Native Fry Bread sitting on a plate
Desserts Snacks

Authentic Native Fry Bread

Indigenous Fry Bread is a softly puffed fried bread that is served hot with a generous dusting of powdered sugar. Simply put: it’s delicious. 

Warm and crisp on the outside yet soft and fluffy on the inside. It’s very similar to a funnel cake — but is thicker, softer, and not as sweet.

Native Fry Bread originated almost 200 years ago, stretches back generations, and is usually traced back to the Navajo Nation. Versions of the recipe differ according to region and tribe, some using yeast and cornmeal while others call for shortening and egg. My family recipe consists of very simple ingredients, and goes back at least 5 generations — if not more.

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Key Ingredients

  • flour
  • shortening
  • baking powder

Ingredients for Authentic Native Fry Bread in various bowls on a marble countertop.

Necessary Equipment

  • rolling pin
  • dough cutter
  • cast iron skillet
  • large mixing bowl
  • candy thermometer

How to Make Authentic Native Fry Bread 

Author’s Note: exact measurements and detailed instructions are in the recipe card at the bottom of the post.

Authentic Native Fry Bread is a kind of recipe that I like to make strictly by hand and without measurements. After making the recipe for years, I can feel when the dough is just right

Making and forming the dough by hand has become somewhat of a spiritual exercise, and offers me a glimpse into the lives of my ancestors. It’s an exercise that I have come to love, and I invite you to share in it by untethering yourself from pesky measurements and the scale. 

However, for those who don’t feel confident to make this by hand, I have included measurements down below at the bottom of the post. 


Native Fry Bread on a plate with a hand reaching out to grab the plate

Step 1: Sift the flour and baking powder into a large mixing bowl. Add the kosher salt and stir to evenly distribute all the dry ingredients together. 

Step 2: Add the shortening, and work the shortening into the flour using a dough cutter/pastry knife or your hands.


Shortening being worked into flour with a dough cutter.

Gather the flour and shortening into your fingers and use your thumbs to press the shortening into the flour. Continue combining the ingredients together until the mixture resembles coarse meal.

Step 3: Add the lukewarm water to the flour mixture until the dough comes together. Do not over mix the dough.

Start by adding just 1 cup of water to the flour, and add more water to the dough as needed. You might not need the full 1 ½ cups of water, so add a little water at a time.

If you add too much water, there’s no need to worry. Just add a little bit more flour to the dough. 

It might also be a good idea to transfer the dough to the countertop so that it’s easier to combine. 

Combine the ingredients together until a shaggy dough forms — meaning: the fry bread dough will be lumpy but still be well-mixed and there are no dry spots of flour. 

DO NOT KNEAD THE DOUGH until it becomes smooth, or it will become tough and dense. 


Native Fry Bread Dough on a marble countertop

Step 4: Allow the dough to rest for one hour, being sure that the bowl the dough is in is well-oiled to prevent sticking. Drizzle some vegetable oil on the top of the dough to prevent it from drying out.

Important Note: the dough will not rise or double in size as the dough does not contain any yeast. The dough will just rest, and it’s important for the formation of gluten. 

Step 5: After the dough has rested, Begin heating a couple inches of vegetable oil in a 12-inch cast iron pan until the oil reaches 350-375F°.

Step 6: Divide the dough into 12 uniform size portions.

Divide the dough in half, and then each half is divided into 6 equal pieces that are about the size of a tennis ball. 

I like to divide the dough in half. Each half gets divided into thirds. Each third then gets divided into halves. I know that sounds a little complicated, but I promise it makes sense if you have the visual. In the end, just make sure to have 12 pieces of dough total. 

Step 7: Stretch each ball of dough into a pancake-like shape, about 3-5 inches in diameter. 

Stretching the dough out feels a lot like making pizza dough. You can do this by hand, or use a rolling pin



Step 8: Once your oil is hot, begin frying each piece until it’s lightly golden, a few minutes on each side. The Fry Bread will float in the oil as it cooks. Be sure to not overcrowd the pan.

It’s really important that the oil is at the correct temperature. Here’s how to tell if your oil is hot enough for frying:

Method 1: Use a candy thermometer to measure the temperature of the oil. 
Method 2: Sprinkle a little flour into the oil. If it sizzles and disappears immediately, the oil is hot.
Method 3: Place the handle of a wooden spoon in the oil. If bubbles begin to form around the handle, the oil is hot and ready.

Step 9: Once the Fry Bread is cooked, place it on a paper-towel or parchment lined baking sheet to drain the excess grease. Immediately, sprinkle the fry bread with lots of powdered sugar. Serve hot. 


Native Fry Bread covered in powdered sugar on a paper-towel lined baking sheet

Mix Ins and Variations

Sweet
  • serve with honey butter 
  • Drizzle with honey or syrup 
  • sprinkle the dough with cinnamon sugar 
Savory
  • cut the dough into wedges and serve with salsa
  • dip the fry bread into chili (how my family does it) 
  • use the fry bread as a taco shell and fill it with your favorite taco toppings 

Q & A Section

Why is my Fry Bread Dense and Tough? 

A dense and tough Fry Bread is due to over-mixing the dough. Be sure to only mix the dough until it’s just combined.

Can I make the Fry Bread ahead of time? 

