We Tried 10 Methods for Making Extra-Crispy Tofu and the Winner Was Spectacular

published Jan 7, 2023
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Graphic showing 10 different ways to make crispy tofu.
Credit: Photo: Dane Tashima; Food Styling: Jessie YuChen

I love tofu. It’s agreeably neutral, ready to take on bolder flavors of sauce or seasonings, and it has a creamy texture, ranging from super-soft and custardy silken tofu (wonderful cold or room-temp with a salty-sweet-spicy sauce) to denser extra-firm varieties. (Learn more about the different types of tofu).

My personal favorite variety is extra-firm tofu. When nicely salted and cooked to an extra-crispy texture, it’s irresistible. But what’s the best way to create extra-crispy tofu? Do you need to weight it down and press out all the water, or is it OK to skip that step? Should you freeze it first, or maybe brine it?

To find out, I scoured the internet in search of highly rated techniques, landing on 10 interesting methods to try. After lots of testing and tasting, one simple method stood out as the winner.   

So, What Is the Best Way to Make Extra-Crispy Tofu?

While all of the methods produced tasty tofu (there were no duds in the bunch), my favorite was one of the quickest and easiest: Simply cut the tofu, dredge it in cornstarch, and pan-fry it. Read on to discover why this method won, and find out how the other methods fared as well.

Credit: Photo: Dane Tashima; Food Styling: Jessie YuChen

A Few Notes on Methodology

The tofu: I purchased 365 Organic Extra-Firm Tofu packed in water from the same store, all with the same expiration date. For one side test, I chose water-packed soft tofu (not silken); more on that below. Note: I am aware that super-firm tofu, not packed in water, is available in some stores, but it can sometimes be tricky to find. Water-packed tofu is still the most common type, so I stuck with that for my tests.

The tests: Although I followed the cooking instructions from my internet sources, I kept the seasonings to a minimum in order to level the playing field; I did not use any marinades or spice rubs. For any method that required a skillet, I tried the tofu in both a cast iron pan and a nonstick one. Both pans yielded great results, but the tofu cooked in a cast iron pan was slightly crispier. I used neutral safflower oil for pan-frying and sautéing. When cutting tofu into cubes, I opted for a fairly uniform size — somewhere between 3/4 and 1 inch (but smaller cubes would definitely dry out more and become firmer). Some methods call for pressing the block of tofu and then cutting it, while others have you cube the tofu first and then press them; I didn’t find that one way extracted more water than the other.

Ratings: I judged each method on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 representing perfection. Although objectivity is ideal, the ratings are of course inherently subjective — so I tried to explain why each method received the rating it did and who that method is best suited for, even if it’s not my particular cup of tea. The main criteria was texture, aiming for extra-crispy. If a technique was particularly easy or fussy, that played a minor role in my rating. 

Credit: Photo: Dane Tashima; Food Styling: Jessie YuChen

Crispy Tofu Method: Pressed, Coated with Cornstarch, and Baked

  • Total time: About 1 hour 
  • Rating: 7  

About this method: Using a recipe from Cookie & Kate as a guide, I cut the tofu block into cubes, placed them between layers of paper towels, weighted them down, and pressed them for 30 minutes. I then tossed the tofu with a little oil, soy sauce, and cornstarch, and spread it onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. I baked the tofu at 400°F for 30 minutes, gently tossing the cubes at the halfway point.

Results: The tofu cubes got slightly crisp, but the texture was more chewy than anything else. The exterior skin felt a little tough with each bite. The interior was dense (from pressing out the water) but still creamy, which I enjoyed.

Who should try it: Folks who like dense, firm tofu.

Credit: Photo: Dane Tashima; Food Styling: Jessie YuChen

Crispy Tofu Method: Pressed, Briefly Sautéed, and Finished in the Oven

  • Total time: 35 minutes
  • Rating: 7  

About this method: For this technique, I used Minimalist Baker’s recipe. It starts by weighting and pressing the tofu block for 5 minutes, then cutting it into cubes and tossing with seasonings (I used salt and pepper). I sautéed the tofu in a cast iron skillet for a few minutes, then placed the skillet in a 375°F oven for 15 minutes to finish.

Results: As with the previous method, this one also yielded tofu with an exterior crust that’s a bit more chewy than it is crispy. The interior was wonderfully creamy.

Who should try it: People who love tofu’s natural, creamy texture.

