Recipe Review

I Tried KFC’s Leaked Secret Recipe and Here’s How It Went

updated Jun 21, 2021
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(Image credit: Sarah Rae Smith)

If there was a magical list of secret recipes that everyone on the internet has attempted to make before, KFC’s fried chicken is pretty much at the top of that list. There are many copycat recipes around the internet, and they all claim that theirs is the one that reigns supreme, but KFC claims that none come close to the original.

Recently I found out

real mixture of magical 11 herbs and spices was released, and of course I scrambled to put it to the test. Man oh man, I’m sure glad I did!
(Image credit: Sarah Rae Smith)

Our friends over at the Chicago Tribune had a chat with the the nephew of Colonel Sanders, who spent his summers, back in the day, cutting up chickens and making up the secret 11-spice mixture to sell to local restaurants. I decided that this recipe — found in a family photo album — obviously needed to be tested in my own kitchen.

As any good cook would do when replicating such a trusted and iconic food and taste, I overthought everything. You see, the recipe found in the photo album gives us the spice and flour ratio for the coating to the chicken — but it doesn’t tell us how the chicken is treated prior to frying, oil temperatures, length of frying, cooking method (although that’s not exactly a secret), or any additional tricks of the trade.

Most recipes aren’t rocket science, however, so I stopped analyzing every last fried chicken recipe out there (because it was seriously making my hungry) and decided to trust my gut and do my best to honor what I felt would yield the best results. Surely my Midwestern upbringing had prepared me for this exact moment.

(Image credit: Sarah Rae Smith)

Prep Work

Here’s what I came up with on a few of the undeclared recipe points for this batch.

I soaked my chicken pieces in buttermilk and egg for an hour before starting. I let the buttermilk and eggs come to room temperature before soaking and, when all was said and done, my chicken (which came from the refrigerator) was also room temperature. Room temperature is ideal because it will not decrease the temperature of the hot oil once the chicken is submerged.

I decided on wings, thighs, and drumsticks, which, although they don’t cook for the same amount of time, would be more close in time than a larger section of breast meat would be.

(Image credit: Sarah Rae Smith)

The Coating

This is where the Colonel’s Secret Recipe comes into play. The seasoning is as follows:

  • 2/3 tablespoon salt
  • 1/2 tablespoon thyme
  • 1/2 tablespoon basil
  • 1/3 tablespoon oregano
  • 1 tablespoon celery salt
  • 1 tablespoon black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon dried mustard
  • 4 tablespoons paprika
  • 2 tablespoons garlic salt
  • 1 tablespoon ground ginger
  • 3 tablespoons white pepper

I mixed the above seasoning with two cups of flour. While I am a large fan of the paper bag method for fried chicken, I don’t see every KFC on the planet shaking chicken in a bag before frying, I skipped it this round and went with the more traditional flour-egg-flour dredge in shallow pans.

(Image credit: Sarah Rae Smith)

Frying Method

I, like most people I imagine, don’t own a pressure fryer. These things are a few hundred dollars and aren’t exactly a go-to small appliance for most homes. I do own a pressure cooker, but adding hot oil to a pressure cooker can create all sorts of havoc. So I fried the chicken in my tabletop fryer (360°F until internal chicken temperature reaches 165°F — roughly eight minutes), as I am a fan of the lid which regulates temperature and lack of splatters.

(Image credit: Sarah Rae Smith)

The Results

You know how you try “the ultimate” whatever recipe that surfaces online and, although it tastes good, it never really lives up to the brand name of the real thing? This recipe … this isn’t that. You guys. Seriously. I can’t. The taste of its crispy skin is a dead ringer for its commercial counterpart. KFC might deny that the spice mixture given to the Chicago Tribune is incorrect, but it sure tastes like the real thing.

The taste of its crispy skin is a dead ringer for its commercial counterpart.

The texture, on the other hand, was not an identical match to KFC. Although I greatly enjoyed the extra-crunchy, thick skin of the chicken, it didn’t foster the same memories of the soft yet textured skin that come spilling out of the traditional red-and-white bucket. If I wanted to make this recipe as KFC as possible, I think my beloved paper bag method for flouring would have been more thin and even. In addition, if it had been cooked in a pressure fryer, the time would have been lessened and the texture on the outside would have been a little softer, making the thickness less noticeable.

Now, keeping in mind that my job is to be overly critical of a few pieces of chicken, the masses that wandered into my home — children from the yard, husband from repairing the roof, neighbors from doing neighbor things — everyone was a fan. Every. Last. One. This recipe is a winner! When you give it a go in your own home, make sure to make enough to feed a pack of wolves.

All hail the overabundance of white pepper and 10 other delicious seasonings, as this recipe will be around our home for a while!