Copycat KFC? Is the leaked recipe the real deal?

Posted on Sep 13 2016 - 2:56pm by Barry C. Parsons

Copycat KFC? Is the “leaked” recipe the real deal? We put the recipe from the now famous Chicago Tribune article to the test and here’s what we found!

Copycat KFC?

Copycat KFC?

Is this copycat KFC or is it actually much closer to the real thing? A few weeks ago, the Chicago Tribune published an article in which they interviewed a nephew of Colonel Harland Sanders, the founder of  the Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise. During the interview, the nephew, Joe Lexington, produced a family photo album that belonged to his aunt, Claudia, who just happened to be the second wife of the Colonel himself. They leaf through he family album and at the end is a copy of her will and attached to that is a hand written recipe with 11 herbs and spices to be added to 2 cups of flour.

Food websites and bloggers went crazy at the news, with numerous articles from practically every major news outlet and food site asking the question,  “Is this the actual secret KFC recipe?” For me the proof is always in the pudding, or in this case the fried chicken, so I set out to try the recipe for myself.

The first small bach I tried was a bit lacklustre because, like many, I mistook the abbreviation “Ts” as handwritten int he recipe to be teaspoons. The lack of depth of flavour revealed that the recipe definitely must have meant tablespoons. One thing I noted from that discovery is that the total volume of herbs and spices is only a tablespoon shy of a whole 8 ounce cup. That’s an incredibly high ratio (2:1) of seasonings to flour in a fried chicken recipe. Since the ingredients are pretty commonplace, I began to suspect that the high volume of herbs and spices was actually the real “secret” to the recipe.

A couple of days later with a fresh chicken at the ready, I whipped up another batch of the coating and heated up my deep fryer. The result this time was much more like the franchise produced version. The depth of flavour was definitely there but lacking punch. KFC readily admits that it does add MSG into the mix so for my 3rd attempt, I decided to try a small amount added to the regular recipe. I decided on 1 tablespoon (15 grams) to add to the mix which is less than a gram per piece of chicken. I found the flour and spice mixture sufficient to coat 2 whole chickens cut into 9 pieces each. 

I’ve since had 8 people taste test this final version and they all agreed that it did indeed come very close to tasting like the chicken from a KFC franchise. Spouse says it tastes more like KFC in the states than in Canada; a distinction she has claimed for years, that the Canadian version is saltier. I have no idea if they tweak the recipe for geographical taste; I actually doubt it but Spouse remains steadfast in her belief.

Either way, I don’t think that KFC has anything to worry about. Fast food fried chicken is ultimately convenience food. Nobody looking for a quick meal is going to forgo the KFC drive-thru to spend an hour or so at home making the alternative homemade version. Still, if your curiosity persists, either the handwritten recipe from the Chicago Tribune article, or my tweak of adding a little MSG to it, will produce a very, very, tasty fried chicken.

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Copycat KFC?

Copycat KFC?

Copycat KFC?

The 11 herbs and Spices blended together.

Copycat KFC?

Dredged in the flour & spice mix, ready for the fryer.

Copycat KFC?
Copycat KFC? Is the leaked recipe the real deal?
Prep Time
20 mins
Cook Time
18 mins
Total Time
38 mins
Copycat KFC? Is the "leaked" recipe the real deal? We put the recipe from the now famous Chicago Tribune article to the test and here's what we found!
Course: Dinner
Author: Barry C. Parsons
  • 2 tsp table salt
  • 1 1/2 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 1/2 tsp dried basil
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 Tbsp celery salt
  • 1 Tbsp black pepper
  • 1 Tbsp dry mustard powder
  • 4 Tbsp paprika
  • 2 Tbsp garlic salt
  • 1 Tbsp ground ginger
  • 3 Tbsp white pepper
  • 1 Tbsp MSG optional
  • 2 cups white flour
  • vegetable oil for deep frying
  1. Mix all of the herbs and spices together first, making sure there are no lumps in the mixture from spices that have clumped in storage.
  2. In a large bowl, add the herb & spice mixture to the flour and mix well until the spices are evenly distributed.
  3. Cut 2 whole chickens into 9 pieces each (2 drumsticks, 2 thighs, 2 wings, 2 side breasts and a centre breast)
  4. Dip each of the pieces in plain water, shake and dredge in the flour and spice mixture. Repeat for all of the remaining pieces. Leave the pieces to sit in the dredge for 10-15 minutes while the oil heats up. This will help the coating stick to the chicken better.
  5. Preheat a vegetable oil filled deep fryer to 340 degrees F
  6. Shake off the excess coating from the pieces and fry for up to 18 minutes for the largest pieces. Wings generally take 8-10 minutes, drumsticks about 12-15 minutes depending on size. I use a meat thermometer to test the pieces and remove them individually when they reach an internal temperature of 180 degrees F.
  7. Place cooked pieces on a rack that has been placed on top of a cookie sheet.
  8. Hold the cooked chicken in a 150 degree oven if you need to cook the chicken in multiple batches. In that Case I always start with the latest pieces and end with the smallest to minimize the time in the oven.
Recipe Notes
The flour and spice mixture I found to be sufficient for 2 whole chickens. If using only one, then spit the mixture in half and store one half in an airtight container until the next time you use it.

