Editor's Note: America's Test Kitchen is a real 2,500 square foot test kitchen located just outside of Boston that is home to more than three dozen full-time cooks and product testers. Our mission is simple: to develop the absolute best recipes for all of your favorite foods. To do this, we test each recipe 30, 40, sometimes as many as 70 times, until we arrive at the combination of ingredients, technique, temperature, cooking time, and equipment that yields the best, most-foolproof recipe. America’s Test Kitchen's online cooking school is based on nearly 20 years of test kitchen work in our own facility, on the recipes created for Cook’s Illustrated magazine, and on our two public television cooking shows.
Are you excited to make latkes, chicken and doughnuts this year, or are you a bit wary of frying at home? If you diligently monitor the oil temperature and keep in mind just a few other points, you’ll find frying is as manageable as any other cooking technique.
All linked products are the test kitchen's recommendations for equipment.
Our frying wisdom is distilled from over 20 years' worth of recipe development; the information below is adapted from our newest book, "The Cooking School Cookbook," a comprehensive reference for every home cook.
How Does Frying Work?
Whether you want to fry chicken, fish or potatoes, the process is generally the same. Frying causes moisture to flee from the food once it lands in hot oil. As the food cooks and more moisture escapes, the food’s exterior dries out and you achieve the final goal: a crisp crust.
To deep-fry is to cook in hot oil deep enough to fully surround the food. To shallow-fry (or pan-fry) is to cook in hot oil deep enough to partially surround the food. Foods are generally halfway submerged in hot fat as they cook and must be turned once to ensure even cooking.
Arm Yourself with the Right Tools
The equipment needed will depend on what you are frying: Tongs are necessary when cooking larger pieces of food like chicken, while a spider skimmer or slotted spoon is best for French fries.
Use A Large Pot
A large, heavy pot that is at least 6 quarts in capacity ensures even heating and plenty of room for the food to fry. An oil with a high smoke point is a must for frying; we prefer the clean flavor of refined peanut oil, but vegetable oil will also work. Fill a large Dutch oven no more than halfway with oil. This will minimize any dangerous splattering once the food has been added. And more important, when you add the food, the oil will bubble and rise because of displacement, and an overflowing pot of oil is very dangerous.
Monitor Oil Temperature
In the end, successful frying is all about the temperature of the oil. If the oil isn’t hot enough, the trademark brown and crispy crust won’t form and the food will turn out limp and soggy. If it’s too hot, the crust will burn before the food cooks through. As such, a thermometer that can register high temperatures is essential.
One that clips to the side of the pot, like a candy thermometer, saves you from dipping a thermometer in and out of the pot (although an instant-read thermometer will certainly work).
When we fry food, the oil typically is brought to between 325 and 375 degrees before the food is added. The temperature will drop a little when you first add the food to the pot, so we usually increase the heat right after adding the food to minimize the temperature change. Monitor the temperature as you proceed and adjust as needed. If oil splatters onto your stovetop, wipe up any big splatters as you go - the less uncontained oil close to a lit burner, the better.
Fry in Batches
Putting a large amount of food in the hot oil all at once will make the temperature drop too much and will turn out soggy - rather than crispy - fried food. So we fry food in multiple smaller batches to keep the temperature from dropping too much with each addition. Smaller batches also minimize dangerous and messy splatter. Stirring the food with a spider skimmer or slotted spoon as it fries prevents clumping.
Drain on Paper Towels
Transferring fried food from the pot to a paper towel–lined baking sheet minimizes greasiness and lets excess oil drain from the food when it comes out of the hot oil.
Keep Warm in Oven
When frying in batches, we don’t want the early batch(es) to get cold, so we keep the food warm in a 200-degree oven. Setting the food on a wire rack set in a baking sheet allows for air circulation, keeping the exterior crisp.
More from America's Test Kitchen:
"Just About Any Food Can Be Fried," according to Bridget Lancaster
Putting the Thanksgiving in Thanksgivukkah
Does Your Thanksgiving Timeline Look Like Ours?
More about frying:
Master the stuffpuppy
8 hot pieces of advice for frying at home
Overcome your fear of frying
Deep-fried indoor turkey – for science
- All our best Thanksgiving advice
I had been indoctrinated from young that fried food is not good for you.
I'm not afraid to deep fry – just never know what to do with the oil after I'm finished.
Then they should be talking about deep frying their bacon cheeseburgers.
Not all those who celebrate Hanukkah keep kosher. Whether frying shrimp or Donuts, it's wise not to fear the fry! After all, fried food is delicious! (just don't fry shrimp and donuts in the same oil. Bad.)
Shrimp? Not Kosher, who checks these things?
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