This Is What Makes KFC's Fried Chicken So Good

KFC fried chicken
KFC fried chicken - KFC / Facebook

KFC is one of the biggest fast-food fried chicken chains in the world. The company has over 25,000 locations across the globe in more than 145 countries. In a rapidly changing world, there's at least one thing that most of us can probably still agree on: Fried chicken is delicious. And there's no doubt that KFC has played a pivotal role in popularizing it.

But what is it that makes KFC so enticing, exactly? Whether it's sold by the bucket or between two buns, there's something undeniably alluring about KFC's fried chicken. Even just the peppery and herbaceous spice of its scent is enough to trigger a serious craving. Yet homemade attempts to accurately recreate KFC's distinctive je ne sais quoi often prove elusive.

As it turns out, there are a lot of reasons for that. Between some special equipment in the kitchen and KFC's secretive blend of 11 herbs and spices, there are a number of interesting forces at play that make its chicken so famously finger lickin' good.

Read more: The Ultimate Ranking Of The Best Fried Chicken Chains

It's Pressure Cooked

Pressure fryer
Pressure fryer - Winston Industries / Facebook

KFC uses pressure fryers to cook the company's fried chicken. Considering that commercial pressure fryers cost thousands of dollars, it's safe to assume that most residential kitchens aren't equipped with this kind of expensive equipment. By cooking its chicken in pressure fryers, KFC ensures that its fried chicken is consistently crispy.

Pressure fryers are basically deep fryers and pressure cookers combined into a single machine. They are completely airtight, trapping all of the steam and pressure inside of the sealed fryer. Pressure fryers allow the exterior of the chicken to get extra crispy, yet at the same time, it also creates meat that's ultra juicy and succulent inside. Pressure fryers can also fry chicken extremely fast, which allows KFC to cook big batches to keep up with customer demand. If you've ever wondered how KFC makes its chicken so spectacularly tender and crispy, it has everything to do with the moisture retention and pressurized seal of the devices the chicken is fried inside of. The combination of blistering hot oil and high pressure softens the connective tissue within the chicken in a special way that makes it extra delicious.

The Chicken Is Hand-Breaded To Maximize Freshness

KFC fried chicken
KFC fried chicken - KFC / Facebook

Many fast food restaurants use food that's completely prepared off-site, but KFC takes the time to bread its fried chicken the old-fashioned way: by hand. Breading chicken by hand requires more time and effort, but the results are worth it. Simply put, when fried chicken is breaded in batches by hand at each location rather than mass-produced by machines in a factory elsewhere, it creates a fresher product for diners. If KFC fried chicken was pre-breaded and totally prepared off-site, it would have to be sealed in bags and then shipped around the world long before it was actually cooked. KFC's approach to hand-breading its chicken provides a fresher flavor.

One great example of this is KFC's chicken nuggets. While many other restaurants just pull them from a frozen bag, KFC actually hand-breads its chicken nuggets. The chicken nuggets are all-white meat and then rolled in the company's famous 11 herbs and spices.

KFC Uses A Special Signature Blend Of Herbs And Spices

Seasoned chicken
Seasoned chicken - Candice Bell/Shutterstock

A big part of what makes KFC's chicken so tasty is its highly coveted blend of herbs and spices. The restaurant's chicken is savory and herbaceous with lingering notes of pepper. The flavoring is simple but it hits all the right notes. The popularity of KFC's fried chicken has left diners wondering about the company's recipe, but the precise ingredients and exact measurements seem nearly impossible to track down.

In 2016, The Chicago Tribune published what it suspected to be an old hand-written note that allegedly listed KFC's secret recipe. Among the ingredients include spices like garlic salt, black pepper, paprika, dried mustard, and celery salt. There have been many attempts by home cooks to replicate KFC's chicken based on this recipe and the results have been astonishingly successful. Though the company denies the accuracy of the allegedly leaked recipe, many say that the mix of spices tastes right on the money. At the end of the day, we aren't entirely sure of KFC's recipe of 11 herbs and spices, since the company has done a good job keeping it a secret. But there's no doubt that KFC's signature spice blend is one of the most crucial components of its famous fried chicken.

Sight And Scent Trigger Our Appetite

Diner smelling fried chicken
Diner smelling fried chicken - mahatmana/Shutterstock

Beyond the ingredients and equipment, there are also some powerful sensory experiences at play. There is a reason that fast food companies create such tempting pictures on the menu since the appearance of food often guides our appetite. Some research suggests that our brains are instinctively wired to be more attracted to vibrant food since it was easier for our ancestors to notice colorful fruits within darkened forests. In other words, the mere sight of food alone can be enough to summon hunger and pleasure.

The same can be said for the smell of food. Studies show that odor stimuli can increase appetite. Considering that KFC's fried chicken has such a distinctively pleasant scent, it's reasonable to presume that catching a whiff of it is enough to trigger our appetite without even seeing it. Believe it or not, the smell of KFC is such a crowd-pleaser that the company has even successfully marketed fried chicken-scented sunscreen and fried-chicken-scented fire logs. In fact, KFC's fire logs were so popular that the first batch completely sold out in only three hours.

The Chicken Is Placed On A Wire Rack After Frying To Keep It Crispy

KFC wire rack
KFC wire rack - KFC / Facebook

One of the ways that KFC keeps its chicken crispy is by letting the excess oil drain off onto a wire rack. This may seem like a somewhat trivial detail, but in reality, it makes all the difference. If fried chicken is placed directly onto a flat, solid surface after frying, the excess oil on the chicken will drip down and form into a pool, causing the bottom of the chicken to get mushy. To make matters worse, the steam from the chicken will also cause some squishiness, since there is no ventilation on the bottom. The solution? Drying freshly fried chicken on a wire rack.

