4 pieces of fried chicken lined up
Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk; Design: The Kitchn
Chicken Champions

We Tested 4 Famous Fried Chicken Recipes and Found the Best, Easiest Recipe

published Mar 21, 2020
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.

There are few things better than hot and crispy fried chicken. Biting into a shatteringly crisp fried coating that gives way to juicy tender chicken is truly one of the greatest culinary pleasures. Good fried chicken is a little spicy and deeply savory with just a hint of buttermilk tang. The best fried chicken is worthy of eating cold from the fridge in the middle of the night.

As beloved as it is, fried chicken is one of those recipes that many people are afraid to make for themselves. If you’ve ever considered making fried chicken at home, you’ve likely noticed that the easiest recipes aren’t as good, but that many restaurant recipes are far too complex. I, myself, am a homemade fried chicken evangelist — sure, it takes time and effort, but the results are always worth the mess you’ll make. My favorite recipe lives right here on Kitchn, but I wanted to find a rewarding entry-level fried chicken recipe to convince others to jump on the homemade fried chicken bandwagon.

To find the very best recipe for any home cook, I put four popular fried chicken recipes to the test. The results were funny and a little unexpected, but a clear winner emerged: It was the easiest and tastiest of the whole bunch. Here are the results.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk

Meet Our 4 Fried Chicken Contenders

In the past, we’ve chosen the contenders for our celebrity recipe showdowns by sorting through the most searched-for recipes and choosing the ones with the highest ratings and best reviews. But sometimes, the most popular recipe isn’t actually the best — for example, the winner of our cinnamon roll recipe showdown was a recipe we discovered by word of mouth. So for this showdown, we chose two popular internet recipes and two recommended to us by our smart editors, Kitchn Facebook group members, and fellow foodies.

A Copycat Popeyes recipe and a Pioneer Women recipe won the popularity contest. It’s worth mentioning that KFC’s Copycat Chicken is very popular, but we’ve already reviewed it here on Kitchn. Serious Eats’ Fried Chicken recipe came up again and again in recommendations from colleagues and friends, as did David Lebovitz’s French Fried Chicken, which came highly recommended by two of my former colleagues from when I worked with Alton Brown.

How I Tested The Fried Chicken Recipes

Butchering five whole chickens and using three quarts of buttermilk was a lot for my small home kitchen, but as much as possible I used the same brands of chicken, flour, buttermilk, and fry oil unless the recipe specified otherwise (for example, Lebovitz’s recipe calls for duck fat, where others called for peanut or vegetable oil for frying). Two recipes called for frying in a Dutch oven, and the other two called for deep frying pans, but generally speaking, all four recipes called for similar volumes of oil for frying. A thermometer was used for keeping the frying temperature and doneness consistent.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk

1. The French Take on Fried Chicken That Doesn’t Cut the Mustard: David Lebovitz’s French Fried Chicken

Going into this recipe showdown, David Lebovitz’s fried chicken had all the makings of a sleeper hit: the mustard in the marinade, cornmeal for crispness in the coating, and duck fat for frying. And the taste of the finished chicken was super-flavorful and juicy; it just wasn’t the typical spicy-peppery flavor you’d expect. Unfortunately, the chicken pieces got really browned (almost burnt) in the duck fat (which is both expensive and hard to find), and tasters really disliked the cornmeal texture.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk

2. The Fussy, No-Fun Fried Chicken Recipe: Serious Eats’ Southern Fried Chicken

While Serious Eats is best known for its reputable research, their recipes often prioritize science over simplicity, and this recipe is no exception. The recipe is good in theory, delivering tender chicken with an uber-crisp crust, but ultimately it lacked in flavor. Also, some of the steps (such as removing excess flour from each chicken piece with a sieve) felt unnecessary, and dirtied more dishes without improving the finished chicken.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk

3. The Recipe That Feeds a Crowd (or Makes a Lot of Leftovers): Pioneer Woman’s Fried Chicken

This recipe tied closely with the winning recipe for taste, texture, and simplicity, but Pioneer Woman’s recipe is clearly geared towards cooking for a crowd. Not only does her recipe call for twice the volume of chicken (and flour and spices) of most recipes, it also takes twice as long to make and dirties more dishes with its oven finishing technique. I’ll be making this one again, but only for sharing.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk

4. The Best, Easiest Fried Chicken Winner: Popeyes Fried Chicken

This recipe was the easiest and most straightforward of the bunch, and it tasted the best, too. It has a smart two-ingredient marinade, zero fussy ingredients, and a smart move for double-coating the chicken. You could absolutely pull off this recipe on a weeknight when you’re really craving fried chicken at home. While my own recipe still reigns supreme in my eyes, I will absolutely reach for this one the next time I need a quick fix.

Do you have a fried chicken recipe? Tell us below in the comments.