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CW's First Theory Of Supermarket Fried Chicken:

  • c

This was stimulated by a discussion of supermarket rotisserie chicken on the L.A. board:

Chino Wayne's First Theory Of Supermarket Chicken goes like this:

"Prepared chicken, particularly fried chicken as rendered by the supermarket has the potential to exceed in flavor and overall quality the best franchised fried chicken by an order of magnitude similar to the differences in points on the Richter Scale."

This theory is based upon field work performed in the mid-1980's at the Von's in Palms, (Los Angeles), California and more recently at the Ralphs Service Deli in Chino Hills, California. Upon repeated scientific testing, including making the author and various members of the author's family research subjects, this theory was formulated and proven.

The scientific principals behind why supermarket fried chicken is markedly better than franchise fried chicken are two-fold: 1) Superior raw materials, 2) small batch production. Invariably franchise fried chicken purveyors utilize portion controlled, precisely weighed and measured chicken components that are engineered to fit 12 pieces in a box smaller than a shoe box. Whereas supermarkets use the same chicken as those plump pieces found under shrink wrap, nestled in foam containers in the meat department, chicken pieces that have been selected for their plumpy, well fed eye appeal. As the franchise fried chicken purveyors' goal is maximum output during peak noon time and evening dining hours, they will produce large batches of "product" using multiple broasters, running continuously (and only Harlan Sanders and Dave Thomas know what the batter is made out of, and they are both dead). In the boutique fried chicken operation of a supermarket, generally a few small batches of chicken are turned out of a single broaster during a given business day, by Service Deli staff who have evolved as fine practioners of the art of working slow and methodical.

The above differences, however, do not guarantee a hungry fried chicken fancier a better experience at the supermarket unless the following strategy for fried chicken acquisition is employed:

1. Scout out the Service Deli at different times of day, note at what times there is typically a lot of chicken under the heat lamp in the hot food case, and what times the chicken supply diminishes. On these scouting trips make small, but tactical purhases of various sliced meats or cheeses that might appeal to you, and use these opportunities to chat with and become friendly with the Service Deli staff.

2. Arrive at the Service Deli counter at a time when experience has shown there will be little fried chicken left in the hot case. Insure that you arrive at the Service Deli before you have done any of your other food shopping.

3. If another supermarket patron arrives at the Service Deli at about the same time as you, and they are interested in acquiring fried chicken, allow them to be helped first. By all means encourage them to have their order filled before yours, even if it results in their acquiring most if not all of the remaining fried chicken that has been sitting under the heat lamp for the last 120 minutes.

4. When your turn comes, order at least 16 pieces, if not more, of fried chicken. It usually helps to order some extras of say legs and breasts, to round out the order to about 24 pieces. (Invariably this quantity of fried chicken will cost considerably less at the supermarket than at the franchise fried chicken joint.) Most likely the Service Deli staff member will inform you that there will be a 15 or 20 minute wait, because they are going to have to fry a new batch of chicken. If you hear those words, you have struck the Motherlode! Immediately respond with, "Of course I'll do some shopping and stop by here for the chicken when it is ready, take your time".

This stratgey will result in the Service Deli staff member custom cooking your fried chicken, and even if you don't get back to the Service Deli counter immediately after the chicken has come out of the broaster, they will have your juicy, plump, flavoful fried chicken packaged, reserved and ready for you, and the next schmoe who comes along looking for fried chicken will get what ever leavings you did not want, likely dried out under the heat lamps.


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  1. so this assessment does not include rotisserie chicken, right? just wondering, since the first line mentions rotisserie, then fried thereafter.

    8 Replies
    1. re: banshee

      I have not found a supermarket baked chicken I liked, they seem salty/weirdly flavored (chemicals?) to me.

      1. re: Niki

        Allow me to chime in here: yes, the commercially-prepared rotisserie chickens are ALL made using strange proprietary seasoning mixtures that probably contain ingredients unknown to the ordinary culinary world or, perhaps, even nature itself. If you find this distasteful, don't ever buy or eat a supermarket bird. If on the other hand the flavor simply reminds you of your lost youth, and you actually enjoy it, chow down.

        First, last and only principle of True Chowishness: do you find it yummy?

        1. re: Will Owen

          "First, last and only principle of True Chowishness: do you find it yummy?"


          Link: http://www.indefatigable-indolence.org

          1. re: Chino Wayne

            your post is awesome. funny AND scientific. thank you!

          2. re: Will Owen

            Some just use a discount lawry's seasoning, which contain nothing that unusual, except "natural seasonings" which we all know can mean any variety of things.


