It's Sunday morning. You wake up craving a very specific lunch experience: Juicy chicken with a crispy, craggly crust on a soft, buttered bun. Nothing can satisfy your craving like a Chick-fil-A sandwich, but alas...they're closed. Whatever will you do? Make it yourself, of course!
Chick-fil-A's chicken is legendary, but surprisingly easy to make at home. While they use specialized pressure fryers to achieve the perfect fried chicken crust, we did some experimenting and found that the equipment you already have at home--a Dutch oven, wok, or electric fryer--work to create an authentic copycat experience.
Does Chick-fil-A Marinate Their Chicken in Pickle Brine?
This internet rumor is so wide-spread, it must be true! It didn't take us long to debunk the myth, though. There are a lot of great ways to use up leftover pickle juice, and it can be used to tenderize lean meats like poultry. But my professional chef background tells me that a regular salt and sugar brine works just as well at keeping chicken tender and juicy as it cooks.
We confirmed our suspicions when looking through the Chick-fil-A ingredients list. Vinegar is a major component of pickles, and we only found it on the list as a minor ingredient in the bun. The ingredients for the chicken include salt, sugar, and monosodium glutamate (MSG). MSG is a bit of a controversial ingredient, so we'll get into more detail about whether you have to use it in a minute.
In addition to determining the components in the chicken brine, the ingredients list also helped us identify what's in the breading. The dredge base is all-purpose flour along with powdered sugar, salt, paprika, spices, MSG, nonfat milk powder, and baking powder as a leavening ingredient. For the "spices," we used cayenne pepper and black pepper based on our taste test. We didn't add any garlic powder, since the FDA requires garlic to be specifically listed on an ingredients list (and it wasn't).
How Does Chick-fil-A Make Their Chicken Sandwich?
Chick-fil-A uses pressure fryers to make their fried chicken, which helps them cook the chicken much faster than a traditional fryer. Most home cooks don't have one of these gadgets, so we used a Dutch oven to fry our test chicken. It turned out just as crispy as Chick-fil-A's! If you don't have a Dutch oven, you can use a wok, an electric fryer, or a large stockpot.
When it comes to making the breading stick, it's important to start with dry chicken. Pat the brined chicken as dry as possible before dipping it into the egg wash. When you put it in the flour, you'll want to press down really hard to get the flour to adhere. In a video for Southern Living, a Chick-fil-A representative says "this is where the muscle comes in" when she gets to the flour station. "We say that you want to lift your heels off the floor because you want to get even more muscle into this product." She places the chicken into the flour and tops each filet with flour. After pressing down very firmly on the chicken, she flips them over and repeats the process. Then, when she puts them into the pressure fryer, she notes you'll want to put the "rough side down" so the chicken doesn't curl up as it cooks.
Copycat Chick-fil-A Chicken Sandwich Substitutions
As we mentioned earlier, Chick-fil-A uses MSG in both the chicken brine and the breading for their chicken sandwiches. We skipped the addition in the brine for our homemade recipe because we didn't notice a flavor difference, but we do recommend using it in the flour coating. MSG is a naturally-occurring compound found in foods like tomatoes and cheese, but it's also used in powdered or crystallized form as a flavor enhancer in processed foods. It gained a reputation as causing symptoms like headaches and nausea, but the Mayo Clinic reports there has been "no clear proof of a link between MSG and these symptoms." The FDA recognizes MSG as "generally recognized as safe" but requires that it's listed on nutrition labels so those adverse to the product can easily avoid it.
If you have a reaction to MSG, or you don't feel comfortable cooking with it, please feel free to leave it out when you make this copycat recipe. However, we recommend using it if you want to create the most authentic version of Chick-fil-A fried chicken.
READ MORE: The Chick-fil-A Secret Menu Lets You Hack Any Item, Except on Sunday
How to Make the Famous Chick-fil-A Sandwich at Home?Even on Sundays
- 1/2 cup kosher salt plus 1/2 teaspoon, divided
- 1/4 cup white sugar
- 1 quart cold water
- 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
- 1/2 cup whole milk
- 1 large egg
- 1-1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon ground black pepper
- 2 teaspoons paprika
- 1 teaspoon MSG (optional but recommended)
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne powder
- 2 tablespoons nonfat milk powder
- 2 teaspoons Confectioners' sugar
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 2 quarts peanut oil
- 4 hamburger buns
- 8 dill pickle chips
- In a large bowl, combine the 1/2 cup of the salt, white sugar, and water. Whisk until well combined. Cut the chicken breasts horizontally to create two chicken cutlets per breast. Add the cutlets to the bowl of water and brine for 1 hour. You can brine the chicken for up to 6 hours, but it will get saltier the longer it sits in the brine.
- In a medium bowl, combine the milk and egg. Whisk until well combined.
- In a large bowl, combine the flour, black pepper, paprika, MSG (if using), cayenne powder, nonfat milk powder, confectioners' sugar, and baking powder with the remaining 1/2 teaspoon of kosher salt. Add 3 tablespoons of the egg mixture to the flour bowl. Mix well until the mixture resembles wet sand.
- In a large Dutch oven, heat about 3 inches of oil to 350°F. If you're using an electric tabletop fryer, fill the unit to its MAX line.
- Remove the chicken from the brine and pat dry. Coat the chicken on all sides with the spice mixture. Working with one cutlet at a time, add the chicken to the egg mixture and coat on all sides. Transfer the chicken to the flour bowl and press each piece firmly into the flour mixture, ensuring flour adheres to all sides.
- Carefully place the chicken into the hot oil and cook, turning occasionally, until the chicken is browned on all sides. The internal temperature of the chicken should read 165°F. Remove the chicken to a paper-towel lined plate to catch any extra grease.
- While the chicken is cooking, lightly toast the buns in butter until they?re golden brown.
- Place 2 dill pickle chips on the bottom of each bun and layer on the chicken cutlet and the top bun. Serve immediately.