8 Steps to Crispy, Perfectly Fried Catfish

September 6, 2012 | By | Comments (8)
Fried Catfish

Classic Fried Catfish Recipe, Photo by Beth Dreiling Hontzas

Is it the deep-fried goodness, the peppery cornmeal coating, or the moist, tender interior that makes fried catfish a favorite at dinner tables across the South? We can’t say for sure, but here are our test-kitchen’s tips for perfecting this down-home classic:

1. Start with the right cut. We found 4- to 6-ounce, thin-cut, farm-raised fillets easy to manage in the skillet, and they curl up when fried, giving great eye appeal.

2. Reach for the cornmeal. To make an unforgettable fish fry, we found the answer in a simple ingredient- cornmeal. It offers the kind of crunchy texture that we all crave. This is our favorite Classic Fried Catfish recipe.

3. Master the multi-task. Use one hand for dredging and the other one clean and dry for manning the slotted spatula.

4. Maintain proper frying technique. Use a large Dutch oven or deep cast-iron skillet to keep the oil from popping out. For the crispest results, don’t overcrowd the skillet (this will cause the fish to steam) and fry in batches.

5. Keep a deep-fry thermometer handy. Watch the temperature of the oil constantly and wait between batches until it reaches the proper temperature again before dropping in the next fillets so that all your fish cooks evenly.

6. Stick a fork in it! Especially if it’s your first time frying, and you’re nervous about when the fish is finished cooking, stick a fork in the thickest part of the fillet and twist it. If it begins to flake, it’s ready to eat.

7. Keep it crisp. Don’t place your perfectly fried catfish on a soggy paper towel. Once you pull the fillets out of the frying pan (we like to use tongs and give it a squeeze to release any excess oil), place them on a metal cooling rack above a sheet pan.

8. Don’t forget the sides! What’s fried catfish without coleslaw, baked beans, and hush puppies?

Test Kitchen Tip: If you purchase frozen fillets, place them in a colander with a pan underneath, and thaw in the refrigerator overnight; otherwise, keep them in the coldest part of your refrigerator, and use within two days.

What else do you recommend for a flawless fish fry?

Ham-Stuffed Biscuits With Mustard Butter

Photo by Tina Cornett

Can’t get enough of our Southern Staples? Get all the recipes you need in our 100 Ways to Cook Southern slideshow.


  1. Lynne Brewer

    Oh my God thank you so much for these eight quick simple ways to cook southern fried catfish farm raised I am so excited because you know what I’ve been doing wrong is everytime it comes out I would put them on a paper towel as well with a plate than a paper towel on top and let them sit there so I went out and got to cooling racks for my fried catfish and fried shrimp and yes what is fried catfish with slaw baked beans and hush puppies so thank you so much have a blessed day

    August 26, 2016 at 12:45 pm
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  3. Fareeha

    ur tips are just right on spot.. I guess I cn never go wrong when I follow these..

    August 28, 2015 at 3:01 am
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  7. Cathy Fussell

    Who has baked beans with fried catfish? Here in South Georgia, it’s cheese grits. And French fries.

    September 9, 2012 at 8:12 am
  8. Cindy Padgett

    Love everything you said, because your tips are right on point! I fry catfish in my grandmother’s old cast iron Dutch oven. Something I started doing a few years back that really brings another flavor is to pour buttermilk in a gallon ziplock bag and add Tabasco sauce( maybe a teaspoon). Put your catfish fillets in and refrigerate for 30 min to an hour. Then, remove the fillets and dip in cornmeal as usual, and fry. The buttermilk and Tabasco work wonders, and are all the seasoning you’ll need!

    September 6, 2012 at 7:05 pm

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