The original recipe in the article used fractions of tablespoons as measurement for some ingredients. I have converted those measurements to teaspoons in those cases, for ease of understanding and measuring.

NOTE If using MSG in the flour dredge you can cut the salt in the dredge by half if you like.


9 Comments so far. Feel free to join this conversation.

  1. Barb September 13, 2016 at 10:02 pm - Reply

    I didn’t try the recipe but I will agree with your wife anyway, there are very few foods, fast or otherwise, that are not at least slightly different between Canada and the USA.

  2. Emilie September 14, 2016 at 12:13 am - Reply

    Hello ,

    Just a quick question, what does MSG stand for?

    Thank you

    • Barry C. Parsons September 19, 2016 at 9:49 am - Reply

      Mono Sodium Glutamate. It’s a flavour enhancer.

  3. Irene September 22, 2016 at 8:00 pm - Reply

    Hi Barry, I had a peek at the Chicago Tribune article–thanks for the link. Yes those are T’s (tablespoons) in the handwritten formula. Rub the spices down with a spoon to squish down and release full fragrance before adding flour. But ya gotta superseason the flour for sure.

  4. Kevin October 14, 2016 at 12:53 pm - Reply

    Hi Barry does this recipe have both celery AND garlic salt or is the garlic listed keen garlic powder. Also Chef Tod (forgot his last name( famous on the internet for hacking chain festaraunt recipes) tried to figure out KFCs secret spices) he did get them to reveal just one spice, they gave him pepper! But it’s not just any pepper but ” telecherry” pepper.

    • Barry C. Parsons October 16, 2016 at 11:29 am - Reply

      Your the second person to mention tele cherry pepper but I’ve never seen it. Might have to try that though. The recipe as written is exactly as written in the Chicago Tribune article mentioned. The only thing I changed was to make clear the measurements in tablespoons or an equivalent measurement of a partial tablespoon in teaspoons.

  5. Samy November 2, 2016 at 1:31 pm - Reply

    Found this recipe yesterday and very eager to try it. Unfortunately celery salt and garlic salt aren’t available here. I’ll go for garlic powder I guess but have no idea what to substitute for celery salt.

    Also curious, why didn’t you use buttermilk and egg mixture? That article mentioned using it. But I’m totally okay with using water as it’s less messy πŸ™‚

    Also curious if the chicken was brined or cooked before frying. Even brined for 4-5 hours my fried chicken came out rubbery and not cooked well from the inside while the crust outside was overcooked. I began using cooked chicken. Even if it’s a bit rubbery, at least it’s already cooked and crust came out good too. But I sort want that juicy and moist chicken from inside as well.

    • Barry C. Parsons November 3, 2016 at 2:22 pm - Reply

      Egg changes the crust on the chicken significantly. Not that its a bad thing but KFC just doesn’t use it, nor so they use buttermilk in current operations.
      Perhaps the 4-5 hours brining wasn’t enough. When I do brine I do it overnight. Be careful with temperatures. Cooking too quickly can result in a tougher piece of chicken.

    • Lachlan Huang January 24, 2017 at 2:06 pm - Reply

      I know that it has been months and you may have done it already or it is too late but there are already several recipies online which allow you to make celery salt. Really it just tastes like salty celery so mix dried celery leaves with salt or simply finely diced dried celery leaves and add extra salt to your mix, online recipies will give you a good idea on ratio

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