          3. re: Niki

            Yeah they taste of BBQ chip flavouring and MSG to me too. Got nothing against MSG per se, and I do buy these chickens for convenience every few months, but I wish they didn't taste so chemically.

            1. re: julesrules

              If you have a Whole Foods near(ish) you, their rotisserie chicken is Bell & Evans and natural flavorings, though it's a bit salty, but good!!

          4. re: banshee

            No, the research team has not done sufficient field work with the rotisserie kind (there is a discussion on the L.A. board about supermarket rotisserie chicken that spawned this post, I've linked to it for you.)

            Link: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

          5. Great and sensible advice. Thanks!

            1. Pretty funny!
              I never thought about this before. I think KFC is vile. Popeye's spicy (haven't tried the reg.)is pretty good fried chicken.
              One thing: you prefer big chickens but I would insist small birds are much more tender, delicate, flavorful.
              Huge chicken pieces seem weirdly mutant to me.
              Of course you have to be careful not to over-cook.
              One question on your method: have you ever tried to not sneak around (which seems to be time wasted that really IS time wasted cause you didn't enjoy it - I looked at your link)and just come straight out and ask:"I want to buy 24 pieces, could you cook it to order for me. I'll wait. Thanks!"

              5 Replies
              1. re: Niki

                Despite the opinion of some vaunted 'hounds, Popeye's is pretty vile stuff. But there is a much better supermarket alternative, just pick up a bottle of Tabasco while doing your shopping as your chicken is cooking.

                (Oh and in terms of sneaking around, and not wasting time efficiently, I don't hang out at the supermarket these days, I order from their web site and have it delivered right in to my kitchen. So when a have a need for fried chicken, I dispatch a subordinate family member to the store.)

                Link: http://www.indefatigable-indolence.org

                1. re: Chino Wayne

                  Hmmm. Not that Popeye's Spicy Fried Chicken is the best I've ever had, but I enjoy it quite a lot and it's better than any of the several supermarket birds I've ever had, fresh or not. But, whatever floats your boat...

                  1. re: Chino Wayne

                    I don't think that regular chicken with tabasco sauce would replicate Popeye's. The result would be too vinegary. You'd need that cayenne rub under the skin before cooking.

                    1. re: Chino Wayne

                      Well, despite the opinions of some vaunted hounds, Popeye's is better than any other national fried chicken chain. If you know a better one, I'd love to hear about it.

                      I'm a bit confused, are you saying you're frying your own chix these days (delivery of raw?) and recommending Tabasco as a way to achieve the Popeye's spicy type taste? If so, let me give you a good tip - Sraracha hot sauce. You see the distinctive squeeze bottle with the rooster logo on a lot of cooking shows. Instead of the (annoying/overwhelming) Tabasco vinegar taste, Sraracha has a mild hint of garlic.

                      One last thing, you never responded to my idea of saving valuable wastable time for more pleasant forms of wastage, and asking the supermarket clerk to fry you up the 24 pieces to order (politely with a smile). You said you send a "subordinate family member" to do the un-enjoyable lurking around waiting for a fresh batch. I'll let that lay - just let me add that if my husband told me to go to the supermarket and lurk around waiting for the chix to sell out, I'd tell him where to go. ;)

                      Chino Wayne, another poster lauds you as his favorite chowhound correspondent. Since you like to write, and you say you make your own fried chicken at home, would you please post your own fried chicken recipe (with any cooking tips)to the home cooking board?

                      1. re: Niki

                        Well the gauntlet has been thrown down, and I feel I must respond:

                        1. While, in my opinion, based upon far too frequent field work, Popeye's is vile, as any good 'hound would intuit, you work with what is available, and if that fried chicken jones is upon you, and of all of the franchised choices that may be within striking distance, Popeye's is the stand-out, then you work with what you can get. A 'hound never lets an opportunity, even a remote one (given my opinion of Popeye's) for deliciousness be overlooked.

                        2. No, I am not frying my own chicken these days, unfortunately for my tastebuds, but fortunately for the rest of my body, I am on the modified liquid diet currently. I am allowed one small, sensible meal a day, and the protein consists of either skinless (marinated and sauteed or broiled) chicken breast, roasted turkey breast or baked fish. However, your recommendation of the Siraracha sauce does indicate your ingrained 'houndliness, as that is one among the vast inventory of hot sauces that reside within my kitchen pantry.

                        3. Your assumption that by dispatching a subordinate family member to do my bidding at the supermarket that I am commanding the Better Half is incorrect. Never ASSUME. The subordinate of course will be one of the offspring, that continue to enjoy a blissful, rent free existence in the CW abode.

