Michael Ruhlman's Rosemary-Brined, Buttermilk Fried Chicken

By • October 10, 2012 64 Comments

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Author Notes: This is a fried chicken recipe you just can't mess up. Michael Ruhlman uses a speedy rosemary lemon brine, which is key to keeping the chicken flavorful and moist. Because of this (and its ultra-crispy buttermilk battered crust), the chicken will hold well in a warm oven for a couple hours before guests arrive, giving you plenty of time to wipe down the stove, shower, and pour yourself an early glass of wine. Adapted very slightly from Ruhlman's Twenty (Chronicle Books, 2011)Genius Recipes

Serves 6 to 8


  • 1 small onion, thinly sliced
  • 4 garlic cloves, smashed with the flat side of a knife
  • 1 teaspoon vegetable oil
  • 3 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 5 or 6 branches rosemary, each 4 to 5 inches long
  • 4 1/2 cups water
  • 1 lemon, halved

Fried Chicken

  • 8 chicken legs, drumsticks and thighs separated
  • 8 chicken wings, wing tips removed
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3 tablespoons freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons paprika
  • 2 tablespoons fine sea salt
  • 2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
  • 2 tablespoons baking powder
  • 2 cups buttermilk
  • Neutral, high-heat oil for deep-frying (like canola)
  1. Make the brine: In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, sauté the onion and garlic in the oil until translucent, 3 to 4 minutes. Add kosher salt after the onion and garlic have cooked for 30 seconds or so. Add the rosemary and cook to heat it, 30 seconds or so. Add the water and lemon, squeezing the juice into the water and removing any seeds. Bring the water to a simmer, stirring to dissolve the salt. Remove from the heat and allow the brine to cool. Refrigerate until chilled. To speed this process up, chill over an ice bath, stirring.
  2. Place all the chicken pieces in a large, sturdy plastic bag. Set the bag in a large bowl for support. Pour the cooled brine and aromatics into the bag. Seal the bag so that you remove as much air as possible and the chicken is submerged in the brine. Refrigerate for 8 to 24 hours, agitating the bag occasionally to redistribute the brine and the chicken.
  3. Remove the chicken from the brine, rinse under cold water, pat dry, and set on a rack or on paper towels. The chicken can be refrigerated for up to 3 days before you cook it, or it can be cooked immediately. Ideally, it should be refrigerated, uncovered, for a day to dry out the skin, but usually I can't wait to start cooking it.
  4. Combine the flour, black pepper, paprika, sea salt, cayenne, and baking powder in a bowl. Whisk to distribute the ingredients. Divide this mixture between two bowls.
  5. Pour the buttermilk into a third bowl. Set a rack on a baking sheet/tray. Dredge the chicken in the flour, shake off the excess, and set the dusted pieces on the rack. Dip the pieces in the buttermilk, then dredge them aggressively in the second bowl of flour and return them to the rack.
  6. Heat oil in a pan for deep-frying to 350°F/180°C. Add as many chicken pieces as you can without crowding the pan. Cook the chicken, turning the pieces occasionally, until they are cooked through, 12 to 15 minutes depending on their size. Remove to a clean rack and allow them to rest for 5 to 10 minutes before serving. For legs, thighs and wings, Ruhlman says, "I like to finish them in a 250? F/120? C. oven, to make sure they’re super tender and to further crisp them. This lets me serve it whenever I want, no last minute frying if guests are invited."

More Great Recipes: Chicken|Entrees

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Comments (64) Questions (3)


25 days ago SarahBunny

I made this recipe for Sunday Supper following the procedure precisely (I used a combination of drumsticks and breasts). Even though it was my first attempt at fried chicken -- heck, deep-fried ANYTHING -- it turned out beautifully. Several guests declared it the best fried chicken they'd ever eaten (and they hail from the South)! Genius recipe indeed.


about 1 month ago Mary Beth

Thank you for all the helpful comments! I just made this today. I used a cut up chicken and the breasts were very big, so I made them into boneless chicken tenders for my kids. I did find the comment about the heat very good. 350 was too hot and the outside went very dark, but between 300-325 was the best point for me. I did use a fryer to keep a better eye on the oil temp. The leftover flour and buttermilk made an outstanding batter to make some fried pickles and fried olives.


about 1 month ago mitchlund

I made this today (brined last night) for a family BBQ. I used Bob's Red Mill gluten-free flour mix in place of AP. It was ridiculously good. I don't know what the regular crust is like in terms of delicate vs. hearty crunch, but this crust was hearty, crunchy, and delicious. (Two nephews have celiac, so I make subs when I can.)


2 months ago Beth

My chicken breasts are brining as I write this. I cut them in half because they're large. I can't wait to fry these on Saturday.


