What is dredging in cooking? It's a simple technique with delicious payoff! We'll give you the basic dredge definition and show you exactly how to dredge chicken (and anything else you wish to dredge) in flour, cornmeal, or breadcrumbs for an enticingly crispy brown crust.

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Crispy on the outside, tender on the inside fried chicken, pan-fried fish, air-fried pickle chips, and classic onion rings all start with the same very simple cooking technique: Dredging. There's no need to overcomplicate it. The basic dredge definition is to lightly coat a food in a dry ingredient, such as flour, cornmeal, or breadcrumbs. That’s it! Often, you'll dredge foods before frying to crisp and add golden color to whatever dry ingredient you used for dredging. Many recipes call for dredging in combination with dipping in a liquid (such as eggs or buttermilk) and then a seasoned coating. That is actually breading, more on that below. Dredging is just the part where you coat food in a dry ingredient, flour being the most common dredge used.

how to dredge chicken legs in flour
Credit: Andy Lyons

How to Dredge Food

Here’s how to dredge chicken or any other food that calls for this technique.

  • Spread the coating in a shallow dish, such as a pie plate.
  • Roll the food around in the coating until the food is completely coated on all sides. Shake off excess. Continue as directed in your recipe.

So, when a recipe instructs you to “dredge in flour” or another coating, that’s all there is to it! It's simple to do with kitchen tools you already have on hand, but flour dredgers ($7, Bed Bath & Beyond) also exist to help evenly sprinkle your food with flour. Additionally, you can find breading trays ($15, Williams Sonoma) to minimize dredging and breading messes.

Advantages to Dredging

The reason you dredge chicken or any other food before pan-frying is to help give it an enticingly brown crust. A food that you dredge in flour or another coating will also gain flavor and texture from the coating and absorb extra flavor from the oil or butter in which you’ve cooked the food.

Dredging onions
Credit: Mike Dieter

How to Dredge Vegetables

The basic definition of dredge applies to vegetables, too. For example for crisp-coated onion rings, you generally prep the sliced onions with a light dredge in flour and seasonings prior to frying.

“Dredge” versus “Bread”

Breading a food takes our dredge definition a couple of steps further. Think of it as dredging 2.0. Like dredging, breading calls for coating food with cornmeal, breadcrumbs, or another dry coating. However, the food is first dredged lightly in flour, then dipped into a liquid (such as milk and/or beaten eggs), and finally dredged a final time in the outer coating.

There are several reasons to bread your food prior to sauteing or frying:

  • The coating keeps the food from sticking to the pan while cooking.
  • The flour and other dry ingredients seal in moisture to prevent the food from becoming tough.
  • The coating helps to brown the food and provide a crunchy surface.
  • The seasoning in the coating adds flavor to your food.
Prepare coatings in shallow dishes
Credit: Blaine Moats

How to Bread Food

Follow these simple steps for breading food:

1. Prep the Ingredients: Prepare the coatings for dredging and place them in separate shallow dishes. This allows you to dredge in flour, dip in the liquid mixture, and coat the food with the outer coating in an assembly-line fashion.

Dip chicken in flour
Credit: Blaine Moats

2. Dredge in Flour: Dredge meat like chicken or fish in flour first. The flour will help seal in moisture to protect the food from the high cooking heat.

Dip chicken in beaten egg
Credit: Blaine Moats

3. Dip in Liquid: Dip both sides of the meat in whatever liquid(s) your recipe calls for. Often this is an egg that has been beaten with milk or water, but it can also be another liquid, such as buttermilk or beer. The liquid provides a sticky surface for the final coating to cling to. To keep your fingers from getting more coating on them than the food, use one hand for dipping the food into the liquid, and the other hand for dipping into the breading.

Dip in coating such as seasoned bread crumbs
Credit: Blaine Moats

4. Dredge in Outer Coating: Create a thicker coating by dredging meat in seasoned bread crumbs, cornmeal, crushed crackers, or whatever other coating your recipe calls for. Use your hands to pat coating gently onto both sides of the food. Set each finished piece on a platter until you're ready to fry or cook. Keep in mind that perishable food should not be left out for more than 2 hours at room temperature (or 1 hour when the temperature is more than 90°F). Do not return cooked meat to the unwashed platter. Dredged meat is still raw and should be handled accordingly

Put your dredging and breading skills to work in recipes like our Lemon Butter Chicken Breasts, various air-fryer recipes, and all your favorite fried (including oven-fried) recipes to create meals the entire family will gobble up quickly.


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