Credit: Photo: Dane Tashima; Food Styling: Jessie YuChen

Crispy Tofu Method: Lightly Pressed, Coated with Cornstarch, and Air-Fried

  • Total time: 45 minutes
  • Rating: 7  

About this method: I went with the recipe from Healthful Blondie to test this method. First, I weighted down and pressed the tofu block for 30 minutes, cut it into cubes, and tossed the cubes with with a little oil, cornstarch, and salt and pepper. I then arranged the tofu cubes in a single layer in my air fryer basket (coated with cooking spray) and air-fried at 400°F for 15 minutes.

Results: These were the crunchiest tofu cubes of the bunch. They were beyond crispy and almost crouton-like with a thick, dense, hearty texture. The cubes were very firm with a little chew to them — all the way through to the center.

Who should try it: People who want something heartier when they eat tofu.

Credit: Photo: Dane Tashima; Food Styling: Jessie YuChen

Crispy Tofu Method: Lightly Pressed, Coated with Nutritional Yeast, and Baked

  • Total time: 50 minutes
  • Rating: 7.5  

About this method: This method comes from From My Bowl and starts by pressing the whole tofu block with your hands, cutting it into cubes, and lightly pressing those. The cubes then get tossed with tamari and nutritional yeast, spread onto a sheet pan lined with a silicone mat, and baked at 425°F for 40 to 50 minutes, flipping them after 20 minutes.

Results: This tofu ended up with a drier, firmer texture than other methods, perhaps because it used no oil. It was more crunchy than crispy and also felt crouton-like. The nutritional yeast created a tasty, crunchy crust.

Who should try it: People looking for crunchy bites.

Crispy Tofu Method: Pressed, Coated with Arrowroot Starch, and Pan-Fried

  • Total time: 45 minutes
  • Rating: 7.5  

About this method: I used the general instructions from Kitchn’s tofu tutorial, opting for the arrowroot coating instead of cornstarch. First, I weighted and pressed the tofu block for 30 minutes, then cut it into cubes and seasoned them with salt and pepper before tossing with arrowroot starch and pan-frying in a cast iron skillet.

Results: The original article mentioned some sticking in the pan, but I experienced none. The tofu had a light and very crispy coating, almost like a thin-skinned spring roll, while the interior remained creamy. There was the faintest hint of chalkiness in the coating, though.

Who should try it: Cooks who have some arrowroot starch on hand (perhaps from some gluten-free baking projects).

Credit: Photo: Dane Tashima; Food Styling: Jessie YuChen

Crispy Tofu Method: Frozen First, Then Pan-Fried

  • Total time: About 16 hours
  • Rating: 8  

About this method: Although the main internet sources touting the benefits of freezing tofu (notably Bon Appétit and our own site) don’t mention anything about making the tofu crispier, Kitchn’s Studio Food Editor, Jessie YuChen, says she finds that thawed, drained tofu fries up crispier — so we had to give it a try in this test. I cut the tofu into cubes, froze them on a sheet pan overnight, and thawed them in the refrigerator for about eight hours. I then patted them dry and pan-fried them in a cast iron skillet. 

Results: These cubes did indeed become quite crispy, with nicely browned exteriors and some pieces achieving a hearty crunchiness. The interior was firm-chewy, which is the main touted benefit of freezing. You do have to freeze the tofu and thaw it, which both take some time but is easy enough.

Who should try it: Folks who prefer their tofu crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside.

Credit: Photo: Dane Tashima; Food Styling: Jessie YuChen

Crispy Tofu Method: Deep-Fried

  • Total time: 15 minutes
  • Rating: 8.5  

About this method: I used the general instructions from Andrea Nguyen, author of several cookbooks, including Asian Tofu. I soaked the tofu in salt water (using the brining method described below) as Nguyen suggests, patted it dry, and lowered it into oil heated to 365°F in a wok. I fried quickly, per her advice, going for 2 to 3 minutes.

Results: Although the tofu cubes relentlessly tried to stick together, I gently stirred them as they fried and did my best to separate them. The fried cubes had a tender but firm interior with a slightly chewy, very crispy exterior. With the oil heated to the proper temperature, the tofu didn’t soak up much — so the cubes felt crisp and light. Any cubes that stuck together didn’t suffer in the least; they were still fantastically crisp. And there was practically no debris in the oil; you could definitely cool it, strain it, and use it again.

