The $3 Ingredient That Makes Baked Chicken Taste Fried

updated Nov 21, 2019
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(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

Crispy chicken from the oven is a lofty goal that I’ve spent the last few years chasing — both as a home cook and as a parent to chicken tender–loving kids. In that quest I discovered lots of little tricks that made oven-baked chicken better, but still not quite perfect.

That all changed last year, though, when I stumbled onto a gift from crispy chicken heaven — a single ingredient already in my kitchen that made my tenders and nuggets more juicy and the coating crispier and more like pan-fried. This is the pantry ingredient (that you very likely already have on hand) that makes baked chicken taste more like fried.

(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

Mayonnaise is the Secret for Crispy Oven Chicken!

I know what you’re thinking. Adding a creamy, full-fat condiment sort of flies in the face of conventional wisdom for oven-crisped chicken, right? But hear me out on this one: Adding mayo to the egg coating of crispy chicken does a lot for baked chicken.

First, the mayo adds a layer of moisture and fat that keeps the chicken itself super juicy while it bakes. Second, and probably most important, the fat helps coat the breading while it bakes, crisping individual breadcrumbs and adding a boost of flavor and fat that mimics pan-fried chicken.

Here’s how you you put this hack into practice: When baking chicken pieces, cut them small and thin or pound them into a thin, even thickness. Then skip the three-step breading process of fried chicken and instead coat them in an egg-mayo mixture before coating them with breadcrumbs. For oven-baked chicken I like a combination of toasted panko and traditional breadcrumbs, but this trick works well with cereal, cracker, or pretzel coating too.

(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)