                        4. In terms of a fried chicken recipe, please see item 2 above. Sometime in the very distant future, when all goals relative to the liquid diet are achieved, I will return to my fried chicken preparation research. Alas, as Thomas Edison learned, this is anticipated to be a long and arduous process, as already proven by my 40 years of unsatisfactory experimental results. When I do make the eventual break through, rest assured that I will share The Knowledge with my bretheren 'hounds on the Home Cooking board. If you do lurk on the Home Cooking board, you will occasionally see some tips from me in regard to some low fat/low calorie (in relative terms) dishes that I may be currently experimenting with.

                        May your quest for delicious fried chicken be never ending, as there is always the promise of a new taste experience, just around the corner for all intrepid 'hounds.

                        Link: http://www.indefatigable-indolence.org

                  2. You make me recall the short time that Albertson's spent in Des Moines. Their 8 piece for 3.99 was the deal of the century. I went there strictly for the chicken. I got so familiar with the woman behind the counter that she would throw in a fresh batch when I walked in the door and yell "about 15" at me. I never had to get the stuff under the lamps. She also didn't make me stick to the 2 legs, thighs, wings and breast. I always got 8 thighs.
                    It was some of the best fried chicken I ever had. I wish their business model wouldn't have sucked so bad.
                    I have experienced chicken paradise. I miss her and her chicken.
                    So I would add to CW's advice, make friends with the people behind the counter!

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: Bobfrmia

                      CW's First Law Of Eating Good:

                      "ALWAYS make friends with and treat those who prepare or bring you food as if they are loving family members."

                      (Do not hesitate to give them birthday and Christmas gifts, or your kid sister, if necessary. A well timed gift of a bottle of booze also is very effective.)

                      Link: http://www.indefatigable-indolence.org

                    2. i haven't resorted to chain chicken since i discovered the grocery deli has it. not as good as my wife's southern home cookin', but vastly superior to anything found at (fill in the name of any chain).

                      unfortunately, i never have call to order that much chicken, but i have figured out when they prepare it, and take early lunches to get the good stuff when i get the craving.

                      it's pretty amazing how well (and how cheaply) you can feed yourself at the local grocer's deli. it's rather hit-or-miss (mainly from store to store), but when good, they can rival some of the better restaurants.

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: mark

                        Always order more fried chicken than you plan to eat. It can only improve over time in the refrigerator. If the chicken was not dried out in the first place, it ought to mature well over the next two days. Make sure the last piece is a leg, and have it for breakfast.

                        1. re: Shep

                          Shep - i agree with your theory. Here's mine. Save a breast, slice into thin pieces, crispy skin must be included. Place atop thickly mayoed bread. A slice of tomato is nice too. Stuff face.

                          1. re: bryan

                            Right on to that. Skin is crucial.

                            "At the end of the first day, we ate the breast.

                            At the beginning of the second day, we ate the leg."

                      2. Chino Wayne,
                        Thank you for your useful and entertaining treatise on fried chicken.

                        1. The only problem I have with your treatise is that most supermarkets merely refry frozen fried chicken. So your "freshness" and "superior" ingredients argument goes out the window.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: J Dizzle

                            Interesting. I've never seen that done before. Not even at Walmart Supercenter.

                            1. re: J Dizzle

                              No in this neck of the woods they don't, that is disgusting.

                              Link: http://www.indefatigable-indolence.org

                            2. Obviously a well considered real houndish approach. While I tend not to do store fried chicken I see there is a way to get out with quality product and consequently I will take your advice and do the dance you advise. Thanks

                              1. Chino- I don't know of a single supermarket in the NY City suburbs area / Westchester County with the exception of Whole Foods, that doesn't use frozen, pre-made chicken, for their fried chicken. After reading your post I asked my local Food Emporium, Walbaums, Pathmark, Shoprite, Shop n Save, etc. if they make their fried chicken from scratch. All of them just laughed.

                                aka The Rogue

                                Link: http://www.jmforester.com

                                3 Replies
                                1. re: JMF

                                  I admit to partaking of Food Emporium's (Union Sq) fried chicken on occasion.

                                  While I have no idea if it's origins are fresh or frozen, my biggest complaint is that the cost (iirc, $5.99/lb) makes it more expensive than Popeyes.

                                  1. re: JMF

                                    Alas, I think the Rogue is correct for this particular area.

                                    While Chino Wayne's post made me bubble with excitement, reading this post brought me back down and realize that this area (Westchester/SW CT) may just be deprived of plausible grocery store fried chicken options. And like someone else said, what I have seen in the supermarket has cost about 2x as much as KFC. Pity.

