KFC Style Fried Chicken
This recipe was truly a labour of love. It all started in October 2020, when a tweet came out about KFC's 11 secret herbs and spices. When I went to review the list, it didn't sound right in theory, because it was missing key ingredients which are present in most southern fried chicken recipes, and if you're going to concoct a blend of 11, as if you wouldn't include paprika, mustard powder, pepper, celery salt and MSG!
Then a few people let me know there was another list on Wikipedia. Supposedly the secret recipe was discovered by Joe Ledington, a nephew of the Colonel Sanders by marriage who found a hand written recipe in a scrapbook. This was shared with the Chicago Tribune 5 years ago. This list seemed more legit, because it included the above ingredients that weren't present in the original tweet.
Herbs and spices aside, after delving into how KFC makes their recipe, speaking to several ex employees of KFC and researching a whole lot of southern fried chicken recipes, I realised there's a lot more to the whole process than just the herb and spice mixture itself, including:
- The brining technique to tenderise the chicken
- The dredging and breading technique to get the perfect coating and texture on the skin
- How to deep fry
As well as a whole heap of techniques to get the perfect fried chicken.
Also I realised the way KFC prepares and cooks the chicken is highly commercial and scaled to be able to fry chicken en masse, which is impossible and silly to replicate at home. For example:
- KFC doesn't brine the chicken. Probably because it wastes time and space. Instead the chicken comes cold in bags, and gets flash boiled which then gets dusted in the herb & spice mixture, which brings me to my next point.
- KFC only dredges the chicken in the H&S mixture that also includes egg and milk powder. They don't dip the dredged chicken into a liquid to bread the chicken and give it another coat. I believe this has to do with efficiency and mess. Instead, everything is powdered into the flour.
- Finally, the chicken is fried in "Pressure Fryers" which are industrial cooking equipment that no home cook could or should get their hands on. Essentially it rapidly fries and tenderises the meat, so that they can pump out heaps of fried chicken as fast and as tender as possible. Also using a pressure fryer probably means the process of brining in my first point becomes unnecessary thus eliminating an extra step.
So, what I've done is taken what I think is the correct list of herbs & spices tweaking to what I think would be the correct additions/ratios and then sharing the best way to recreate this at home, to get the perfect KFC style chicken at home every time!
It's not the exact way KFC do it now commercially, but I'm sure if the Colonel was still around, this is the way he'd cook it at home.
Makes 10-14 pieces
Ingredients 8Cooking time 1hr, plus optional brining timeSkill Level - Easy
- Deep Fryer - I have the Breville Smart Deep Fryer
- Baking rack and tray set
- Digital instant read thermometer
- 2⁄3 tablespoon salt
- 1⁄2 tablespoon thyme
- 1⁄2 tablespoon basil
- 1⁄3 tablespoon oregano
- 1 tablespoon celery salt
- 1 tablespoon black pepper
- 1 tablespoon dry mustard
- 4 tablespoon paprika
- 2 tablespoon garlic salt
- 1 tablespoon ground ginger
- 3 tablespoon white pepper
- ½ tablespoon of MSG (optional)
- 2 cups of plain flour or corn flour (GF option) or a combination, sifted
- 8-10 pieces of your choice of chicken.
- 1L of buttermilk
- 4 tablespoons of salt
My Top Tips for perfect fried chicken
- Salt your chicken at every step of the process. At the start, in the breading mixture and at the very end just before serving.
- Marinate/Brine the chicken in buttermilk for at least 4 hours and up to 24 hours before frying. If you don’t have buttermilk, you can make your own using 2 cups of regular milk, and 2 tbsp of either lemon juice or white vinegar.
- Finely blitz the herbs and spices to get uniformity and even cooking.
- Allow your chicken to come back up to room temperature before dredging and frying
- If you want the chicken to be extra crispy, double dredge the chicken before frying.
- Make sure you check the temperature of your oil and chicken to make sure your oil temperature is consistent and the chicken has cooked through in-side. A digital deep fryer like the @brevilleaus smart fryer has an in-built thermometer otherwise get yourself a thermometer off Amazon.
- Fry using only neutral oil as they are odourless and have high smoke points. KFC fries with canola, but peanut, grapeseed or vegetable will work. Stay away from olive oil which has a low smoke point.
- Don’t overcrowd your deep fryer as it will drop the temperature too low. Fry in batches of 3-4 pieces at a time and fry the same pieces together i.e drumsticks with drumsticks, wings with wings etc
- Don’t drain your fried chicken on a plate lined with paper towel, as the oil absorbed onto the towel will make the bottom of your chicken soggy. Instead, use a raised wire rack. I got mine off Amazon.com.au
Watch the process
- Firstly, place your chicken onto a pan and generously salt and allow to stand for 30 minutes.
- Place into a bag, fill with buttermilk and allow to marinate for 3 hours and up to 1 day. Ideally do this the day or night before you intend to cook the chicken.
- On the day you want to fry the chicken, take your chicken out of the fridge, drain and allow to come back to room temperature, approx 2 hours.
- Meanwhile prepare your dredging and breading mixture.
- 11 herbs and spices + MSG- top down video
- Optional step. Grind all of your herbs and spices in a food processor (kitchenaid). KFC chicken only has little flecks of herbs and spices, which I suspect is for uniformity and also anonymity, so you can tell what goes into it. I don’t mind this step because it ensures all of your spices are thoroughly mixed together.
- Thoroughly mix into the flour in a large tray.
