Exceptional fried chicken is built largely on the contrast between tender meat and a shatteringly crisp coating. But Tammy Patrick, of Whiteland, Indiana, wondered which classic coating—flour or cornstarch— delivers better crunch.
Let’s start with the differences between the two. Wheat flour contains starch and protein (gluten), while cornstarch is purely starch. When plunged into hot oil, starch releases any moisture it contains, allowing it to crisp up. When protein hits the hot oil it tightens, creating tough bonds, similar to when it is kneaded. Because of this, flour typically produces a denser, chewier fried coating than cornstarch.
To test which worked best, we prepared fried chicken using bone-in, skin-on thighs coated three ways: all-purpose flour, cornstarch, and a blend of equal parts of both.
Our least favorite was the batch made with flour alone. It lacked crunch and had a heavy, bready coating that seemed to soak up more oil than the others. The flour-cornstarch blend was better, yielding a lighter, crispier coating. But by far our favorite was the all- cornstarch batch, which produced a crackingly crisp coating and suffered from none of the heft of the flour versions. It even retained its crunchy texture when cooled to room temperature.