Crispy Southern Fried Catfish

Crispy Southern Fried Catfish is easy to make and is of restaurant quality. Tender fillets lightly breaded and fried till golden. If you’re looking for a great fried fish recipe, this is the one. 

I have a catfish pond right outside my back door. So catching fresh fish and frying them for dinner is common in my house. And in our area, some people even sell freshly caught and cleaned fish to the neighbors. But, if you cannot buy fresh fish, frozen will also work nicely. Just thaw completely in the refrigerator.

Fried Southern Catfish on a white plate with hushpuppies and lemon slices with text overlay.

Why This Recipe Is Fabulous

  • This southern fried catfish recipe is straightforward. 
  • An excellent crispy coating on the outside and is flavorful on the inside.
  • A fast recipe that’s perfect for any night of the week.
  • Restaurant quality fried fish that’s perfect for a fish fry at home.
  • Crispy Breading- Catfish soaked in buttermilk and then dredged in a cornmeal breading makes for a nice and crunchy outside and tender and flaky inside.
  • Perfectly Seasoned Fillets- These catfish fillets are perfectly seasoned and have tons of flavor.
  • Fried to Perfection- Fried till golden brown in less than 10 minutes.

Ingredients Needed for Crispy Southern Fried Catfish

Southern catfish only requires a few ingredients for a delicious dish. The ingredients are kitchen staples and can be found in any grocery store.

Ingredients needed for fried catfish with text overlay.

catfish fillets– fresh catfish is best, but frozen will also work. Completely thaw before beginning this recipe.

buttermilk– Soak each piece of fish in the buttermilk while you prepare the cornmeal batter.

cornmeal– Yellow or white cornmeal will work for this recipe.

flour– I use all-purpose flour.

Seasonings– The choices are up to you, but I prefer to use seasoned salt, paprika, black pepper, cayenne pepper, and lemon pepper seasoning.

Oil– I use vegetable oil, canola oil, or peanut oil will work nicely with the fish.

Be sure to try my Southern Fried Salmon Patties for another easy dish. They are fried to a crispy golden brown on the outside yet tender on the inside.

How to Fry Fish

For this recipe, I am not using a deep fryer. Instead, I am using a deep cast iron skillet. Any heavy bottom skillet or dutch oven will work. 

  1. Soak in buttermilk.
  2. Season and Batter using a cornmeal mixture.
  3. Fry until golden brown.
Frying catfish in a cast iron skillet with text overlay.

Tips for the Best Fried Catfish Fillets

  • Keeping your oil at the correct temperature is essential. The temperature of the oil needs to stay at 350 degrees. A deep-fry thermometer will help ensure you are at the correct temperature. Then, cook over medium-high heat and adjust the temperature accordingly. 
  • If you don’t have a thermometer, sprinkle cornmeal into the hot oil. If it sizzles, it’s hot.
  • Coat the catfish well with the seasoned cornmeal. A good cornmeal coating is key to a great piece of fish with a crunchy cornmeal crust.
  • Use a seafood seasoning if so desired.
  • I like to use a cast iron skillet for frying fish.
  • Once you place your fish into the hot oil, leave it alone. Moving it around will cause the batter to fall off.

To Make Fried Fish More Kid Friendly

This is a great classic southern fried catfish recipe and can easily be kid friendly. Cut each fillet into nuggets or bite-sized pieces to make this dish more appealing to children. Batter and fry.

Crispy Southern Fried Catfish Sandwich

Try a fish sandwich if you are looking for something more than catfish fillets. Grab a hoagie roll, some tartar sauce, and stuff with fish. This is a great dinner option as well.

How Long to Fry Fish

For the ultimate southern fried catfish, cook fish for 3-4 minutes on one side. Then flip to the other side. Don’t flip back and forth. Once you place it into the hot oil, leave it alone and allow the bottom of the fish to cook before flipping it.

The Best Oil for The Best Catfish

I use vegetable or canola oil for frying fish. Some people use peanut oil. I don’t recommend using olive oil.

How To Store Leftovers

Leftovers can be stored in an air-tight container in the refrigerator for 2-3 days.

How to Reheat Leftover Fried Catfish

I recommend reheating the fish in the oven or an air fryer until hot. However, I do not recommend reheating in the microwave. This will cause the breading to become soggy, and no one likes soggy fish.

Serve with jalapeno hush puppies, potato wedges (or french fries), coleslaw, tartar sauce, and lemon wedges.

Southern Fried Catfish with hushpuppies and lemon slices on a white plate with text overlay.

Recipe FAQs

Although this step is optional, it improves the fish’s flavor and taste.

After frying the first batch, drain on paper towels, then transfer to a wire baking rack—place in a warm oven at 200 degrees until all of the fish is done.

More Southern Recipes

Southern Skillet Fried Potatoes and Onions–Southern Skillet Fried Potatoes and Onions is an easy one-skillet side dish. Potatoes, onions, and oil are the only ingredients needed for this simple dish. Just a few ingredients that yield a huge taste!

Southern Candied Sweet Potatoes— Southern Candied Sweet Potatoes are a delicious holiday side dish. They are covered in a mixture of butter, sugar, syrup, and vanilla, then caramelized in the oven.

Southern Tomato Pie— Southern Tomato Pie is the ultimate comfort food made with fresh garden tomatoes, bacon, caramelized onions, fresh basil, and topped with a gooey cheese mixture.

Southern Style Collard Greens with Bacon— Southern Style Collard Greens are simmered with bacon and onion and cooked slow and low until tender. This comfort side dish is down-home southern and quite delicious. If you’ve never tried collard greens, now is the time.

Crispy Southern Fried Catfish

Crispy Southern Fried Catfish

Gina Abernathy
Crispy Southern Fried Catfish is easy to make and is of restaurant quality. Tender fillets lightly breaded and fried till golden. If you're looking for a great fried fish recipe, this is the one. 
5 from 6 votes
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Course dinner, Main Course
Cuisine Southern
Servings 4 servings


  • 4-6 (6 oz.) catfish fillets 
  • cups buttermilk
  • 2 cups cornmeal
  • ¾ cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon seasoned salt
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon lemon pepper seasoning
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • oil for frying vegetable oil or peanut oil


  • Place fillets in a shallow dish and cover with buttermilk. Place into the refrigerator and soak while you prepare the cornmeal mixture and the oil for frying.
  • Combine cornmeal, flour, salt, paprika, pepper, lemon pepper and cayenne in a zip-top bag and shake to mix the seasonings.
  • Heat about 1" of oil in a cast iron or heavy skillet. Heat to 350 degrees over medium-high heat.
  • Remove the catfish from the refrigerator. Then, remove each piece ( 1 at a time) from the buttermilk allowing the milk to drip off.
  • Place one piece at a time into the bag with the seasoned flour. Toss gently to coat evenly.
  • Carefully place 2-3 pieces at a time into the hot oil. Work in batches so as not to crowd the pan. (This will lower the heat and make the fish soggy). Fry fish for about 4-6 minutes on each side until golden brown and cooked through the middle. This time will depend on the thickness and size of your fish. 
  • Drain. Place the wire rack over a baking sheet lined with paper towels or place the fish on a paper towel-lined plate. 


TIP: Once you place your fish into the hot oil, leave it alone. Moving it around will cause the batter to fall off.
Keyword Crispy Southern Fried Catfish



  1. 5 stars
    This was everything a gourmet meal should be, and then some! Turned out tender and moist with the perfect amount of crunch! Easily, a new favorite recipe!

  2. 5 stars
    Oooh, I will have to make this for my son. Fried catfish is his favorite. This looks absolutely incredible with that crispy crust.

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