Chicken Champions

We Tested 4 Popular Chicken Parmesan Recipes and Found a Clear Winner

updated Jun 22, 2021
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four plates of chicken parm
Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Pearl Jones; Design: Kitchn

Chicken Parmesan is the ultimate Italian-American restaurant meal. When done right, this dish is a masterful combination of juicy chicken, crisp breadcrumb coating, gooey, melted cheese, and tangy marinara sauce. But all too often, what arrives at the table instead is a plate of soggy and bland cutlets under rubbery cheese. Not one to leave dinner to fate, I began a search for the best-ever chicken Parm recipe.

What Makes Great Chicken Parmesan

The four elements of chicken Parmesan — the chicken, the breading, the cheese, and the sauce — are where recipes deviate. Before tying on my apron or even selecting the recipes, I defined the qualities I was looking for:

  • The chicken should be well-seasoned, tender, and juicy — not dry or overdone.
  • The chicken should be coated in a crispy, Parmesan-filled breading.
  • The cheese should be creamy, not rubbery, and while mozzarella is the most common, I was open to other varieties as long as they melted nicely.
  • The tomato sauce should be bright and tangy to provide a contrast to the fried cutlets and rich cheese.

With the gold standard checklist in mind, I tested four popular recipes in a side-by-side taste test. Right off the bat, they took drastically different approaches. Some called for halving the chicken; others called for butterflying. Some called for freshly-made breadcrumbs; others used store-bought panko. The cheese and sauces varied as well and I wondered: Would a marinara made with whole canned tomatoes or crushed tomatoes be better? What about one made with fresh tomatoes? After testing and tasting the four very different recipes, one stood out as the clear winner.

Tester’s Note: Chicken Parmesan is often served alongside or on top of dressed spaghetti, but for purposes of this cook-off, I did not test the recipes with pasta, as I didn’t find it to be essential to the core recipe.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Pearl Jones

How I Chose The Four Chicken Parmesan Contenders

In the past, we’ve picked our contenders based on which recipes are the most searched-for, or have the highest ratings and the best reviews. And we’re still including two of those here. But this month, to round out the four, we also decided to also ask expert cooks and friends in the food world which recipes they love, in the hopes of uncovering some hidden gems.

I started with the internet-famous recipes. Skinnytaste’s chicken Parmesan recipe was among the top searched-for, but I eliminated it because the chicken is baked, not fried. I eliminated any other baked recipes that came up in my searching, because frying the cutlets is traditional and more akin to what you’d find in an Italian-American restaurant.

Alton Brown devoted an entire episode to chicken Parmesan in the recent reboot of Good Eats, but because of his unusual addition of salt and vinegar potato chips in the breading and its similarity to another contender — Cook’s Illustrated — I eliminated it, too. The Pioneer Woman’s version also proved popular, but I had little hope that hers would beat the rest as the chicken is breaded only with flour (no crispy panko or even store-bought breadcrumbs), then simmered in sauce.

In the end, I chose Gordon Ramsay’s and Serious Eats’ chicken Parms for the Internet faves. The two recipes that came highly recommended from food editors, food bloggers, and other culinary professionals were from Cook’s Illustrated and Chowhound.

Gordon Ramsay‘s Youtube video for chicken Parmesan doesn’t have a written recipe accompanying it (though there’s an approximation on his show’s Facebook page), so I watched (and re-watched) the video to mimic every step of the technique. His recipe is pretty straightforward, but his was the only one to add fresh tomatoes to the sauce, and also includes a smart restaurant trick for frying the chicken.

In classic Serious Eats fashion, chicken Parmesan gets the Food Lab treatment from J. Kenji Lopez-Alt. Here, the chicken is buttermilk-brined and coated with freshly-made breadcrumbs. It’s also the only recipe to finish the chicken nestled in sauce.

As with any Cook’s Illustrated recipe, you know it’s been rigorously tested with every iteration examined, and it’s for this reason that fellow food writers repeatedly recommended this recipe. The chicken is salted and coated in a combination of panko and Parmesan (heavy on the Parm), and the whole thing is strategically assembled for minimum sogginess.

Chowhound‘s chicken Parmesan was recommended to me by Kitchn’s very own Christine Gallary. She had to make this recipe when she interviewed for a job at (FWIW, she’s also a veteran of the Cook’s Illustrated test kitchen) and it has since become her go-to. The chicken is served on top of the sauce and includes Parmesan in the breading.

How I Tested the Chicken Parmesan

I made all four chicken Parmesan recipes over the course of two days. I tested each recipe exactly as written, and in the case of Gordon Ramsay’s recipe, I followed the video as precisely as possible. I used the same brands of ingredients for all recipes. When a recipe gave options for using quick tomato sauces, all-day simmered sauces, or store-bought sauces, I prepared the quick tomato sauces to maintain consistency between recipes.

My family and neighbors are experienced taste testers, and I enlisted their help here as well. Our top pick was unanimous.

Meet Our 4 Chicken Parmesan Contenders

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Pearl Jones

1. The Strange and Soggy Chicken Parmesan: Serious Eats’ The Best Chicken Parmesan

This chicken Parmesan was the most disappointing of all the recipes I tested. Each element of the dish was dissected and individually tinkered with, but despite the tricks and scientific reasoning, this chicken Parmesan was time-consuming, oddly-flavored, and soggy. I won’t be making this again.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Pearl Jones

2. The Restaurant Dupe: Gordon Ramsay’s Chicken Parmesan

This no-frills recipe is straightforward, classic, and does not disappoint. Frying the chicken in grapeseed oil resulted in clean-tasting, ultra-crispy chicken, and the addition of butter to the oil gave the dish a rich, restaurant-quality feel. Using fresh tomatoes gave the sauce texture and punch that gave it the best flavor of all sauces tested. It lost points because of the thick, rubbery mozzarella topping, the parchment-pounding procedure, and the oversized serving that developed a soggy bottom from sitting in the sauce.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Pearl Jones

3. The Classic Contender: Chowhound’s Chicken Parmesan

Christine was right, this is a solid recipe. Chowhound’s chicken Parmesan is delicious, and just what I’d expect to be served at my neighborhood Italian-American restaurant. Using a standard breading procedure and pan fry, the chicken was crispy and brown with a nice Parmesan flavor. Unfortunately, the underside of the chicken softened slightly after sitting in the sauce and the mozzarella cheese was thick and never browned. The sauce was also very tomato-forward, and lacked balanced flavor. But all-in-all this is a good recipe, and it’s no surprise it came recommended.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Pearl Jones

4. The Clear Winner: Cook’s Illustrated’s Best Chicken Parmesan

Many chicken Parmesan recipes call themselves “the best,” but only this one lives up to its name. The chicken is moist and well-seasoned. The coating is flavorful thanks to a generous proportion of Parmesan to panko, and ultra-crispy from an alternative breading technique. The cheesy topping is a combination of shredded mozzarella and fontina that melts evenly across the cutlet and doesn’t turn rubbery upon cooling. The tomato sauce is vibrant, thick, and spooned over top of the melted cheese, eliminating any chance of sogginess. Every detail of this recipe is purposeful — and it’s the only chicken Parmesan recipe I’ll make from now on.

Do you have a favorite chicken Parmesan recipe? Tell us in the comments!