Sweet Tea Fried Chicken

To say that I love fried chicken is an understatement.

If it’s on a menu at a restaurant, I’ll probably order it. I make it at home way more often than I probably should, considering the fact that my kitchen doesn’t have a hood and it makes the apartment smell like a fast food joint.

I even made sure that a summer cross-country road trip I took a few years ago went through the southern part of the US, even though it was crazy hot . because I wanted Southern fried chicken.

SWEET TEA + FRIED CHICKEN = BFF

During my road trip, I didn’t expect to fall in love with sweet tea, a pre-sweetened iced tea that is served everywhere. In fact, it’s so common that if you want unsweetened iced tea or hot tea, you have to specify that!

I also noticed that Southerners seem to be using sweet tea as a brine for chicken, ranging from tailgate sweet-tea brined grilled chicken to James Beard Award-nominated chef John Fleer making the fried chicken version.

Despite the legendary nature of both fried chicken and sweet teas in Southern cooking, sweet tea as a brine doesn’t seem to have a long history. According to Virginia Willis, the James Beard Award-winning author of Secrets of the Southern Table: A Food Lover’s Tour of the Global South, “Sweet tea fried chicken is a new South chef-driven dish.”

What is Sweet Tea?

Sweet tea (or just “tea” if you live in the South), is traditionally served as a black tea sweetened with cane sugar, though there are variations of it with honey, agave, and even artificial sweeteners. It’s typically served cold.

Tea has a long history in the South; South Carolina was the first place in the U.S. to commercially grow tea. And although there are tons of theories on why sweet tea became so popular in the South, the fact is most folks who live there drink sweet tea like it’s water.

Why Brine With Sweet Tea?

Sweet tea also happens to be the perfect brine for chicken—it infuses flavor into the meat, adds moisture, and makes a juicier finished product. This is why brining in general is recommended for Thanksgiving turkey, lean cuts of pork, and chicken, as it is an easy way to make the lean meat juicier and more tender.

The sugar in the sweet tea brings out the sweetness of the chicken meat, while the tannins in the black tea help tenderize the chicken, similar to the action of the tannins in wine. Don’t be too concerned about the brine turning the chicken into meat candy, though! It adds a subtle sweetness that works well with the salty skin.

I also add salt to the sweet tea brine, to help create an extra juicy fried chicken. Salt is important as it denatures the protein of the meat. Basically, this means the meat muscle unwinds and relaxes, allowing more water and liquid to penetrate. More water means more juicy meat after cooking!

What’s the Best Tea to Use for a Brine?

Though Julia Child often is quoted as saying that you should cook with wine that you would drink out of hand, don’t bother using the fancy expensive tea for this recipe! The tea will have both sugar and salt added to it. Three things to keep in mind:

  1. Choose a classic: Lipton’s yellow label tea is what I opted for. You can substitute a generic grocery store orange pekoe or black tea in its place.
  2. Experiment: If you want to get fancy, you can certainly experiment with different flavored teas as well, as long as it’s green, black, or white!
  3. Avoid herbal teas: Herbal teas (i.e. not green, white, or black tea) don’t have the tannins that help tenderize the chicken. It will still be tasty, but the black tea helps tenderize the chicken in a similar way that mildly acidic buttermilk does by breaking down the protein, allowing for a juicier fried chicken.

The Best Chicken for Fried Chicken

I prefer to use dark meat (thighs and legs) for fried chicken. They tend to be cheaper cuts with more flavor and are inherently juicier. But you can make your fried chicken out of breasts or wings if you prefer, or a mix of all cuts.

The brine will help keep the breast from drying out. Just make sure to adjust the cooking time slightly, cooking the breasts an additional two minutes per side, while wings (which are smaller) will fry more quickly, so reduce the cook time by one minute.

How Long to Brine with Sweet Tea?

A buttermilk brine only needs an hour minimum to work, but sweet tea is a different situation.

You need to brine this chicken at least overnight (8 hours) for the flavor to come through, or up to 24 hours. The longer you brine the chicken, the sweeter and more “tea” flavor the chicken will have.

A 12-hour brine is optimal: It produces a noticeable sweetness and subtle tea flavor but nothing too strong. But your taste may vary.

The Best Pan for Deep Frying

Classic Southern fried chicken is cooked up in a cast iron skillet. But you don’t need that to make great fried chicken (though some would probably disagree). I used a nonstick, 11-inch wide sauté pan with straight sides but you can also use a Dutch oven.

