KFC secret recipe? (Buttermilk Fried Chicken with 11 herbs and spices)

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KFC "secret recipe" chicken (Buttermilk fried chicken)

Last month, I read a Chicago Tribune article that potentially revealed the KFC secret recipe of “11 herbs and spices”.  A reporter sat down for an interview with the nephew of KFC’s “the Colonel”, and was shown a handwritten paper scrap in a family album that was most likely (by the nephew’s admission) the original spice mixture for their world famous fried chicken!  Is it the real recipe?  I don’t know – but the taste is very similar, and I have a feeling it’s legit.

What does remain secret, however, is the KFC method of cooking and preparing the chicken.  I’m pretty sure that KFC restaurants use pressure fryers to develop the texture of the coating on the fried skin – cooking at home, most of us aren’t able to do this.  So keep in mind this is a home cook’s version of KFC, so the results won’t be exactly comparable since we aren’t using the same cooking method.  I think it’s similar enough, though, that your family will be happy… and this is certainly a very good fried chicken recipe, even if the KFC corporation denies that it is correct.

Joe Ledington, the nephew of H. D. Sanders (a.k.a. “the Colonel”), swears that it is the white pepper power that gives the chicken it’s special flavor.  I use white pepper powder all the time… I buy it in bulk at 99 Ranch (Chinese supermarket) – and it’s quite inexpensive if you purchase it there.  At the regular market, white pepper can be pricey… so check out your local Asian supermarket if you can for a better deal on spices (ground ginger is much cheaper at the Asian market too!).

**Just FYI, 1 Tablespoon (T.) = 3 teaspoons (tsp.).  So if you see the original recipe scrap paper to the right… he lists the measurements all in Tablespoons.  I did the math for  you to convert to teaspoons to make the precise measurements easier… so if you are wondering why the version I have typed below is different, that’s why.   And… I added the MSG (a.k.a. ajinomoto).  I think the MSG helps – if you don’t want to use it, you can omit.

Buttermilk Fried Chicken (KFC chicken):

KFC "secret recipe" (Chicago Tribune reporter photographed a handwritten recipe from the family scrapbook of Joe Ledington, the nephew of "the Colonel" Harland David Sanders)

  • 4-5 pounds chicken pieces
  • 2 c. buttermilk
  • 1 T. salt
  • canola or vegetable oil (about 1″ high in pot)

Seasoned flour (KFC “Secret recipe”):

  • 2 tsp. salt
  • 1 1/2 tsp. thyme
  • 1 1/2 tsp. basil
  • 1 tsp. oregano
  • 1 T. celery salt
  • 1 T. black pepper
  • 1 T. dried mustard
  • 4 T. paprika
  • 2 T. garlic salt
  • 1 T. ground ginger
  • 3 T. white pepper
  • 2 c. flour (variation: try self-rising flour)
  • 2 tsp. MSG/ajinomoto (optional, Mika’s addition)

1.  Place your chicken pieces in a large bowl, cover with about 2 c. buttermilk + 1 T. salt. (I used a “picnic pack” of dark meat: 6 drumsticks + 6 thighs, for less than $4.)  Toss to coat.  Allow the mixture to marinate for about 1 hour at room temperature.  (If you can marinate the chicken overnight in the refrigerator you will have better results – just allow the chicken to rest at room temperature for about an hour before proceeding to the next step the following day.)

2.  Mix the 11 herbs and “spices” (Is salt a spice?) in a small bowl.  It seems like a lot of spices (Yes, the “T.” stands for a tablespoon, “tsp.” stands for teaspoon!), but the amount listed is correct.

Other versions of the KFC recipe include MSG (a.k.a. Ajinomoto)… I added 2 tsp. of MSG to my spice mixture.

Yes, MSG is safe.  No, I don’t want to debate this with anyone.  If you don’t want to use MSG, then don’t, I don’t care – it’s your chicken, so do what you want.  Japanese people eat MSG every day with no problems, and the Japanese are among the world’s most healthiest people and longest lived.  Many people don’t realize that MSG is a naturally occurring substance found in many common foods that people eat all the time without problems: Parmesan cheese, tomatoes, mushrooms, seaweed…  Chemically, MSG is just the salt of glutamic acid.  Glutamic acid is a key amino acid (one of the building blocks of protein) produced by your body (and in many organisms).  Again, if you don’t want to use MSG, then don’t.  But I think it’s fine, so i use it.  

3.  Add the flour to the herb mixture, combine until the spices are evenly mixed into the flour.  If you have it, self-rising flour (while not called for in the original recipe) is great to use as it creates a lighter, fluffier coating.

4.  Shake the chicken pieces to remove excess buttermilk, then immediately coat in the seasoned flour mixture.  Continue the coating process until all of your chicken pieces are evenly coated with no bare spots.

5.  Allow the coated pieces of chicken to sit on a wire rack for about 20 minutes so that the coating sets.

6.  Meanwhile, pour about 1 inch of canola or vegetable oil into the bottom of a dutch oven.  (I like to use my Lodge cast iron dutch oven for frying – the thickness of the iron helps keep the frying temperature more steady.)  Clip a candy thermometer to the side, and heat the oil to about 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  ***350 degrees is your initial temperature, but most of your cooking will be done between 300 and 325 degrees***

7.  You will need to work in batches, and take care not to overcrowd the pan.  (I did three batches to cook all 12 pieces of chicken).  Carefully lower about 3-4 pieces of chicken (depending on the size) into the hot oil.  The oil temperature will drop after adding the chicken.  Adjust the heat to keep the temperature steady between 300 degrees and 325 degrees.  Flip the chicken pieces over halfway through cooking – try not to overly handle the chicken otherwise the coating may break and fall off.  Take care to watch the temperature of the thermometer – if the oil is too hot, the outside of your chicken will burn while leaving the inside undercooked!

8.  Remove the chicken to drain when fully cooked to a wire rack over a baking sheet (will take anywhere from 15 – 25 minutes depending on the size and initial temperature of your chicken pieces).  To be sure your chicken is cooked (without cutting into a piece), use a meat thermometer and check that the internal temperature is 165 degrees Fahrenheit.  To hold your chicken warm, you can place the wire rack in a 200 degree Fahrenheit oven.  Enjoy!


  1. The best recipes with buttermilk I have found ever. Thanks for sharing an awesome content. I really love that.



    • Mika Mika says:

      Thanks for your feedback!

  2. tom leyman says:

    Splendid and very tasty. Leaving the batter to set is very effective. Not something I’d tried before. Thank you!

  3. Claudia Hesner says:

    Obrigada por compartilhar essa maravilhosa receita !