2 months ago Trena Heinrich

Beth - this is by far the best fried chicken I have every made, I'm sure you will love it. One tip is to watch the temperature of your oil. After my first batch I made the mistake of adding the chicken to the oil without checking the temperature. Enjoy!


2 months ago Sam M.

Beth, I've made this recipe and the Thomas Keller recipe (This recipe is based on it and it's very similar. He says it in his book.) at least 15 times in the last two years, and I've made every mistake possible and at the same time I've made perfect fried chicken many times. I'd say it's a good thing you cut them in half. I always do too now. And make sure you keep the oil around and over 300 as it will drop when you first put the chicken in. Constantly monitor the temp and adjust the flame accordingly.

But timing is everything. Through trial and error, I've learned that exactly 7 min for white meat and 14 min for dark meat is perfect. It'll be juicy without over cooking. Now I've also learned to never use a chicken larger than 4 lb for this recipe. It throws off everything.

If the oil is consistently around 300 when cooking, the batter will be a nice light brown. If you keep the oil closer to 350, it'll be a dark brown. So it's up to you which you want. And no, it doesn't effect the doneness of the chicken. The reasoning being, the surface of the chicken never gets above 212 degrees as it's the boiling temperature of water and so it doesn't effect the time you need to cook the chicken. The temp mainly effects the cooking of the crust. But if the oil temp drops below 270ish it'll start to effect your chicken since you're getting close to the boiling point of water.

And make sure not to put more than four pieces of chicken in the pot if your using a standard 8qt pot that is filled 1/3 with oil. Too much chicken lowers the oil temperature too much and it may not recover quick enough unless you have a very good expensive stove.

And putting it in a 200 deg oven (I know it's lower than the recipe) for 15 minutes or more really helps.


2 months ago irishchef

There is a major point that was left out here. If the chicken legs, thighs and breasts are big you won't be able to cook them all the way in the fryer because they will burn. They will have to be finished in the oven. A chicken less than 3 pounds is about all you can fry in thWatermelon Salad with Cotija, Jicama, and Lime

Watermelon Salad with Cotija, Jicama, Lime Larger photo
South of the border spin on watermelon salad! With fresh watermelon, jicama, cilantro, and cotija cheese.
Individual chiles vary in their heat, so always taste before adding to a dish, and adjust amounts accordingly.
Prep time: 15 minutesYield: Serves 3 to 4
1/4 cup chopped red onion
1/4 cup lime juice (2-3 limes, depending on how big and juicy the limes are)
4 cups watermelon, rind removed, seeded and cubed into 1-inch pieces
1/4 cup crumbled cotija cheese
1/2 to 1 cup chopped peeled jicama
1/2 serrano chili pepper (or a quarter jalapeño), stem removed, seeded, minced
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
Pinch of cumin, to taste
1 Soak the chopped red onion in the lime juice while you are prepping the other ingredients, about 10 minutes.
2 Gently combine all ingredients into a large serving bowl.
Serve immediately. Salad will get soggy if kept overnight
Large chicken legs thighs and breasts will not cook all the way in 350 degree oil. They will have to be finished in the oven. A chicken less than 3 pounds is about the most you can use. And 3 pounds is stretching it. A little cornstarch mixed in the flour makes for crisper chicken also.


2 months ago irishchef

I don't know how that watermelon salad got on there. Sorry!


3 months ago PASHUN PHILPOT

Everything looks Delicious! Can't wait to try some of these recipes.


3 months ago Susan

I made a chicken finger variation on these last night - used the same marinade recipe on strips of chicken breast meat, used the same flour mixture for dredging (plus some garlic powder as others have mentioned), then same buttermilk coat, but then dredged in panko and fried as directed and they were pretty amazing - nice adult twist on something my kids would also eat. And faster than bone in chicken.


about 1 year ago mcs3000

Yes, pls!


about 1 year ago MissBrendaWi

I have two rules about chicken, if it still has it's feathers on and walks, don't eat.


about 1 year ago Steve

I will be making this for a picnic this weekend. How is at room temperature the following day?


about 1 year ago Sam M.

It can get very soggy on the bottom side of the chicken. However, it wasn't as soggy when I stored it on paper towels while in the fridge. It still tasted pretty good the next day, but not crispy at all. A picnic fried chicken recipe will probably be better.


over 1 year ago Elizabeth

Made this tonight, very good, salt level good, but it was pretty oily. Any suggestions on how to get less oily results?


over 1 year ago Trena Heinrich

Elizabeth - make sure your oil temperature is 350 degrees after each batch. Thanks for reminding me about this delicious recipe. I must make it again!


over 1 year ago Emma 82

This was amazing. Served it with a walnut and apple salad and used the leftovers in wraps. So flavoursome. Will definitely make again!


over 1 year ago Patrick

The tenderness and flavor of the chicken was amazing. The crispiness was something I haven't seen, even in restaurants. I will be doing this again. Thank you!!!


almost 2 years ago Trena Heinrich

This is the best fried chicken I've ever eaten. I followed the directions except I added one Tablespoon each powdered garlic and onion. Delicious!


almost 2 years ago Scootdone

How long would you need to fry bone-in chicken breasts? Could the breasts be finished in the oven as well, or would they dry out?


almost 2 years ago Sam M.