I also only use a shallow amount of oil in the pan, about 1 1/2-inches deep. This allows me to use less oil (which means less oil to dispose of). I pan fry the chicken, making sure all the sides are crispy golden brown, then finish the chicken off in the oven. This also has the added bonus of making sure all the chicken parts are warmed through at the same time and don’t dry out.

MORE GREAT SOUTHERN RECIPES TO TRY!

  • Southern Style Collard Greens
  • Biscuits and Gravy Casserole
  • Shrimp and Grits
  • Fried Green Tomatoes
  • Pimento Cheese

Sweet Tea Fried Chicken Recipe

You can make the brine up to 3 days ahead of time. If you already have pre-made or store-bought sweet tea, use 6 cups of it in place of the brine listed below. Just add the 1/4 cup of salt to the sweet tea and stir vigorously to make sure it is completely dissolved before submerging the chicken in the brine.

Ingredients

For the brine:

  • 6 cups water
  • 8 bags black tea
  • 1 cup (200 g) white sugar
  • 1/4 cup (75 g) kosher salt

For the chicken:

  • 5 chicken legs, skin on
  • 5 chicken thighs, bone-in and skin on
  • 2 cups buttermilk
  • 1 tablespoon hot sauce, optional but recommended
  • 3 cups (420 g) all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup (160 g) cornmeal
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons garlic powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • 3 cups vegetable oil (corn, avocado, or peanut)

To finish:

  • Flaky sea salt, such as Maldon

Method

1 Make the tea brine: Bring the water to boil in a large stockpot. When it boils, remove from heat and add the tea bags, cover, and steep for 20 minutes.

Gently squeeze the bags to extract as much flavor as possible and remove them. Stir in the sugar and salt until they have dissolved. Leave uncovered for an hour or until it reaches room temperature.

2 Brine the chicken: Place a gallon freezer-style resealable bag in a large bowl and open it up. Carefully pour the room temperature tea brine into the bag, holding onto the sides to minimize spilling (or just simply place it in a large bowl).

Place the chicken into the bag, and seal it, trying to squeeze out as much as air as possible. Refrigerate overnight (minimum 8 hours) or up to 24 hours.

3 Preheat the oven to 400°F. Place a wire rack over a rimmed baking sheet.

4 Coat the chicken in breading: Combine the buttermilk and the hot sauce, if using, in a medium bowl. Whisk together the flour, cornmeal, cornstarch, garlic powder, onion powder, black pepper, salt, cayenne pepper, and paprika in a separate large bowl.

Remove one piece of chicken from the brine and dunk it in the buttermilk, turning the piece to coat it. Then coat the chicken in the flour mix, turning to coat completely. Move to a rimmed baking sheet and repeat with the remaining chicken. Discard the brine when done.

5 Heat the oil: Pour the oil into an 11-inch cast iron skillet, straight sided sauté pan, or Dutch oven. Heat the oil to 375°F.

If you don’t have a thermometer, drop a 1-inch cube of bread into the oil. The bread should brown in about 60 seconds. If it browns too fast, the oil is too hot. If the bread takes longer than a minute to brown, it isn’t hot enough.

6 Fry the chicken legs: Once the oil is at the right temperature, use tongs to carefully move the chicken legs to the pan, one at a time, making sure part of the chicken is submerged before letting go—this minimizes splashing. (Do not drop the chicken pieces in the oil; it will splatter and possibly burn you.)

Fry the chicken on one side for 4 to 5 minutes or until the bottom part of the chicken is golden brown. Flip the chicken with the tongs and cook the other side for an additional 4 to 5 minutes. Move the legs to the baking sheet with the wire rack.

7 Fry the chicken thighs: Repeat the process with the chicken thighs, this time frying each side 5 to 6 minutes. Move the thighs to the baking sheet along with the legs.

8 Bake until cooked through: Move the entire sheet with chicken into the oven. Bake for an additional 15 to 18 minutes, or until the thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thighs reads 165°F. If you don’t have a thermometer, pierce the thigh with a sharp knife. The liquid that comes out should run clear and not look red.

9 Serve: Move to a serving platter and sprinkle with flaky sea salt. Serve immediately.

Leftover fried chicken can be kept in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days and is great cold. But if you want to reheat it, bring the chicken back to room temperature (about 30 minutes on your counter) while you preheat your oven to 400°F. Place the chicken on a wire rack set on a rimmed baking sheet and reheat for about 8 to 12 minutes.

