We Tested 4 Famous Fried Chicken Recipes and Found the Best, Easiest Recipe
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.
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.
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.
2. The Fussy, No-Fun Fried Chicken Recipe: Serious Eats’ Southern Fried Chicken
- Overall rating: Rating: 6/10
- Get the recipe: Serious Eats’ Southern Fried Chicken Recipe
- Read more: The 2 Smart Tricks That Make Serious Eats’ Fried Chicken So Crispy
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.
3. The Recipe That Feeds a Crowd (or Makes a Lot of Leftovers): Pioneer Woman’s Fried Chicken
- Rating: 8/10
- Get the recipe: Pioneer Woman’s Fried Chicken
- Read more: The Pioneer Woman’s No-Fuss Fried Chicken Is Absolutely Worth Making at Home
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.
4. The Best, Easiest Fried Chicken Winner: Popeyes Fried Chicken
- Overall rating: 10/10
- Get the recipe: Popeyes Fried Chicken from MyRecipes
- Read more: This Fried Chicken Is Extra Crispy and Crunchy, Thanks to One Extra Step
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.