Ten steps to great fried chicken sandwiches

Hopefully some of these tips and strategies will help elevate your fried chicken sandwiches to the next level.

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Read Time: 8 minutes

The fried chicken sandwich is one of my favorite sandwiches of all time. I make them often and I’ve written about some of the tips I have for frying fantastic chicken sandwiches at home.

If you are only interested in the recipe, there’s a jump-to recipe button above. If you would like to quickly skim the cliff notes for the suggested tips and strategies, expand the “Ten fried chicken sandwich steps” table of contents below and you can choose your own adventure.

Let’s run through my tips and strategies throughout the steps of the fried chicken sandwich process and then we’ll end with the recipe and photos. First, we need to start with our selection of the cut of chicken.

1. thighs or breasts?

I personally prefer the chicken thigh on a sandwich, but I know a lot of folks do not. Thighs are somewhat difficult to overcook, so they don’t typically dry out during the cooking process. A boneless, skinless chicken thigh is often a perfect size to sit on a bun, but a full boneless, skinless chicken breast needs a little work to be ready for sandwiching.

If you’re using breast meat, don’t try to fry it directly from the grocery store package. Each chicken breast is probably too thick and it likely will need butterflying and pounding before frying. Here’s a simple butterflying and pounding chicken breast video that you should watch if you’ve never done it before. Even when you’re done with the butterflying stage, your piece of chicken might be too wide for your bun, so you could cut it into two portions, making two sandwiches.

You can see the crunch from here.
Crispy fried chicken thighs

2. buttermilk and pickle brine

I like to brine chicken pieces prior to frying. Brining in this situation is very similar to marinading but it does have added benefits. The brine helps to flavor AND tenderize the meat. Plus, brining should help keep the chicken moist during the cooking process.

The brine that I use for 2 to 4 pieces of sandwich-sized chicken is 1 cup buttermilk + 1/4 cup pickle juice + several shakes of hot sauce. I try to brine for at least one hour and up to four hours. You could brine overnight in the refrigerator if you want, but I only do it for a few hours.

3. flour and corn flakes

This is some boring cereal, but it works well in the fried chicken crust.

Corn flakes are my choice to pair with all-purpose flour in this fried chicken sandwich. You can go straight flour if you want and skip the corn flakes, but I feel that the flakes give you additional crunch without adding extra thick breading on the outside of the chicken.

The corn flakes are also mostly flavorless, so they don’t change how the breading tastes. And the seasonings that we add later will not contrast with the corn flakes.

The flour and corn flake math that I use works out to 2 parts all-purpose flour for every 1 parts of corn flakes. So, typically for 2 to 4 pieces of chicken, I will use 1 cup of all-purpose flour and 1/2 cup of crushed-up corn flakes.

4. seasoning the flour mixture

The chicken gets a little bit of seasoning from the brine, and you can season it with salt and pepper after it comes out of the brine if you want, but the main place where seasoning happens in this recipe is in the flour/dredge mixture.

The seasoning in the flour dredge that I typically use with 1 cup all-purpose flour and 1/2 cup of crushed corn flakes is below (also in the main recipe a bit further down the page).

  • All-purpose fry dredge seasoning:
    • 1 tablespoon salt
    • 1 teaspoon black pepper
    • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
    • 1 teaspoon onion powder
    • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
    • 1/2 teaspoon paprika

When you look at the numbers, it seems like a lot of salt, but remember that some of the seasonings that go into the flour mixture will not make it to the final fried chicken. The cayenne and black pepper do contribute some spiciness to the final recipe and if you are unhappy with spicy heat, you can reduce or remove those.

Add some corn flakes and crush them up with your hands a little. You don’t want them finely crushed, just a bit smaller.
Once the corn flakes are lightly crushed and combined, add the seasonings. Stir again to combine.
Tip: Add a little of the buttermilk brine to the flour and stir that in. This little bit of moisture helps to clump up some of the flour which should form crunchy bits on the fried chicken.

Before you start the chicken dredging process, I sprinkle a few drops of the brine into the seasoned flour mixture. Mix the drops into the flour and this should help to clump up bits of flour to form potential crunchies that will likely stick to some of the chicken.

5. let the chicken rest

Letting the chicken rest, coated with wet flour for around 10 to 20 minutes prior to frying will help the flour to adhere to the meat better. With this technique, you are less likely to have the crunchy outside of the chicken slide off the meat. You can rest the chicken in the refrigerator if you want or if you think you’ll be resting the meat for 30 minutes or more.

