Fried chicken, also known as Southern fried chicken, is a dish consisting of chicken pieces that have been coated with seasoned flour or batter and pan-fried, deep fried, pressure fried, or air fried. The breading adds a crisp coating or crust to the exterior of the chicken while retaining juices in the meat. Broiler chickens are most commonly used.

The first dish known to have been deep fried was fritters, which were popular in the European Middle Ages. However, the Scottish were the first Europeans to deep fry their chicken in fat (though without seasoning). Meanwhile, many West African peoples had traditions of seasoned fried chicken (though battering and cooking the chicken in palm oil). Scottish frying techniques and West African seasoning techniques were combined by enslaved Africans and African Americans in the American South.

The American English expression “fried chicken” was first recorded in the 1830s, and frequently appears in American cookbooks of the 1860s and 1870s.[1] The origin of fried chicken in the southern states of America has been traced to precedents in Scottish[2][3][4] and West African cuisine.[5][6][7][8] Scottish fried chicken was cooked in fat, but unseasoned;[2][4] while West African fried chicken was seasoned,[2][3][8] but battered[6][9] and cooked in palm oil.[5] Scottish frying techniques and African seasoning techniques were used in the American South by enslaved Africans.[2][3][4][8]

Fried chicken provided some means of an independent economy for enslaved and segregated African-American women, who became noted sellers of poultry (live or cooked) as early as the 1730s.[10] Because of the expensive nature of the ingredients, it was, despite popular belief, a rare dish in the African-American community[5] reserved (as in Africa) for special occasions.[9][7][8] When it was introduced to the American South, fried chicken became a common staple. Later, as the slave trade led to Africans being brought to work on southern plantations, the enslaved people who became cooks incorporated seasonings and spices that were absent in traditional Scottish cuisine, enriching the flavor.[11] Since most enslaved people were unable to raise expensive meats, but were generally allowed to keep chickens, frying chicken on special occasions continued in the African American communities of the South, especially in the periods of segregation that closed off most restaurants to the black population.[12]

American-style fried chicken gradually passed into everyday use as a general Southern dish, especially after the abolition of slavery, and its popularity spread. Since fried chicken traveled well in hot weather before refrigeration was commonplace and industry growth reduced its cost, it gained further favor across the South. Fried chicken continues to be among this region’s top choices for “Sunday dinner”. Holidays such as Independence Day and other gatherings often feature this dish.[13] During the 20th century, chain restaurants focused on fried chicken began among the boom in the fast food industry. Brands such as Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) and Popeyes expanded in the United States and across the world.

Before the industrialization of chicken production and the creation of broiler breeds of chicken, only young spring chickens (pullets or cockerels) would be suitable for the higher heat and relatively fast cooking time of frying making fried chicken a luxury of spring and summer. Older, tougher birds require longer cooking times at lower temperatures. To compensate for this, sometimes tougher birds are simmered till tender, allowed to cool and dry, and then fried.[11]

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