Frying the bone-in breasts for 7-8 minutes (11-13 min for dark meat) will give you perfectly cooked juicy meat without drying it out. Just make sure you don't over crowd the pot so the oil temperature doesn't drop too much. You don't need to finish it in the oven, but you can keep it warm in a 200 degree oven until you're ready to serve it. It actually makes a bit crispier if you do that.


almost 2 years ago beejay45

Most of the times I've used this recipe, I've cut up a whole chicken, so, yes to bone-in breasts. I fry the biggest pieces first, basically just getting that good crispy golden coating on them, then into the oven as described. By the time I've gotten down to the small stuff, like wings and ribs, I only *need* to leave the pieces in the oven for maybe another half hour for everything to be done to a safe temp and ready to eat, although it can hold longer, if necessary. I haven't had any drying issues, except the one time I forgot the leftovers in the oven and they got a little dry after about three hours. But that's to be expected. I know he doesn't include breasts in his recipe, but they've worked fine for me, and I've used this recipe at least half a dozen times.


almost 2 years ago sarah taylor

does this recipe work if the skins are off?


almost 2 years ago beejay45

Without all the nooks and crannies and the rough surface of the skin, it will be much harder to get anything like a good crust --- repeated floor-buttermilk-flour...rinse and repeat and repeat and so on. And the crust won't stick -- first bite and the whole thing will probably break off and crumble Really, if you're going for the crust and deep frying, the skin isn't going to throw your calories/fats off by much of anything, and it will get you that gorgeous, crunchy coating.


almost 2 years ago zodiacza

wonderful recipe! brine is very good. one criticism only. the flour recipe is too salty. one tbsp of salt is enough.


about 2 years ago Sam M.

I made this recipe because I loved Thomas Keller's recipe in Ad Hoc (the best fried chicken I'd ever had). Michael Ruhlman points out that he worked with Thomas Keller on that recipe, but he likes his own recipe more. Well, he isn't that humble about it. He says it is the best fried chicken ever, but Keller says the same about his own recipe.

The Thomas Keller recipe was so good (made it twice) that I had to give this one a shot. So I did and it turned out good, but I didn't like it as much as Keller's. Keller's brine gives the chicken a very pronounced citrus and bay leave flavor while this recipe gives the chicken a pronounced rosemary flavor. This recipe is crispier, but the crust was looser and fell off easily compared to the other recipe. The crust is more flavorful in the Keller recipe as it has lots of onion and garlic powder in it. The chicken is juicy in both recipe.

My verdict -- I prefer the Thomas Keller recipe over this recipe. However, my Southern wife liked this recipe as much as the other. She really liked the rosemary flavor and the more crispy batter even though it fell off the chicken easier.


about 2 years ago atxdori

I made this last night and we loved the recipe. My only comment is that I regretted not draining the chicken on paper towels after frying--the thicker breading was a bit oily for us. We transferred directly to a rack and finished in the oven. I also threw some rosemary in at the end of frying each batch--crispy rosemary never hurt anything.


about 2 years ago beejay45

I just made this, with numerous shortcuts because we were starving and didn't want to wait -- did you know you can use a blow dryer on a cool setting to dry the chicken skin? And I didn't brine, but I'm not much for the brining anyway. I played a little fast and loose with the seasoning, but only a little because Ruhlman's pretty right on with out tastes. I, too, finished it in the oven (on a rack set in a sheet pan, at about 275F).

And the verdict? Beautiful crispy, crunch! Juicy, so juicy chicken. And, and this is a bonus, there was a lot of rendered fat in the bottom of the pan after I took the chicken out of the oven. All round win!

This technique is a total keeper. Thanks, Michael Ruhlman for laying it out so clearly and thanks Kristen for highlighting it for those of us who own Twenty and haven't read it. Yes, I am hanging my head in shame.


over 1 year ago roger browne

So you used a completely different recipe - list it somewhere else...


over 1 year ago beejay45

Welcome to the community, roger browne! Nice to see a new "face." When you've been here a little longer, you'll see that one of the best things about Food52 is how everyone is free to riff on the recipe, as given, to tailor it to their tastes and the contents of their pantry. ;)

This article is really all technique. The seasonings aren't so important. I think you'll see, too, that the brining/not brining decision will not affect the crispy, gorgeous crust one way or the other. Whatever you like, though, this technique Michael Ruhlman has distilled from a variety of classic fried chicken recipes is a total keeper.