Unfortunately, I don’t recommend making this in advance. It’s best to eat the Fry Bread while it’s still hot! 

The dough can be stored for 1-3 days in an airtight container at room temperature. The Fry Bread does lose it’s crisp texture, but it’s still good. 

What is the difference between Fry Bread, Sopapillas, Buñuelos?

Fry Bread is larger, flatter, and more dense than Sopapillas. Fry Bread differs from Buñuelos in that Buñuelos are fried dough fritters originating in Spain, and are more cake-like and hollow in the center.


A stack of Native Fry Bread on a plate with a hand reaching out to grab a peice

Acknowledgements and History of Navajo Fry Bread

The relationship Indigenous Americans have with Fry Bread is complicated. The recipe was born out of necessity. It’s both a symbol of our pain and our ability to preserve. 

We used to live off the land; we were hunters and gatherers. Our diets mainly consisted of meat, grains, and vegetables. We thrived on fresh game and wild foods; all natural stuff. But our diets shifted after European colonization. After the U.S government violently removed us from our ancestral lands to remote reservations, our long-standing ways of eating changed dramatically.

The U.S Government forced the Navajo Nation to take the Long Walk — a 300-mile journey from Arizona to New Mexico. They were violently settled onto land that purposely could not sustain their natural way of eating. After these forced relocations, new foods were distributed to tribes in the form of government-issued commodities — which included mostly dry goods like flour, lard, sugar, and powdered milk.

After being stripped of the natural abundance around us, we made do with what we had and thus Fry Bread came into existence. 

For us, Fry Bread is more than just a tasty food. It’s a symbol that showcases our painful history of oppression and our steadfast survival. Mitsitam. 

Native Fry Bread sitting on a plate

Authentic Native Fry Bread

Indigenous Fry Bread is a softly puffed fried bread that is served hot with a generous dusting of powdered sugar. Simply put: it’s delicious.
Prep Time 2 hrs
Course Dessert, Snack
Cuisine American
Servings 6

Ingredients
  

  • 4 Cups All Purpose Flour
  • 1 1/2 Cups Lukewarm Water
  • 1/4 Cup Vegetable Shortening
  • 1 1/2 Teaspoon Baking Powder
  • 1 Teaspoon Kosher Salt

Instructions
 

  • Sift the flour and baking powder into a large mixing bowl. Add the kosher salt and stir to evenly distribute all the dry ingredients together. 
  • Add the shortening, and work the shortening into the flour using a dough cutter/pastry knife or your hands. Gather the flour and shortening into your fingers and use your thumbs to press the shortening into the flour. Continue combining the ingredients together until the mixture resembles coarse meal.
  • Add the lukewarm water to the flour mixture until the dough comes together. Do not over mix the dough.
    Start by adding just 1 cup of water to the flour, and add more water to the dough as needed. You might not need the full 1 ½ cups of water, so add a little water at a time.
    If you add too much water, there’s no need to worry. Just add a little bit more flour to the dough. 
    It might also be a good idea to transfer the dough to the countertop so that it’s easier to combine. 
    Combine the ingredients together until a shaggy dough forms — meaning: the fry bread dough will be lumpy but still be well-mixed and there are no dry spots of flour. 
    DO NOT KNEAD THE DOUGH until it becomes smooth, or it will become tough and dense. 
  • Allow the dough to rest for one hour, being sure that the bowl the dough is in is well-oiled to prevent sticking. Drizzle some vegetable oil on the top of the dough to prevent it from drying out.
    Important Note: the dough will not rise or double in size as the dough does not contain any yeast. The dough will just rest, and it’s important for the formation of gluten. 
  • After the dough has rested, Begin heating a couple inches of vegetable oil in a 12-inch cast iron pan until the oil reaches 350-375F°.
  • Divide the dough into 12 uniform size portions.
    Divide the dough in half, and then each half is divided into 6 equal pieces that are about the size of a tennis ball.
    I like to divide the dough in half. Each half gets divided into thirds. Each third then gets divided into halves. I know that sounds a little complicated, but I promise it makes sense if you have the visual. In the end, just make sure to have 12 pieces of dough total. 
  • Step 7: Stretch each ball of dough into a pancake-like shape, about 3-5 inches in diameter. 
    Stretching the dough out feels a lot like making pizza dough. You can do this by hand, or use a rolling pin. 
  • Once your oil is hot, begin frying each piece until it’s lightly golden, a few minutes on each side. The Fry Bread will float in the oil as it cooks. Be sure to not overcrowd the pan.
  • Once the Fry Bread is cooked, place it on a paper-towel or parchment lined baking sheet to drain the excess grease. Immediately, sprinkle the fry bread with lots of powdered sugar. Serve hot. 

Did You Make my Authentic Native Fry Bread Recipe? 

Let me know how much you loved the recipe by leaving a rating or comment down below. Share a picture of this recipe on Facebook or Instagram with #ServingupSpice

To learn more about Native History and Culture: visit Native Knowledge.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Hi, I’m Taylor! I’m a self-taught amateur chef with a love for teaching people the fundamental basics of preparing good food. I’m a full-time Recipe Blogger and Food Photographer. 

I live in Florida with Andy, my exceptionally perfect dog. I spend the majority of my time cooking, writing, and trying to keep my garden of plants alive. I love naps, books, and iced coffee. → More about Taylor

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