Who should try it: Cooks who don’t mind deep-frying — and fans of extra-crispy tofu.

Credit: Photo: Dane Tashima; Food Styling: Jessie YuChen

Crispy Tofu Method: Blotted Dry and Pan-Seared

  • Total time: 13 minutes
  • Rating: 9  

About this method: This simple method, which I found on the site Feasting at Home, is also a favorite of Kitchn’s Food Editor at Large, Christine Gallary. Following the instructions from Feasting at Home, I cut the tofu into cubes and blotted them with paper towels. I then heated some oil in a cast iron skillet, seasoned the oil with salt and pepper, and then pan-seared the tofu, turning occasionally.  

Results: The author’s note that “If it’s sticking, it’s not ready to turn” is perfect advice. It will release from the pan when it’s ready. The tofu was surprisingly crisp, verging on crunchy, with a deliciously seasoned outer crust. Because the tofu wasn’t pressed before cooking, the interior remained wonderfully creamy, which I loved. This method was easy, incredibly fast, and delicious.

Who should try it: Folks who are short on time or just want to keep things simple, and people who like tofu that’s crunchy on the outside and creamy on the inside.

Credit: Photo: Dane Tashima; Food Styling: Jessie YuChen

Crispy Tofu Method: Brined in Salt Water

  • Total time: 35 minutes
  • Rating: 9.5  

About this method: Inspired by an Instagram Reel from Asian food brand Omsom, I brought 4 cups of water and 1/4 cup of salt to a boil, stirring until the salt dissolved. I cut the tofu block into slabs and placed them in the salt brine for 15 minutes. I then drained the tofu on paper towels, cut it into cubes, and pan-fried it in a little oil. (Read more about this brining method for tofu.)

Results: First off, the tofu is perfectly seasoned throughout — not just on the exterior. More importantly, it became fantastically crispy, with a hearty crust that verged on being crunchy. Even after an hour or so, the cold tofu remained crisp — I know because I kept going back for more bites.

Who should try it: Anyone who wants crunchy, seasoned-to-perfection tofu.

Credit: Photo: Dane Tashima; Food Styling: Jessie YuChen

Crispy Tofu Method: Dredged in Cornstarch and Pan-Fried

  • Total time: 10 minutes
  • Rating: 10  

About this method: The recipe from The Woks of Life encourages you to use soft tofu. I did try that (more on that in a bit), but for the sake of consistency, the test I used for rating was with extra-firm tofu. You simply cut the tofu into sort of flat squares by cutting the block in half lengthwise, then cutting those halves crosswise into 1/2-inch-thick pieces. After quickly dredging the pieces in cornstarch, you pan-fry them in a little oil. 

Results: I simply couldn’t get enough of this tofu. The combination of moist, unpressed tofu and the cornstarch coating yielded the most irresistible texture: an incredibly crispy, slightly delicate crust (definitely more crispy than crunchy) whose effect was amplified because of the contrasting creaminess of the interior. Don’t get me wrong when I say the crust was a bit delicate; it still made an audible crunch with each bite. I loved the flatter pieces because I only had to turn them once — as opposed to cubes, which I like to crisp on at least four of the six sides. This method was quick and very easy, and the results were spectacular. (As mentioned, I tried this method with soft tofu as well, which I found absolutely dreamy: super-soft, custardy interior with that crisp exterior. It’s not for everyone, but I love it.)

Who should try it: Everyone! This method yielded perfect tofu.

Bonus Crispy Tofu Method: Torn into Pieces

With the winning method, I went one step further. After hearing about tearing tofu (from America’s Test Kitchen, Bon Appetit, and Didn’t I Just Feed You), I tried that technique with this method. I tore the tofu block into irregular pieces, coated them with cornstarch, and pan-fried them. The results were also fantastic: The rough texture cooked to a chicken nugget–type crunchiness. 

Final Thoughts

I think by now it’s apparent that I love tofu’s natural creaminess and want crispy-cooked pieces to retain that texture on the inside. If you, however, want a chewier, drier texture, there are other methods here that will suit your taste — particularly the baked and air-fried methods. You can try the tearing hack with any of the methods to see if you like it better; the craggy, rough surface gives you more opportunities for crispy bits.

This post was originally published on Kitchn. Read it there: We Tried 10 Methods for Making Extra-Crispy Tofu and the Winner Was Spectacular