How to successfully fry anything without a deep fryer

You don't need a deep fryer for crunchy, delicious fried foods.

Alina Bradford CNET Contributor
Alina Bradford has been writing how-tos, tech articles and more for almost two decades. She currently writes for CNET's Smart Home Section, MTVNews' tech section and for Live Science's reference section. Follow her on Twitter.
Alina Bradford
4 min read

Pan fried tots cooling on a rack.

Alina Bradford/CNET

Don't have a deep fryer? You can still make homemade fries, hash browns and more with the same great taste. All you need is a pan and a stove top. There are several tricks to pan frying success, though. Here is a guide to get you started.

Tools for frying on the stove

Picking the pan or pot

First, you need to pick the right pan or pot. Ideally, it should have a heavy metal bottom to heat oil slowly, preventing scorching and allowing for a steady boil during frying.

Pots or pans should also be at least 5 inches deep. You'll need at least 3 inches (4 to 6 cups) of oil to deep fry most items, so your pan should be able to accommodate that much oil and have plenty of room for the food you will add without spilling over. Deep 1.5 to 2 gallon (6 to 8 quart) pots or pans are ideal. Cast iron Dutch ovens are a good choice for frying on the stove because they are both heavy and deep.

Getting the heat

Next, you need a way to check the heat. The faster the food cooks, the less oil it absorbs and the speed at which food fries is directly due to temperature. Many deep fryers have thermometers, but since you are using a pan, you'll need to use a thermometer to check the temperature of the oil before you can start frying. Meat or candy thermometers work great for frying.

Frying with accessories

Finally, you need the right accessories. Many deep fryers come with frying baskets, but you can get the same effect using a simple tool called a spider. Spiders are bamboo sticks with a netted scooping tool at the bottom that looks like a mini colander. These spiders are ideal for scooping up fried foods because the oil can drip though the wire net. They can be found at most department stores in the cooking section for just a couple of bucks. Many people use tongs to grab foods from frying grease, but they tend to smash more delicate items. This is where spiders are particularly handy.

You will also need a cooling rack and a cookie sheet. After frying, laying foods on the rack will allow the food to shed any excess oil and the cookie sheet will catch the oil. I like to line my cookie sheet with wax paper for easy clean-up.

Frying step-by-step

Now that you have your tools assembled, you can get down to frying:

  1. Set a cooling rack on top of the cookie sheet beside your frying pot.
  2. Set your burner on medium and let your pan of oil heat for around 5 to 10 minutes.
  3. Put the meat thermometer in the center of the oil to check the temperature. The oil should be between 350 degrees Fahrenheit (177 Celsius) and 400 F (205 C), depending on what you're cooking. Thicker foods (like bone-in chicken legs) will need a lower temperature to cook all the way through while thinner items that need to be flash-fried (onion rings) can be cooked at the higher end of the range.
  4. If your oil doesn't get hot enough after 5 minutes, raise the burner heat a little and check the temperature until you hit the sweet spot.
  5. Add just enough food to the oil so that the oil level rises only about a half inch. You want the food to have plenty of room to float around without getting stuck together.
  6. Leave the food in the oil until it becomes a golden brown.
  7. Scoop the food out with either tongs or a spider and place it on the cooling rack until you are ready to serve.

Tips for the best fry

Here are a few more tips to insure that your food comes out perfectly cooked:

  1. If you have more to fry, don't put it right in after the last batch. Wait until the temperature is just right again, then add the next batch. 
  2. If you're frying fish and chips, fry the chips first and then the fish. Otherwise, your chips may end up with a fishy flavor.
  3. Wait to salt your fries or tater tots until after they fry. The salt can fall off and scorch during frying.
  4. To reuse your oil, filter it through cheesecloth -- once it cools -- and store it in an airtight container in the fridge.
  5. Don't crowd food in the oil. Make sure that it can float around to get the perfect doneness, inside and out.

Editors' Note: This article was published on March 31, 2016 and has been updated.

How to fry foods at home perfectly every time

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Editors' note: This story was updated on March 31, 2016 to correct the temperature range at which foods should be fried.