Any style of pickle can be used, whether sweet or sour, but the default pickle used is a Dill Pickle.
The pickles can be deep-fried whole, but they are often cut first. Dill Pickles will be cut into spears, or sliced lengthwise into horizontal, flat slices. They can also be cross-cut into rounds. When rounds are used, the finished dish is sometimes referred to as “pickle chips.”
Sweet pickle fans say that the crinkle cut bread and butter pickles hold best any coating applied to them.
Whatever form of pickle is used, the pickles should be cold before starting to help the coating stick better. The pickles are generally patted dry of any brine, then dipped in an egg wash of egg and milk, then into a breading mixture or a batter. Breading mixtures can be quite elaborate: some might call for cornmeal, flour, seasoning, herbs and spices.
After coating the pickles, you are then usually advised to chill (or freeze) the coated pickles for at least a half hour first before deep frying, to avoid the coating sliding off them when you fry them in the hot oil.
They are then drained, and served hot.
In 1962, the Oakland Tribune carried a recipe for “French Fried Pickle Slices” [Peter Piper Pick a Peck. Oakland, California: Oakland Tribune. 19 November 1962. Page 23.
The first commercial sale of Deep-Fried Pickles seems to have been in the summer of 1963, in Arkansas, by a Bernell Austin (26 February 1921 – 28 September 1999) at his drive-in restaurant, “The Duchess Drive In.” He sliced dill pickles lengthwise, breaded them and fried them, selling them at 15 cents for 15 of the slices.
His family still makes the Deep Fried Pickles today once a year at the Picklefest in Atkins, Arkansas, calling them “Fatman’s Original Fried Dill Pickles”, as “Fatman” was Bernell’s nickname. The family keeps the breading recipe secret.
Austin, Gerald David. Fried Dill Pickles. Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture. 22 June 2009. Retrieved March 2010 from http://www.encyclopediaofarkansas.net/encyclopedia/entry-detail.aspx?entryID=2922
Clement, Jennifer. Maggie’s Pickle Cafe, Hot Springs, Arizona. Deep Fried Pickles. Food Network. Fried Side Dishes, Episode BE1F13. Retrieved March 2010 from http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/the-best-of/deep-fried-pickles-recipe/index.html
Birth and death dates for Bernell Austin: http://www.locategrave.org/l/274499/Bernell-Austin-AR