Why A Little Vodka Will Give You Crunchier Fried Chicken

Fried chicken is delicious, but there's a reason why so many people can be reluctant to make it at home. There are some people who think that you should never deep fry at home, because of the hassle and the fried-food smell that can permeate your house. And if you are going through all that work just to have your fried chicken turn out soggy or tough rather than crunchy and crispy, it's understandable that you'd rather just get take-out. But that doesn't have to be the case; there's one ingredient you might already have on hand that could make frying chicken at home totally worth it: vodka.


No, we don't mean that drinking a little vodka might help you care less about the hassle of deep frying, or make you think sub-par fried chicken is actually great — although now that we think about it, both those things might be true. The real reason vodka can give your fried chicken a boost has to do with how it interacts with the flour in your batter, and how it interacts with the hot frying oil. Both result in a crispy, crunchy fried chicken that will even stay crispy longer than traditional fried chicken. So how does it work?

Why vodka is a fried chicken secret ingredient

There are two reasons you should be adding vodka to your fried chicken recipe. Some fried chicken recipes call for water in the batter, but vodka is more volatile than water. According to Duke University, once a volatile liquid is exposed to enough energy (like the heat of your cooking oil) to break the molecular bonds, the molecules expand and turn into gas (ie evaporate), which allows them to escape the liquid, which in this case is batter and hot oil. When you add vodka to your fried chicken batter, it evaporates faster in the hot oil than water would. This dehydrates the batter more quickly, allowing it to brown better. The rapid bubbles of gas escaping from the batter also expand the batter's surface area, which results in a crispier fried chicken.


The second way that vodka improves fried chicken has to do with how alcohol interacts with gluten. Scientific American explains that because vodka is only 60% water, it doesn't facilitate gluten development as much as using the same volume of water would. This means that a batter made with vodka in addition to water can be more thoroughly mixed without turning tough, and it can also be used for a longer amount of time without getting doughy and thick. When frying chicken in batches, the last pieces you batter and fry are more likely to come out as crispy and crunchy as the first batch, if you add vodka to your batter instead of water.

How to add vodka to fried chicken

There are two ways to add vodka to your fried chicken. If you're making dry-fried chicken, which is chicken dunked in a liquid or marinade then dredged in dry ingredients and fried, you can add an ounce or two of vodka to the marinade or wet dredge. For example, in this spicy buttermilk fried chicken recipe, you could add a bit of vodka to your buttermilk marinade. After being dredged in the dry ingredients and placed in hot oil, you'll get a boost of crispiness thanks to the volatile vodka evaporating off the chicken through the dry crust.


The second method is to add vodka to a wet fried chicken batter. On Serious Eats, J. Kenji López-Alt recommends using equal parts cold water and vodka in his easy Korean fried chicken recipe. That's enough liquid to help the batter come together, but thanks to the vodka, it won't develop as much gluten as it would with water alone, resulting in a thin, not-gloppy batter that gets shatteringly crisp after frying. If you've decided to bravely make fried chicken at home, adding some vodka to the process just might be what makes all of the work worth it. Take a bite into a perfectly crispy piece of fried chicken that's moist and juicy inside, and you'll know what we mean.