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Sweet Tea Fried Chicken

Ask anyone in the South and they’ll tell you that fried chicken is one of the best ways to eat chicken. And one of the best things to have with that fried chicken has got to be sweet tea. But, have you ever tried combining the 2? The results far exceeded our expectations for flavor and tenderness, so I’d say this recipe is a definite keeper. It does add some time to the process, which is already laborious, but if you love homemade fried chicken like I do then it’s worth it.

Not only do they add flavor, but both salt and sugar act on meat as tenderizers. In this case the marinade also gets a boost from the addition of strongly-brewed iced tea. For this recipe you’ll want to make as is if you’re making sweet tea- pre-dilution with water or ice cubes. The marinade also includes 2 large lemons cut into quarters and the zest of 1 lemon for added flavor.

To make this marinade you’ll simmer together the tea, salt, sugar, and lemon for 5 minutes. Add in ice water and then allow the mixture to cool before putting your chicken pieces in. For best results you’ll want to leave this overnight in the fridge, but the chicken can marinade for up to 48 hours.

Once the chicken is marinated, remove from brine and pat dry. Then start on the breading, which has three parts. The first part is plain flour. The second part is a mixture of cornmeal flour, spices, and Old Bay seasoning. And, the third part is a mixture of buttermilk and eggs. If you don’t have buttermilk on hand you can make your own by combining 1/2 tablespoon white vinegar to 1/2 cup milk. Allow to sit for 2 minutes once mixed, then add to beaten eggs.


Dip each piece of chicken first in plain flour, then in egg mixture, then in spiced cornmeal flour mixture. Once breaded allow the chicken to rest for 30 minutes.

Then heat your oil to 300˚F and cook in batches for about 22-24 minutes each batch. The outside should be golden, the inner juices clear, and the internal temperature should reach 165˚F on your meat thermometer.

Serve this tasty version of fried chicken immediately to be enjoyed piping hot. We love that the chicken is perfectly spiced thanks to the lemon, the chili powder, the Old Bay seasoning, and of course that fabulous sweet tea. This is one chicken recipe that does not disappoint!


Sweet Tea Fried Chicken Recipe

Sweet tea fried chicken recipe is a delicious summer picnic recipe. Pieces of chicken are marinated in a sweet tea and buttermilk brine and then fried up.

I am a member of the Collective Bias® Social Fabric® Community. This #AmericasTea shop has been compensated as part of a social shopper amplification for #CollectiveBias and its advertiser.

It’s finally officially summer! The start to our summer has been crazy busy and I’m looking forward to some slower summer days ahead.

One thing my family loves to do is take a drive up the mountain near our home to enjoy some hiking and a picnic in the cooler mountain air. But packing sandwiches and chips can get boring.

Every once in a while I like to surprise my family with a picnic of fried chicken. It’s perfect to eat chilled and goes well with any kind of summer salad and of course, a big glass of iced sweet tea.

This summer I decided to mix things up by adding sweet tea to the fried chicken marinade. I picked up a box of my favorite tea – Bigelow Tea – at Walmart to make a batch of sweet tea concentrate and make some fried chicken.

The only Bigelow black tea I could find was Earl Grey. I’ve made sweet tea with Earl Grey before and really liked it so I went with it but you can use your favorite Bigelow black tea. I think Bigelow’s Constant Comment would make an excellent iced tea.

Start by making a sweet tea concentrate. You can make big batch of the concentrate and it will last for a few weeks, thanks to the baking soda in it.

I store my concentrate in a mason jar in the fridge. To make iced sweet tea to drink, just mix equal parts of the concentrate and water and some ice.

Making sweet tea is quick and easy with a jar of concentrate ready to go.

I would make the fried chicken a day before your picnic. It takes some time to marinate and cook – but it’s worth it! I actually started the chicken marinating in the morning, cooked it around lunch time and then we ate it for dinner so it is possible to do in one day if you are organized.

I used all bone in chicken thighs because they cook up quicker than breasts. Legs work great as do chicken tenderloins. The tenderloins cook up even quicker, too.

Dredge the chicken in the flour and corn starch mix and then submerging it in the buttermilk and sweet tea marinade. Let the chicken soak in the buttermilk and sweet tea goodness for at least 3 hours, but you can let them sit overnight as well.

