Here are a couple of quick pointers to bear in mind as you go:
You’ll be heating up your cooking oil to an extremely high temperature, so stay focused as you cook. No answering the phone or multi-tasking. We also suggest keeping kids away from the kitchen while frying is going on.
Remember this old science lesson: Water and oil do not mix. Keep this in mind to prevent oil from spilling or spattering (which can cause some pretty nasty burns). Adding a little moisture to your oil will make it bubble up. Add a lot, and someone might get hurt. Be extra-careful to wipe down wet utensils and pat any extra moisture off the food before dipping it in the oil.
#4: Use the Best Oil for Deep Frying
Fry only with oils that have a high smoking point. Smoking point is the temperature it takes for the oil to start to break down and smoke. Once it smokes, it’s not good for frying.
Use: Peanut oil, canola oil, sunflower oil, safflower oil, corn oil or vegetable oil.
Don’t use: Butter and shortening have a low smoking point, so avoid them. The same goes for olive oil.
#5: Use Enough Oil to Submerge Food
Don’t skimp on the oil. You’ll need enough to fully submerge food, with plenty of room to cook. (Remember, for safety you’ll want to have a few extra inches at the top of your pan to give the oil room to bubble.)
You can strain your oil after cooking and reuse it a few times. It will retain the flavor of the food fried in it, so don’t mix onion rings with delicate donuts.
#6. Cook at a High Temperature
For most deep-fried recipes, you’ll want to heat your oil to around 375 degrees. If you’re wondering how do you know when oil is ready to deep fry, it’s reached its mark when the oil starts to shimmer, giving off visible waves of heat. For total accuracy, use a frying thermometer to monitor the rising temp. We like to use this digital thermometer from ThermoWorks ($34). Once you add foods, the heat will lower, so you may need to give it time to heat back up between batches.
#7: Choose Small, Dry Ingredients
The easiest foods to fry are those that are small and dry, like hush puppies or fried okra. Cut your ingredients into bite-size pieces, about an inch or two in size. If you’re dealing with raw ingredients, pat the food dry with a paper towel before adding any batter or frying. This’ll remove any extra moisture that could cause the oil to spit and sputter.
#8: Batter Up
The secret to a crispy-fried crunch? Dunking your ingredients in a simple homemade batter. For this Crispy Fried Chicken recipe, home cook Leanne Schnitzler of Lima, Montana, coats her chicken in a simple garlic salt and paprika flour mixture, with egg to stick. If you’d like, you can add bread crumbs, too. This technique adds a crisp texture to just about any ingredient, be it meaty morsels or fresh veggies.
#9: Don’t Let the Temperature Drop
For happy frying, keep the temperature of the oil steady. If the temperature drops, your food will have an overcooked exterior and undercooked exterior. It’ll also take much longer for food to cook, resulting in heavy, greasy food instead of something that’s crisp and light. Some common mistakes that cause the temperature to drop are:
- Overcrowding the pan
- Adding food that’s cold
It’s best to cook in small batches and let refrigerated or frozen ingredients come to room temperature.
#10: Cook Till Golden Brown
The longer the food cooks, the more fat will be absorbed. For most recipes, you’ll fry uncovered until the food is golden brown and cooked through. If you’re unsure of the cooking time, test a single piece first. This’ll help you gauge the cooking time for the rest of the batch. Once you are finished cooking, remove the food with your preferred tool and let it drain on a paper towel.
#11: Clean Between Batches
Once you’re finished with your first batch, use a slotted spoon to remove any bits of food that remain in the oil. Think of it as starting with a clean slate. If food remnants are left in the liquid, it can alter the taste of your next round. Also, be sure to let the oil rise to temperature again, as it may have cooled between cooking.
#12. Reuse Your Oil
Instead of stockpiling big drums of oil in the pantry, you can reuse your frying oil time after time. When finished frying, let the oil cool down to room temperature. Then strain through a cheesecloth and return back to its original container. Store it in a cool, dark place. To extend its life, add a small amount of fresh oil each time you cook. If it starts to look thick or brown, then it’s gone bad.
#13: The ultimate secret to happy frying at home? Practice.
Frying is an art form. It’ll take a few tries and some patience to learn the subtleties that are involved to get perfect results with every batch. But the result is definitely worth the effort. Besides, no one will mind if there’s an extra plate of fried chicken around the house.
Ready to master deep frying? Start with these simple recipes: