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KFC-Copycat Baked Chicken Tenders

Get Your KFC Fix With This No-Guilt Baked Chicken Tender Recipe

The following post was originally featured on Recipe Tin Eats, which is part of POPSUGAR Select Food.

This is my KFC copycat recipe. Made in the oven, tastes like KFC, nice and crunchy but with just a fraction of the calories!

Confession: I love KFC. I have it maybe three times a year. I don't crave it regularly (thankfully) but I'd say every few months, I have the urge to splurge. And my bottom hates me for it.

I do the drive through because I'm too ashamed to risk being seen inside KFC. And though I savor every bite while I'm consuming it, I always regret it afterwards. Always. It's heavy and excessively greasy and I don't feel great.

And yet, there's a repeat performance every few months.

I contemplated about the ridiculousness of craving something that makes me feel not-so-crash-hot afterwards. Then I realized — well, it's like champers. SO much fun, so enjoyable while it's being consumed. But the next morning? Ugh. Not so fun! (Unless you're drinking real French champagne, in which case, you'll be headache free! Did you know that? It's true!!)

I've been on a mission to make the "best" oven baked KFC since early this year. I've had around 10 goes, using recipes I've found online and trying my own variations.

Here's the thing that I've come to accept. You will never, ever be able to make "fried chicken" in the oven that tastes as good as chicken that's been deep fried. You can make truly-crispy oven-baked wings, but it only works really well with wings using a very unique technique discovered by America's Test Kitchen. (Have you tried my truly-crispy baked buffalo wings and truly crispy baked wings with honey garlic sauce?)

But to make chicken with the proper thick, craggy crust that you get with KFC and Southern fried chicken, you need to . . . well, fry it. In oil. Lots of it. There needs to be enough oil so the chicken floats in it, not just a thin layer in a skillet.

So I have conceded defeat.

BUT! There's a silver lining to every cloud! Just because an exact KFC copycat can't be made in the oven, it doesn't mean that you can't make something similar!

And that's what I have here for you today. This chicken really does taste like KFC! It's a mash up of two genius recipes I discovered by 2 very talented bloggers.

  1. The "11 secret herbs and spices" from the homemade KFC recipe by Jo from Every Nook and Cranny. I tried a whole bunch of spice mixes and I think hers is the closest!
  2. The coating mixture from Carlsbad Cravings' best baked "fried" chicken. I think Jen's nailed the coating ratios of flour, panko and cornmeal (polenta / yellow corn). It's the crunchiest I have tried!

So I made a mash up of these 2 recipes with a few tweaks of my own. You know me. I have "my way" of doing things.

I hope you love it! I am seriously obsessed with this and was VERY happy making it over and over and over again to get it "right" before I shared it with you!

PS — I served these with my go to honey mustard dipping sauce. Recipe also below!

PPS — One more look at how crunchy they are? YES!

KFC Oven Baked "Fried" Chicken Tenders

KFC Oven Baked "Fried" Chicken Tenders

Notes

  • Marinating makes the chicken extra juicy but if you don't have time to marinate, this is still worth making!
  • Celery salt is common in America but not so well known in Australia. But you can find it in the herb section of Coles and Woolworths! It is also easy to make your own — just bake celery leaves until just dried (not burnt), crumble and combine equal amounts of the celery leaf dust and salt in a jar. If you can't find celery salt, just substitute with 3/4 tablespoon ordinary salt.
  • You can substitute with chicken breast cut into chicken tenderloin size strips. It will also work with small boneless thigh fillets — around 100 grams / 3 1/2 ounces each — or any other cut of chicken that will cook in 20 to 25 minutes.
  • If you don't have time to marinate, use 1 to 2 eggs instead (just enough to coat all the chicken). Add 1 tablespoon of the spice mix, dredge the chicken in the egg mixture, then drain and follow the recipe directions.
  • To make honey mustard dipping sauce: whisk together equal amounts of Dijon mustard, mayonnaise and honey, plus salt and pepper to taste.
  • Cornmeal are small, fine yellow grains, also known as yellow corn. It's also sold as "polenta" at supermarkets though that is not technically correct because polenta is actually a dish that cornmeal is used to make! The cornmeal adds extra crunch to the coating but if you can't find it, then it's ok to skip it, it's still quite crunchy.
  • I find that using a bit of oil (instead of all butter) stops the butter from browning and burning which can sometimes happen, depending on the strength of your oven.
  • This does not have the wrinkly, thick, craggy coating like deep fried KFC and southern fried chicken. To achieve that, you need to deep fry or bake in loads of oil! But the crust of this is pretty close! It's crunchy and really does taste just like KFC!
  • Honey Mustard Dipping sauce — whisk together equal amounts of Dijon mustard, mayonnaise and honey, plus salt and pepper to taste.

KFC-Copycat Baked Chicken Tenders

Ingredients

  1. KFC spice mix:
  2. 1/2 teaspoon salt
  3. 1 tablespoon celery salt
  4. 2 teaspoons garlic powder
  5. 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  6. 1/2 teaspoon dried basil
  7. 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  8. 1/2 tablespoon coarsely ground black pepper
  9. 1 tablespoon mustard powder
  10. 2 tablespoons paprika (not smoked, use sweet or plain)
  11. 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  12. 1 teaspoon ground chili (optional — for KFC "Zinger" flavor!)
  1. For the chicken:
  2. 1.2-1.4 pounds / 600-700 grams chicken tenderloin (10-12 pieces)
  3. 1 cup buttermilk OR 1/3 cup plain yogurt plus 2/3 cup milk
  4. 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  5. 1 tablespoon vegetable or canola oil
  6. 1 cup flour
  7. 1 cup panko breadcrumbs
  8. 1/4 cup cornmeal
  9. Oil spray

Directions

  1. Combine the spice mix ingredients in a bowl.
  2. Place 1 tablespoon of the spice mix in a ziplock bag with the chicken and buttermilk. Set aside to marinate for at least 2 hours, preferably 3, but ideally overnight.
  3. To cook: Preheat oven to 400°F/200°C.
  4. Place the butter and oil on a large rimmed baking tray. Place in the oven for a few minutes until the butter is just melted. Remove and tip the tray to spread the oil and butter all over.
  5. Combine the remaining spice mix, flour, panko, and cornmeal in a bowl and mix. Place half in a large ziplock bag. Drain the chicken of excess marinade using a colander. Transfer half the chicken into the ziplock bag, seal in air so it is puffed like a balloon, then shake to coat the chicken in the seasoning. Press through the bag so the coating is firmly stuck onto the chicken. Place the chicken onto the baking tray. Place the remaining coating into the ziplock bag and repeat with remaining chicken.
  6. Spray the top with oil and place in the oven. Bake for 12 minutes, then turn, spray and bake for a further 8 to 10 minutes or until golden. Don't bake more than 25 minutes, otherwise the chicken will dry out!
  7. Serve with your favorite dipping sauce. I used honey mustard sauce.
Image Source: Recipe Tin Eats
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