3 Essential Secrets to Authentic Buttermilk Biscuits

POPSUGAR Photography | Nicole Perry
POPSUGAR Photography | Nicole Perry

Half of what makes great buttermilk biscuits is the recipe, and half is the technique. If you've ever attempted the classic Southern staple at home (which usually requires nothing more than flour, baking powder, baking soda, sugar, salt, butter, and buttermilk), only to be disappointed by flat, less-than-flaky biscuits, you might be missing a few crucial steps that make all the difference. I learned from a pro who's certainly qualified to give biscuit-making advice since she has made thousands of them throughout her life: Carla Hall. During her live cooking demo at last year's Food & Wine Classic in Aspen, Carla made a batch of her famous buttermilk biscuits from start to finish, leaving the audience craving a buttery, flaky bite. "I feel like people should know how to make biscuits," the chef and owner of Carla's Southern Kitchen told the crowd. And with that, the crowd agreed, Carla went to work, and we took note of three crucial tips.

1. Use shortening.

Butter isn't the only thing that biscuits need — shortening is the secret ingredient that makes the biggest impact. You can use any kind of vegetable shortening, aka a fat that has become solid at room temperature. A little bit of shortening is what makes the biscuits light and flaky like nothing else can. Someone in the audience asked Carla what kind of shortening she uses, and she responded, "Good old Crisco."

2. Grate the butter with a box grater.

Before incorporating butter, you'll want to make sure it's cold and hard (not softened after sitting out of the refrigerator). Use it straight from the fridge, and then grab your box grater. It's a known trick that grating butter is the fastest way to get it to room temperature, but Carla uses this technique for another reason: to get even, flat pieces of butter that will be help form a cohesive dough. Carla's other pro tip is to spray the box grater with cooking spray so that the butter slides smoothly without sticking.

3. Bake the biscuits with the smooth side up.

You'll want to pay attention when you're cutting the biscuit dough into circular shapes with your biscuit cutter. Instead of picking up the cut-out biscuit and placing it on the sheet as it is, turn each one over so that the smooth side — or the side that was just touching the board — faces up. This ensures each biscuit bakes perfectly and evenly, and the tops will be uniform. Feeling inspired to make a batch at home? Get Carla's full recipe below.

Get the recipe: Carla Hall's buttermilk biscuits

Travel and expenses for the author were provided by the Colorado Tourism Board for the purpose of writing this story.