Outdoors there is no stovetop to clean and no smoke alarm. If oil gets on the grates or drips down, it will burn off quickly the next time you fire up the grill. And you can use part of the grill grate as a rack to drain your fried chicken!
This is my take on the standard bearer of the fried chicken revolution — KFC! Before you start, please read my background article on frying here.
To ensure success there are several tricks:
Let’s talk about buttermilk for a minute. The molecules in buttermilk are far too large to penetrate the meat and enhance it in any way. What buttermilk does do is attack the surface proteins with its acidity denaturing them and making them softer. This can help the breading to adhere. The problem with buttermilk is that it tends to make the breading turn prematurely brown when frying, before the meat is cooked through.
But just about any acid can have the same effect on protein as buttermilk. In India chicken is often marinated in yogurt. A quick soak in pickle juice, vinegar, or lemon juice has the same effect and creates fascinating flavors. Try pickle juice. You get the tenderizing of he vinegar, and the flavor and moisture benefits of salt. With vinegar the meat a nice tang reminiscent of salt and vinegar potato chips.
Trust me. Fried chicken works fine without the buttermilk.
Here’s how they do it at KFC. First they dunk about 16 pieces of fresh chicken parts in a wet brine for only a few seconds. This deposits salt on it evenly and wets the surface so the flour will stick. Then they shake most of it off and it goes into a small tub with the flour, the original spice blend, dried milk and egg, and it is coated thoroughly. Excess flour is shaken off and the pieces are set on wire racks in a pressure fryer and they are then deep fried under pressure at a top secret temp for about 10 minutes.
Sanders started in skillets as was traditional in the South, and eventually went to pressure cookers. Pressure frying is a technique used at Broasted Chicken restaurants and many others. It reduces cooking time by about half and reduces moisture loss. You should not try this at home in a pressure cooker. Most can’t get up to the proper temp, and the oil can melt the gaskets. An explosion could be very dangerous.
The internet is overflowing with copycat recipes for the original recipe by Col. Harland Sanders. KFC has carefully kept the list of the original 11 herbs and spices under wraps. They are reputed to use two different suppliers to prepare the blend so than no single source has the list. In 2016, Jay Jones of the Chicago Tribune visited the Sanders Cafe in the tiny town of Corbin, KY, where Sanders first started selling his famous chicken. Built in 1940 and listed in the National Register of Historic Places, the restaurant and the nearby museum is a memorial to Sanders, who died in 1990, and you can order fried chicken at the restaurant. If you want to really celebrate fried chicken, check out the World Chicken Festival in London, KY any September, just 20 minutes from Corbin.
Anyway, Jones visited with Joe and Jill Ledington. Joe worked for Sanders back in the day. At his home, they leafed through a family album started by their Aunt Claudia who was Sanders’ second wife. In it, he found Aunt Claudia’s will, and on the back was a list of 11 spices to be mixed with 2 cups flour (Ts = tablespoons):
1) 2/3 Ts Salt
2) 1/2 Ts Thyme
3) 1/2 Ts Basil
4) 1/3 Ts Origino (sic)
5) 1 Ts Celery Salt
6) 1 Ts Black Pepper
7) 1 Ts Dried Mustard
8) 4 Ts Paprika
9) 2 Ts Garlic Salt
10) 1 Ts Ground Ginger
11) 3 Ts White Pepper
The Tribune set about duplicating the recipe. After fiddling with the fryer temperature, they determined that by adding a sprinkling of MSG just before serving, the recipe was almost identical, and KFC confirmed that they do use MSG in addition to the 11. Click here to see a photograph of the recipe.
It’s all the rage, and it comes packing heat and a great backstory. Here’s my improved recipe.
Add 1/4 cup of milk to the flour and mix it lightly. This makes it lumpy and those lumps stick to the chicken and make really crunchy shards. Tack on the lumps when you dredge the chicken.
Fry it once. Take it out. Let it cool for 10 minutes. Then fry again for 3 to 4 minutes.
As an option, if you wish, after the last dunk of flour/starch, dunk the chicken in egg or milk and then into breadcrumbs, panko, corn flakes, corn meal, crushed pretzels, potato chips, crushed corn chips, or any combination you like. If you use one of these crumbs, pat it on so it sticks.
A number of chefs like to wet brine their fried chicken because salt penetrates the meat, seasons it, and holds onto moisture. If you like the salt and vinegar flavor combo, then the next time you kill a jar of dill pickles (not sweet pickles), save the pickle brine. I have been known to bum some pickle brine from a local grocer that sells pickles from a barrel. Soak the chicken in the pickle brine for 30 to 60 minutes. It will have the same effect on the surface that buttermilk has. If you pickle brine, skip the dry brine step, and go straight to the herbs and spices, then the breading. If you don’t have pickle brine, just use plain old distilled vinegar with salt, a brinerade, for 15 minutes. A quick swim in vinegar and salt has the same effect as buttermilk and gives chicken a flavor reminiscent of salt and vinegar potato chips, to which I could easily become addicted. I love the tang!
Cut up the bird, dry brine it, flavor it, and then give it 30 minutes in the smoker. Then dredge and fry.
It is not likely that you will have any chicken leftover, but you can bring leftovers back to life on the grill in the indirect zone at about 225°F for about 30 minutes to reheat the meat, and then a few minutes over direct heat to crisp up the breading.
Serve with: a cola or root beer.
Published On: 7/29/2018 Last Modified: 4/24/2021
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