                                    Chino Wayne... I think it looks like its time for me to move back to Chino. Or Norco, more precisely. Then Stater Bros could supply me with my fried chicken. Of course, the cow smell could impede my enjoyment. Oh well.

                                    In the meantime, I'll just pine away.

                                    1. re: adamclyde

                                      Hey moving back is a great idea, and Stater Bros still has the best meat department around these parts. As far as the aromas, they are diminishing, as alas are the bovines - being replaced by warehouses and peoplehouses. If you make it back to Norco you will also be able to visit Ancho's Grill in Riverside for some Mexican Baby Backs, cerveza and those wonderful, fresh, warm tortillas.

                                      Link: http://www.indefatigable-indolence.org

                                  2. i worked in the deli at a smith's in wyoming in high school, i must say, it had the best chicken i've eveer had. i don't know how we did it, as i've tried to recreate it exactly as we made it there. i'm thinkin' it had to do with sitting under the lamp without cooling first?

                                    1. b

                                      Now Hear This:

                                      Chino Wayne is my #1, Top Favorite Chowhound Poster of all time. He is gold-plated, uranium-cored Imperial Grand Champion of Chowhound posters, bar none.

                                      That Is All

                                      1. I know, this is an old topic, but I've tried for years to replicate really good deli-style fried chicken, like you get in a supermarket. It's different primarily because you can store the chicken in the fridge for a few days, and it remains crispy. It stays pretty much the same. If it was dry when you bought it, sitting under the heat lamps, then it'll be very dry.

                                        But fresh, deli fried chicken is really good, crispy, crunchy, and it stays that way! You can even eat it cold without it getting soggy.

                                        Finally, I ran into the fry-cook at a small, local grocery where they sell fried chicken. I asked all the same questions everyone asks, and particularly about double-dipping in water. Here's the scoop.

                                        1. The secret is UNbleached flour! Who'd'a thought? It never occurred to me, even though I've routinely rejected pizza crusts as too hard, when made with unbleached flour!

                                        2. Don't leave the chicken in the flour for long at all, or it'll brown too much.

                                        After an extensive discussion, it turned out that the butcher dept. cuts up the chicken and brines it overnight. I like the idea of adding about 1/2 to 1 tsp of baking Powder to the brine, with the calcium phosphate helping to tenderize. (I'm using 2 quarts water for the brine, to 1 whole chicken cut up.)

                                        They use small chickens, to get better and more thorough cooking. In this case, bigger is NOT better.

                                        Following the brining, the chicken goes to the deli. They don't even rinse it off (I do, because I don't like it all that salty). They mix up the unbleached flour with some basic seasonings. With all the salt in the meat, those 1,000 secret ingredients in KFC really are pointless.

                                        I use Lawry's seasoned salt and some garlic. Most delis also use cayenne pepper for a bit of a bite.

                                        Anyway; they simply take the chicken out of the brine, dump it in the UNbleached flour mix, then toss it in the hot oil. Oil is around 375, but they don't pay that much attention.

                                        They're doing 12 pieces at a time for 17 minutes. He said that with a small, home batch of around 4 pieces, it could probably go around 10 minutes. I've found that 15 minutes in a Presto Fry-Daddy is about perfect.

                                        I never thought of how long the flour would sit on the chicken as having an impact. I've learned to flour the chicken, let it sit in the fridge 30 minutes to form gluten, then re-dip it in water, then re-flour. All to get the "hardness" factor.

                                        Now it turns out it's immaterial. Just some basic seasoning, brining, and frying. 'At's all she wrote!

                                        Most home fryers can't keep a solid 350-degrees. The Presto has a setting of 400, but as soon as I put in any food, it spikes, then drops to around 350-365.

                                        So I looked around and found an antique Sunbeam fryer slow-cooker from the 1950s-60s. THAT sucker keeps whatever temperature I tell it to! If I want 350, it stays there! If I want 375, it'll stay there too! Found it on eBay, and it's built like a tank.

                                        Even so, the Fry-Daddy works nicely, keeping the oil pretty close to 360-something.

                                        So there ya have it. Nice, juicy fried chicken with a bumpy, hard crust that you can keep in the fridge and eat cold.

                                        To store: Let sit on a rack to come to room temp. Wrap each piece in a paper towel, then store in a paper bag. You'll be surprised at how much grease leeches out into the paper bag! Don't store in foil or plastic wrap.

                                        In an emergency where you have no paper towels, you can put a layer of chicken in a plastic container with wax paper between layers, but that's not nearly as good as in a paper bag!

                                        You also can brine the chicken then freeze it. Thaw in the fridge, then do the frying thing.

                                        1. This is timely-
                                          RIP Wayne!