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How do you know fried chicken is done?

Fried chicken is a delicious, crispy, juicy staple of Southern cuisine. But it can be tricky to know precisely when it’s finished cooking and ready to eat. Undercooked chicken poses safety risks, while overcooked chicken dries out and loses its signature crunch. Follow this guide to learn techniques for frying chicken perfectly every time.

What is fried chicken?

Fried chicken refers to chicken pieces that are coated in flour or batter and fried in oil. This cooking method seals in moisture and gives the exterior a tantalizing crispiness. Fried chicken is believed to have originated in the American South, where it remains a beloved regional specialty.

Common cuts of chicken for frying include:

  • Breasts
  • Thighs
  • Drumsticks
  • Wings

The chicken is usually seasoned, dredged in flour, dipped in egg and milk, then dredged again in flour, cornmeal, or breadcrumbs before frying. This process creates a flavorful, crunchy coating on the exterior.

Why is it important to fully cook fried chicken?

Properly cooked chicken is safe to eat, while undercooked chicken can potentially cause foodborne illness.

Chicken can contain harmful bacteria including Salmonella and Campylobacter. Frying helps kill bacteria on the exterior, but may not eliminate pathogens deep in the meat. Chicken needs to reach an internal temperature of 165°F to be considered safe to eat.

Symptoms of food poisoning include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps. Certain groups, like the elderly, young children, pregnant women, and those with weakened immune systems are at higher risk for complications.

Always use a food thermometer to validate the internal temperature of fried chicken. Do not rely on appearance, color, or cooking time alone to determine doneness.

Visual cues to look for

In addition to temperature, there are visual signs that indicate fried chicken is fully cooked:

Breading is deep golden brown

The flour coating will transition from pale and blonde to a rich golden or brown hue when fried chicken is done. This color change happens because of the Maillard reaction, which occurs between sugars and proteins at high heat.

Coating looks crispy

The breading will puff up during frying, taking on a crispy, crunchy texture versus soft and doughy. Listen for an audible crackle when you remove a piece.

Fat is bubbling steadily

The oil will actively bubble around the chicken while frying. Bubble activity may start slowing down as it finishes. If the bubbling stops too soon, the chicken likely needs more time.

Chicken has firmed up

Raw chicken has a glossy, wet appearance. When cooked through, it will look more matte and dry on the outside. The meat will also feel firm throughout when poked.

Juices run clear

Use a knife to cut into a piece of fried chicken. It should not look pink inside. The juices should run clear rather than red.

Methods to test for doneness

While visual signs provide clues, you need to use one of these methods for guaranteed safety and accuracy:

Instant-read thermometer

Insert the probe into the thickest part of the chicken, avoiding touching any bones. It should read 165°F or above.

Fry test

Remove one smaller piece from the oil and cut into it to check its internal temperature. Then return the rest to fry longer if needed.

Temperature probe thermometer

If using an electric deep fryer or large pot, a probe thermometer can stay in the oil to monitor its temperature. Remove chicken when it reaches 165°F.

Key frying factors

Proper technique is also crucial for thorough, even cooking:

Ideal oil temperature = 350-375°F

Heating the oil to this temperature range before adding chicken allows for quick browning and cooks the inside by the time the coating is crispy.

Do not crowd the pan

Fry chicken in batches if needed so the pieces aren’t cramped together. They should have room to float while submerged in the oil.

Rotate occasionally for even frying

Use tongs to turn and flip the chicken so all sides get equal time in the hot oil.

Monitor oil temperature

The temperature will drop when adding cold chicken. Heat the oil back up to an optimal frying range between batches.

Allow chicken to rest after frying

Let fried chicken drain on a cooling rack or paper towels for 5-10 minutes. This helps prevent greasiness and allows heat to continue conducting inward.

Common causes of undercooked chicken

If your fried chicken turns out underdone, a few factors could be to blame:

  • Oil wasn’t hot enough
  • Chicken pieces were too big or crowded
  • Breading was extra thick
  • You didn’t cook it long enough
  • You didn’t use a thermometer to check

Carefully watch heat and cook time in the future. Allow ample room for pieces to fry and use an instant-read thermometer to eliminate doubts about safety.

How to tell if chicken is overcooked

It’s also easy to overdo it when deep frying chicken. Signs of overcooked chicken include:

  • Very dark golden brown or burnt breading
  • Tough, dry, or crumbly meat
  • Lack of juice when cut into

To avoid overcooking in the future, use thermometers, timers, and adjust heat as needed. Or remove smaller test pieces earlier before they dry out.


Mastering the perfect fried chicken requires monitoring its visual signs, temperature, and cooking technique. While a thermometer is the foolproof option, also rely on visual cues like breading color, oil bubbling, and juices. Fry at the ideal high heat in small batches, flipping regularly for even browning. Let chicken rest before serving too. Follow these guidelines to enjoy safely cooked, crispy, juicy fried chicken every time.