The simple science here has to do with what happens when the flour absorbs liquid. Flour is very dry and takes more time than you might think to become moistened. The end goal is for the flour to absorb some of the buttermilk and moisture from the chicken to become sticky. This helps the coating to adhere better to the surface of the chicken and become a crust.

Don’t skip this resting period unless you just absolutely must. If you do skip this step, there’s a good chance that the fried coating will slip off the chicken during mid-bite.

All these craggy bits in the flour coating will become crunchy during the frying process. Resting helps the flour coating to become a crust that sticks to the chicken.

6. control the temperature

I typically use two different thermometers when frying, but you only need one and it’s fairly cheap. This is the thermometer that I own and it does exactly what you need to fry food in a pan or pot. It’s currently 10 bucks, so there’s not much excuse for not owning one if you are planning to make fried chicken sandwiches.

You want 350 degrees F (175ish C) for this recipe but remember when you add meat to the oil, it’s going to drop the temperature. So, during the frying process, you may need to adjust your stove burner very slightly to keep the temperature steady. Keep an eye on that thermometer and you should be all good.

7. choose your bun

If you’re not a baker – just a fried chicken maker – you will want to purchase some soft buns that aren’t huge. If you are up for some bun baking, keep reading.

For my sandwiches, I went with my potato bun recipe. It’s soft and perfect for sandwiches such as these. The dough is easy to work with, so it’s a good recipe for a beginning baker. The potato in these buns comes from potato flour, but there are plenty of recipes on the internet that use leftover mashed potatoes as ingredients. The benefit of potato flour (or potato starch/mashed potatoes) is adding moisture and softness to the buns.

King Arthur Baking has an informative blog post about how to substitute for potato flour that is well worth a read. They say that one good reason for potato flour in buns is because it absorbs and holds more liquid than regular flour and this will help to keep the bread from becoming stale as quickly as bread without potato flour.

Paint each bun with melted butter when they come out of the oven. This softens the crust and flavors the bun itself with butter.
30 minutes or so later and the shiny butter will dull a bit more, but the butter has done its work.

Below is my updated version for a potato burger bun. Super soft and the use of dry milk also helps with lending tenderness to the bun. If you simply can’t stand the idea of keeping dry milk in your pantry and you have regular milk in the fridge you can still find my original potato bun recipe in the archives.

2 hours and 45 minutes
Super soft potato buns v2

Here's our updated bun recipe that's perfect for your next burger night. Try this updated version that uses potato flour and dry milk for a lighter bun.

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8. sauce it up

I don’t have too much to say about sauces here. Sauces are important to a sandwich. You could go straight mayonnaise for your fried chicken sandwiches and I’m sure some folks would prefer something like barbecue sauce, but for me, the correct choice is my spicy sandwich sauce. If you’re timid about spicy heat, you can pick the milder version down below.

Spicy sandwich sauce

I am a big fan of this sauce on fried chicken sandwiches or even some non-traditional tacos

5 minutes
Spicy sandwich sauce

This spicy spread is perfect for adding a kick to your next sandwich. You can also use it for a flavorful dip for french fries or chips.

Get Recipe

Mild sandwich sauce

This is my burger sauce, but it works here too. There’s dill pickle juice in the sauce which will go well with the other pickle infusions in this chicken sandwich.

5 minutes
Special sandwich sauce

Great substitute for mayonnaise but way more flavorful. Perfect on a burger or even as dipping sauce for fries and onion rings.

Get Recipe

9. add green things

In my opinion, the best choices for vegetables in this sandwich will add texture and acid. Acidity from pickles is used in the chicken brine, so it sort of makes sense to bring pickles into the mix in the sandwich toppings. Plus, if you’re removing some pickle juice for the brine, you need to use up the pickles too!

Most of the time I only put pickles on these sandwiches, but if I have some lettuce in the fridge I will chop or slice some up to add some extra texture. You can add tomatoes too, but 10 months out of the year, it’s hard to find a good tomato, so I typically just skip them.

My tried-and-true pickle recipe is below, but as always you can just buy your favorite brand at the store.

25 minutes
Spicy MSG pickles

Spicy and dilly and savory pickles are great as a snack or in a sandwich. A great addition to any refrigerator. I based this recipe off of this tweet from Joshua Weissman and added extra spice.

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10. reheating

You should try to cook and eat all the fried chicken within an hour or so of frying. That’s when it tastes best. But that’s not always possible. Life is hard.

If you have a leftover fried chicken thigh or breast piece, the most important thing you need to do is make sure it’s cooled to as close to room temperature as you can get it before you package the chicken up and put it in the refrigerator.

The CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention) states that you should not leave meat like chicken out at room temperature for more than 2 hours. And in my experience, you need at least an hour to an hour and a half for a chicken thigh to go from 165 internal temperature to fully cool room temperature.

The problem with immediately putting fried chicken into a container and then directly into the refrigerator is that you’ve gone from frying to steaming and any crispy crust is gone. Forget about crunch. Have you ever taken your sealed container out of the refrigerator and noticed the top and sides of the container were coated with drops of water? That’s condensation that most likely got there because the food was still hot or warm when it went into the fridge.

To reheat a piece of fried chicken, add it to a pre-heated 350 degree F oven for 10 to 15 minutes, flipping the chicken over at the halfway point of the cooking time. Place the chicken on a rack if you can so that it gets heat from all directions in the oven. If you have a convection setting on your oven, use that (with convection or an air-fryer you likely don’t need a full 10 minutes).

Use a rack to cool the chicken right after frying and also use a rack to reheat the chicken if needed. In both instances the cooling rack allows airflow around the chicken crust.
Reheating in an oven on a metal rack will help to make sure that hot air is touching all sides of the chicken.

The recipe

Here’s my favorite fried chicken sandwich recipe. I ate about six of these during the week I was writing this blog post. It was a good week.

Crispy buttermilk fried chicken sandwiches view printable page for this recipe

Do you love super crispy fried chicken sandwich? This buttermilk brined chicken recipe generates crispy fried chicken that produces a perfect chicken sandwich experience.


Ingredients:

Chicken and brine
  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken thighs or breast pieces
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 14 cup dill pickle juice
  • hot sauce
Seasoned flour and corn flake dredge
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 12 cup corn flakes, lightly crushed
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne powder
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 12 teaspoon paprika
  • oil, for frying
Sandwich assembly
  • 4 soft burger buns
  • 4 fried chicken pieces (from above)
  • spicy sandwich sauce (link to recipe)
  • 12 to 16 dill pickle slices
  • iceberg lettuce, shredded

Directions:

Add buttermilk and pickle juice to a bowl (add hot sauce if you like spice). and whisk to combine. Put chicken in a zip-top bag or bowl with a lid. Pour buttermilk marinade over the chicken and store in the fridge for at least an hour or overnight. 

Make seasoned flour by combining flour and corn flakes with all the spices, salt, and pepper in a bowl or pan that is large enough for a piece of chicken to lay flat in the flour. 

With your fingers, crush up the corn flakes just a little. Basically, you want to break them in half, but not crush them into dust.

Add about a tablespoon of the brine into the seasoned flour mixture and stir it around a little. This should help to make little clumped bits of flour that will stick to pieces of chicken to add crunchy parts after frying.

Remove one piece of chicken at a time from the marinade and dredge in the seasoned flour mixture until thoroughly coated on all sides. Place the fully coated chicken onto a piece of parchment or a sheet pan rack to rest. 

Heat 2 inches of peanut or vegetable oil in a skillet to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). 

Fry each piece of chicken for 6 to 7 minutes or until it reaches 165 degrees internal temperature. You'll probably want to fry for 3 minutes on the first side and then flip it to make sure you're getting the level of browning that you want. Continue cooking on the other side. 

After frying, place the finished chicken on a cooling rack over paper towels to drain some of the oil away. 

Sandwich assembly: toast your buns if you desire.

Add a generous amount of sauce to the bottom bun and place a piece of fried chicken on top of the sauce. 

Top the chicken with shredded lettuce and/or pickles (or any other vegetable you desire).

Serve sandwiches and enjoy. 

The spicy sauce and pickles form a flavor-packed combination that works well.
Iceberg lettuce doesn’t taste like much, but it does contribute texture.
The crunchy parts of the chicken that hang outside the bun are the best parts.
The spicy sauce is quite spicy, but you can adjust the heat in the sauce or simply try a different sauce.
I like this sandwich with just pickles or a bit of lettuce for more texture.
The corn flakes really do add extra crunchy and crispy coating to the chicken.
With a little bit of work, you can EASILY make better fried chicken sandwiches than your favorite fast-food restaurants.
I really love the spicy sandwich sauce, but it does dominate the flavors a bit.
With incredible textures and flavors, this fried chicken sandwich recipe has it all covered.

Make more fried chicken sandwiches

Even though I just wrote a bunch of words about the things you need to remember when you make fried chicken sandwiches, it’s actually easy. If you miss one of the steps, you’ll catch it next time. Just do your best and fry up some tasty, crispy, buttermilk fried chicken and get to sandwiching!

Check back next week when I will be making handhelds from leftovers.


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