- Prepare your dredging batter, by whisking two eggs with 1 cup of milk. The eggs will cling to the flour on the chicken allow more of the coating to stick to the chicken.
- Heat your deep frying oil to 180. Fry only with high smoke point oils- Kentucky fries with canola, but peanut, grapeseed or vegetable will work. Stay away from olive oil which has a low smoke point.
- Meanwhile prepare your chicken, by firstly lightly dusting in flour, then dipping into the egg and milk mixture and then into your spice mixture. Use your hand to pack on the flour. Push it in with your hands to create craggily sections that will crisp up whilst frying.
- Place onto some baking trays to rest whilst waiting for your oil.
- Fry only 3 pieces at a time in your oil for about 9 minutes.
- Remove and allow the excess oil to drain on your baking tray. Don’t drain your fried chicken on a plate lined with paper towel, as the oil absorbed onto the towel will make the bottom of your chicken soggy. Instead, use a raised wire rack.
- If you’re cooking a large batch of this and want your chicken to remain warm, pre-heat an oven to 120 and place your baking tray of cooked chicken into the oven to keep warm whist you cook the remaining batches. Then oven will keep it warm and also finish off cooking the chicken in the oven.
How can I make this Gluten Free?
Use GF plain flour, or even better rice flour! I used normal flour to be true to the KFC recipe, but Asian style fried chicken recipes like Japanese Karaage use rice flour which makes the batter extra crispy!
Can you do this with boneless chicken breast?
Absolutely! You can ultimately do it with any cut of chicken. Personally I prefer cooking with frying meat with bones on because bones = flavour, and I think if you're going to consume animal meat or products, you should use everything and not let it go to waste. But I get that everyone has their favourite chicken parts, whether its boneless, white or dark meat.
When you say 'drain the buttermilk' do you just rinse it under water or just drain it?
I just drained it in my colander, and left it there for 30 mins to 1 hr to get back up to room temperature.
The residual buttermilk on your chicken will help the dredging flour stick to the chicken and make the dredging mixture more craggily and result in an extra crispy exterior.
Could you use a Dutch oven to deep fry the chicken?
Yes you can absolutely deep fry in a large pot and I'd recommend a Dutch oven with tall sides to be able to hold all of the oil and allow enough space for any splatters whilst frying. Make sure you have an instant read thermometer to be able to gauge the oil and chicken temp.
A deep fryer is great as it has an in-built temp gauge and is easy to drain, clean and cook in. The cover stops oil from splattering with vents so steam can escape. It makes life easier, but if you want to use existing big pots or a Dutch oven that's a good alternative.
Best vegetarian filling alternatives?
I haven't personally tried it, but Cauliflower would work the best. However, skip the buttermilk brine, and blanche it in salted water until tender before dredging/breading and frying.
Also if you want to try another fried spicy vegetable recipe, research Indian Pakora recipes which are delicious and made from a mix of veggies.
Can regular milk substitute buttermilk?
Buttermilk should be easily accessible at your supermarket but if you can't find it, simply squeeze 2 tablespoons of lemon juice of vinegar into 2 cups of milk and you have BUTTERMILK!
Is there a dairy free substitute for buttermilk?
I've seen recipes online that suggest using soy milk to create a DF buttermilk. You would do the same thing as a DIY buttermilk: 2 tablespoons of lemon juice or vinegar to 2 cups of soy milk to brine the chicken. If you want a DF option for the batter, use a dairy free milk for the egg/milk wash.
Can I do a semi-deep fry? (deeper than a regular shallow fry)
I mean, If you're run out of oil and wanna fry then and there, then sure. But if you've gone to the effort to make fried chicken at home, just do a deep fry.
You ideally want the chicken to be fully submerged in the hot oil to cook and crisp up evenly. For the sake of a few extra bucks, and an extra litre of oil, just do a deep fry.
Can I freeze half of the spice mixture to use later if I want to make a smaller quantity?
No need to freeze, just keep it in a sealed jar in your pantry like any other dry ingredient, which will save you time when you next want to make this.
If you're not frying as much chicken as I have, you can make half the batch or save half before you start breading the chicken.
Don't save any flour after breading chicken or that raw chicken has touched for obvious hygiene reasons.
How to keep it hot and crunchy while the rest is cooking?
Transfer the fried chicken to a raised baking rack and tray like this and keep in the oven on low at around 120 degrees celcius whilst you cook the batches.
It important your chicken is raised on a rack. If you place directly on a tray or I on paper towel, any excess oil will remain on the bottom and make the coating go soggy.
Do you keep the oil? If so, how would you store it?
Simply strain the oil using a strainer so you remove all the brown burnt bits and store in a jar for the next time you want to fry something again.
Isn't MSG bad for you? Its always been ingrained in me to avoid it
So many questions and comments on MSG!
I think there's a big misconception that it's bad for you and it's generally negatively associated with being present in mostly Asian food when in fact it's present in so many foods people eat every day.
Monosodium Glutamate is a common amino acid naturally found in foods like tomatoes and cheese, which people then figured out how to extract and ferment; a process similar to how we make yogurt and wine.
It's purpose is to instantly enhance the flavour of food, adding that umami/savoury taste.
Think of it like adding chicken salt or using stock powder in your food, which contains MSG by the way. It's in a lot of foods from dressings, condiments, snacks, soups, processed meats.
I included it in my recipe because it's present in KFC chicken and I wanted to stay true to the recipe but it's completely optional whether you want to add it I in or not.