When you are ready to fry the chicken, heat up your oil over medium high heat until it’s good and hot. Coat the chicken again in the flour and corn starch mix. Fry for 8-10 minutes on each side (or 16-20 minutes total) or until the chicken is cooked through.

The thighs took a good 10 minutes to cook. Watch the temp on your oil and turn it down a little if the chicken starts to burn. Don’t crowd the pan when frying, either.

I did a batch of 3 and then of 4 thighs. I like fried chicken cold so I let it get nice and cold and serve it out of the cooler on our picnic.

If you’d like to take some sweet iced tea to drink, just mix up a jar full (half water and half concentrate) and put on a lid. Throw them in the cooler with your chicken, add some cucumber salad and you’re all set to go.

I loved the sweetness and tea flavor that the sweet tea added to our fried chicken. It was a delicious and fun way to enjoy iced tea this summer!


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Nutritional InformationShow More

  • Amount Per Serving % Daily Value *
  • Calories 1,869
  • Calories from Fat 731
  • Total Fat 81g 125 %
  • Saturated Fat 22g 108 %
  • Trans Fat 0.3g 0 %
  • Protein 90g 180 %
  • Amount Per Serving % Daily Value *
  • Cholesterol 569mg 190 %
  • Sodium 12,035mg 501 % Potassium 0 0 % -->
  • Total Carbohydrates 206g 69 %
  • Dietary Fiber 20g 79 %
  • Sugars 82g 0 %

* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet.

The following ingredients or measurements are not included:

Ratings & Comments

Thanks for your comment. Don't forget to share!

Thanks for the baking instructions!

Hey. Fried? SO what. We go around only once. A little bit of fried food will not kill you. Everything in moderation. At my age, 77 this week I don't give a hoot.

Lemons are listed in the instructions, but not in the ingredient list. How many lemons?

Hi Elaine! We updated the recipe to include the information on lemons. It's 2 lemons, quartered, and the zest of 1 lemon. (You can use the zest from one of the quartered lemons.) Hope that helps! Have a great day. :)

How spicy is this recipe? My hubby will love this, but I need more of a mild flavor. Would cutting the spices in half still give it just a little kick. Thank you for all the great recipes and cooking tips.

Hello there! The main ingredient that gives this dish that "kick" is the chili powder so reducing the amount of chili powder used would create a more mild flavor. Thank you so much for commenting, and we hope that your hubby and you will enjoy this!

I'm planning to make this recipe, but can't find masa harina/corn flour at our rural stores. Are there any substitutions?

Hello Catherine! If you can't find cornmeal you can omit it from the recipe, and it will still taste good and crispy. Enjoy!

I don't think weight watchers would like the deep fried any more than the sugar. Find another recipe.

To HELLo with weight watchers

Befuddled as to why people would click on a recipe called "Sweet Tea FRIED Chicken" and then gripe about it being fried.

I think I would rather have this in the oven . Weight Watchers wouldn't like me to eat something fried.

Sounds interesting, but I do try to avoid deep-fried foods. Could this be baked instead? I'd love to give it a try! :-)

Hi there! Yes, if you prefer to have baked Sweet Tea Chicken, you can bake it at 350 degrees for 60 minutes or until no longer pink in center. Enjoy!

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I just tasted the brine solution before adding the chicken and it seems ridiculously salty! Is it too salty? Should I leave it for less than 24 hours?

In most cases, I'm not typically a fan of bone-in/skin-on roasted/grilled chicken. It's usually so bland, not to mention dry and/or rubbery. But this recipe is Fantastic! We cooked over a charcoal grill with a few chunks of applewood wood chips, which added a fantastic smoky flavor. Tender, juicy, flavorful throughout and the skin was wonderfully crisp. Reminded me of a slighty sweeter version of the exceptional and unforgettable Mexican-style charcoal chicken we usually have to drive 30 miles to buy. Not just a keeper family dinner recipe, but one that you bring out for company.


How to make the crispiest fried chicken:

Like, did you know that the secret to the crispiest fried chicken with a perfect crunchy yet airy texture is to add Argo® Corn Starch to the breading mixture? Sure, some fried chicken recipes call for adding a few tablespoons of corn starch to the breading mixture. However, to achieve the crispiest, crunchiest chicken ever, your breading should be equal parts all-purpose flour and equal parts Argo® Corn Starch. Not only does corn starch help make your fried chicken extra crispy, it helps give it that nice golden-brown color.