A wire rack provides a surface for the fried chicken to rest on, but the wires also allow air to circulate underneath. The spaces between the wires provide some room for the steam to disperse, which prevents the bottom of the chicken from getting soggy. The wire rack also allows any excess oil to drip off of the chicken, instead of just collecting into a stagnant puddle that's in contact with the chicken. The wire rack's simple design works wonders in this process and is an indispensable tool for making excellent fried chicken.

Fried Chicken Balances Different Flavors

Piles of spices
Piles of spices - ProleR/Shutterstock

When you think about it, fried chicken captures a lot of different flavors in a single meal. Typically flavored with common seasonings that include salt, pepper, garlic powder, and paprika, fried chicken has a savory flavor profile that delivers a wallop of umami. At the same time, KFC's fried chicken is often paired with different flavors that provide a tasty contrast to its inherent saltiness. Honey BBQ fried chicken, for example, delivers a slightly smoky yet sweet punch that complements the savoriness of KFC's fried chicken.

Because fried chicken dishes often provide so many various flavors, our taste buds tend to find it ultra-satisfying in a way that many other menu items can't quite compete with. Combine that with the fact that fried chicken also offers textural complexity — moving from crispy and crunchy in one bite to juicy and tender in the next — fried chicken hits the spot in numerous ways. As one of the biggest fast food chains on the scene, KFC has mastered the art of flavor balance, offering a wide range of fried chicken items over the years.

KFC Carefully Inspects Each Piece Of Chicken

Raw chicken tenders on digital scale
Raw chicken tenders on digital scale - Pornpimon Ainkaew/Shutterstock

To help regulate quality, KFC takes the time to inspect all of its chicken from multiple angles. First, the chicken is purchased from American farms where it is USDA-inspected. The Food Safety and Inspection Service within the US Department of Agriculture has a number of inspection directives, including the evaluation of working conditions and the sanitation procedures of processing operations. Customers should be pleased to know that KFC's chicken is free of added hormones and steroids and raised without antibiotics.

Once the chicken is delivered to KFC's kitchens, the chicken is once again inspected by workers. Between the chicken being inspected at farms followed by each piece being inspected by workers at each of KFC's restaurants, it's safe to say that KFC's chicken undergoes a thorough inspection process. This ensures that the company is delivering a level of quality and consistency that customers can depend on. After the chicken has been inspected, only then do the cooks begin the process of cooking it for diners.

It's Seasoned With Flavor Enhancers

MSG seasoning
MSG seasoning - NIKCOA/Shutterstock

According to the company's website, much of KFC's menu contains MSG (also known as monosodium glutamate). Based on the company's search bar that filters menu items to highlight food with specific allergens, MSG is in a surprising number of dishes. Some of these dishes include Original Recipe chicken, Spicy Crispy chicken, Kentucky Fried Nuggets, mashed potatoes, and Secret Recipe Fries — just to name a few.

Why does KFC feature MSG in so many menu items? The answer is simple. MSG is a major flavor enhancer. It's basically a concentrated form of salt that easily triggers salivation. MSG is often contained in a lot of fast food and processed foods. Even though MSG has come under fire for its alleged impact on health, MSG is generally recognized as safe according to the FDA. Because MSG deepens flavors, it makes KFC's fried chicken and many other menu items even more irresistible. The next time you're savoring a crispy piece of KFC's fried chicken, there's a good chance that MSG has a little something to do with it.

Dipping Sauces Intensify Its Taste

KFC chicken dipping into Honey BBQ sauce
KFC chicken dipping into Honey BBQ sauce - KFC / Facebook

There's no doubt that KFC's fried chicken is flavorful all on its own. At the same time, using some of the restaurant's dipping sauces can take it to the next level. KFC caters to various palates by offering diners a handful of different sauces to choose from.

Some of KFC's sauces include its signature KFC Sauce, which is tangy and sweet yet smoky and creamy. Other choices include Buffalo Ranch, Honey Mustard, Classic Ranch, and Honey BBQ. All of these sauces bring a unique flavor to the table that helps intensify the taste of the company's famous fried chicken. Customers who prefer their fried chicken with a sweeter sauce should opt for KFC Sauce, Honey BBQ, or Honey Mustard. Diners looking for a little heat can opt for the Buffalo Ranch, which combines a little cayenne pepper with the tanginess of ranch. Of course, customers who love the familiar taste of ranch dressing should satisfy their craving with KFC's Classic Ranch. By offering multiple dipping sauces for its fried chicken, KFC kicks up the flavor.

The Chicken Is Thoroughly Breaded

KFC chicken being breaded
KFC chicken being breaded - KFC / Facebook

Good fried chicken needs to be well-breaded. If there are any spots on the chicken that aren't coated in breading, that bare spot of raw chicken will be directly exposed to hot oil, cooking it faster and potentially drying it out. A big part of the joy of eating fried chicken is undoubtedly biting into the crispiness of a crunchy exterior — and that all starts with the breading.

Employees are trained to thoroughly combine KFC's flour and seasoning blend until it's evenly distributed. The chicken is then submerged into cold water, which gives KFC's breading some liquid to cling to. The chicken is then left to drip off excess water for a few seconds, and then it's tossed into the seasoned flour mix. Workers are taught to toss the chicken exactly seven times in the seasoning blend. This ensures that all sides of the chicken is coated in breading, which ends up making the chicken extra delicious after being fried to perfection.

Read the original article on Daily Meal.