. Another tip for making perfect fried chicken is frying the chicken first in some Mazola® Corn Oil in a skillet or deep fryer and then finishing the chicken in a high temperature oven. This ensures that the chicken skin gets crispy but doesn’t burn in the oil before the meat is cooked through.

In addition to using Argo® Corn Starch in the breading/batter mixture and the two-part cooking method, you can repeat the batter dipping process for extra crispy double dipped fried chicken.

This Sweet Tea Fried Chicken is definitely one of those weekend recipes that requires a little extra time and love in the kitchen, but it is so worth it. This fried chicken recipe starts with letting the chicken pieces sit in a sweet tea brine for 24 hours. The chicken is then dipped in a flavorful batter and fried/baked to golden perfection! The end result is extra crispy chicken with a little kick from the spices followed by a little sweet tang from the sweet tea brine. Truly the south on a plate!

What comfort foods did you grow up eating? Please share in the comments below!


A buttermilk brine only needs an hour minimum to work, but sweet tea is a different situation.

You need to brine this chicken at least overnight (8 hours) for the flavor to come through, or up to 24 hours. The longer you brine the chicken, the sweeter and more “tea” flavor the chicken will have.

A 12-hour brine is optimal: It produces a noticeable sweetness and subtle tea flavor but nothing too strong. But your taste may vary.


Fried Chicken And Sweet Tea: Recipe For A Stroke

Fried chicken washed down with sweet tea — it's a classic Southern lunch. That fat/sweet nexus is also a recipe for a stroke, according to a recent study.

Researchers at the University of Alabama, Birmingham, have been trying to nail down how diet relates to stroke, particularly in the "Stroke Belt" — the Southeastern states that have the dubious distinction of hosting the nation's highest stroke rates.

Diet has always been considered a major culprit. But this big study, with 20,239 people tracked over five years, let the researchers slice and dice eating habits much more finely. They came up with five eating styles:

-- Southern: fried chicken and fish, lunchmeat, gizzards and other organ meats, sweet tea and other sugar-sweetened drinks

-- Convenience: Mexican and Chinese food, burgers, pizza, pasta

-- Plant-based: fruits, vegetables, juice, cereal, fish, poultry, yogurt, nuts, whole-grain bread

-- Sweets: added fats, bread, chocolate, dessert, sweet breakfast food

-- Alcohol: beer, wine, liquor, green leafy vegetables, nuts and seeds, coffee

People who ate the Southern diet had a 41 percent higher risk of stroke, while the plant-eaters' risk was 30 percent less. Those results held up even after other factors, like smoking, exercise and income were excluded.

Salty foods raise blood pressure, which adds to stroke risk. High sugar intake makes diabetes more likely Southern food queen Paula Deen revealed last year that she had been diagnosed with the disease several years before. Being overweight ups the risk of stroke and diabetes.

Suzanne Judd, leader of the study, says that people eating Southern style were eating veggies, but not enough to counteract the bad effects of all that sugar, salt and fat.

But subbing in just one serving of fruit, vegetable and whole grains each week would be enough to lower stroke risk for the worst of the Southern food junkies, Judd told The Salt. "Maybe cut back a little bit, so you're not eating that every day."

The results were presented at the American Stroke Association conference in Honolulu.

Scientists have lots of ideas about why people living in the Stroke Belt are more vulnerable, including poverty and African-American heritage. But none of them has been definitively linked.

But there's no question that traditional Southern food, or soul food, is far from healthful. Efforts are under way to recast Southern classics with less fat, sugar and salt.

For more on the origins of the Stroke Belt, check out this fascinating riff on how geography in the Southeast influenced agriculture, slavery and the 2008 presidential election.


Preparation

For the brine:

In a large bowl, whisk together the water, sweet tea, spices and herbs until dissolved. Add the chicken pieces, cover and chill 12-24 hours in refrigerator.

For the chicken:

Heat about an inch of oil to in large sauté or cast iron pan to 325°F.

Drain reserved chicken from brine and pat dry.

In one bowl, combine the flour, cornstarch, paprika, salt, thyme and pepper. Pour the buttermilk into another medium bowl.

Dredge the chicken in the flour mixture making sure each piece is completely coated. Shake off excess. Then, dip it in buttermilk and shake of excess liquid. Lastly, put chicken back into flour and coat completely. Set aside until all pieces are coated.

Working in batches, fry the chicken 15 to 20 minutes or until golden and chicken is cooked through. Drain the cooked chicken on paper towels then serve immediately.


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