Written by Fredrik

Modified & Updated: 21 May 2024

Sherman Smith

Reviewed by Sherman Smith

Who Invented Fried Chicken

Fried chicken is one of the most popular kinds of food in the world. Next to hamburgers, it’s probably the most popular fast food item on the planet. It’s also a multi-billion dollar industry, with many chains competing for a slice of the pie. There are all sorts of fried chicken too, ranging from the simple to the exotic. These kinds also take into account local and sometimes foreign tastes. But whatever the kind of fried chicken, it’s sure to have its fans. You may even want to thank those who invented fried chicken for creating this culinary favorite. But that may not be that simple. As it turns out, the question of who invented fried chicken doesn’t have an easy answer.

Not One Person Invented Fried Chicken

Who invented fried chicken? It sounds like a simple question, right? As stated in the introduction, it has a complex answer. In fact, there’s not one person who can claim to be the inventor of fried chicken. It’s not something created by a single individual like some other dishes.

It may be first worth noting what chicken is. The chicken is the domesticated variant of the red junglefowl (Gallus gallus), which originated in what is today Southeast and South Asia. Red junglefowl resembles a typical rooster, but is smaller. Unlike most chickens, they can actually fly, albeit pretty poor, and can only do so for what are essentially short hops.

Chicken domestication has a long history. Researchers believe that it emerged thousands of years ago. Evidence for the practice can be found in both the Indus Valley and Chinese civilizations. The practice may have started independently in multiple areas and people did not just raise chickens for food. In some areas, they had religious significance as well. Some cultures also engaged in cockfighting. Thus, people raised chickens for multiple purposes.

fried chicken drumstick
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Where Did Fried Chicken Originate?

It’s highly likely that the concept of frying chicken emerged in multiple places rather than a single location. For example, evidence of frying chicken can be found in ancient Egypt, ancient Greece, and China. In places where there was an overlap between chicken domestication and frying, fried chicken seems like the natural outcome. Yes, your ancestors were frying chicken even in the days of King Tut and Cleopatra!

Although fried chicken became popular in many places, each still put its own tastes in it. For example, European and African fried chicken cooks used local ingredients. Indeed, American fried chicken has had influences from both European and African cultures. We’ll talk more about those influences later in this article.

When Did Fried Chicken Originate?

Fried chicken has quite a long history. As mentioned earlier, many cultures around the world had already been frying for a long time. In addition, chickens were an easy source of meat. Given how common they were, it’s not surprising that people learned to fry chicken meat.

Despite how common frying is in civilizations around the world, it wasn’t universal. Take Japan for example. Given Chinese influences, frying techniques may have already existed there in the first millennium CE. However, frying did not initially take off as the primary oil of the time, sesame oil, was out of reach for most people. Indeed, at the time, sesame oil was associated with nobility and the higher classes. It wasn’t until trading with the Portuguese started when Japanese frying as we know it emerged. We’ll talk more about it later.

Regardless, fried chicken has been with us almost since the dawn of civilization. Some may think that fried chicken has only existed for the last few hundred years, but that’s not the case at all. However, trade and interactions have allowed different techniques and ingredients to spread around the world. If it weren’t for trade, our favorite kinds of fried chicken may not even exist today. So while fried chicken is millennia-old, different kinds of fried chicken may have shorter histories.

Who Invented Southern Fried Chicken?

Southern fried chicken
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In the United States, most associate fried chicken with the South. And no, it’s just because of KFC. This is because the dish was a common sight on dinner tables in slave plantations. The origins of southern fried chicken are interesting. Historians believe that it may have been a mix of both African and European influences. Most slaves came from Africa, a place where frying and chicken were common. When slaves arrived in America, they took with them some of their home knowledge. These included techniques, ingredients, or whatever information was needed to make fried chicken. At the same time, European cookbooks also began to publish recipes. For example, the BBC notes that Scottish cooks were already publishing fried chicken recipes as early as the 18th century. Whatever the case, Southern fried chicken became a mix of non-American and American tastes.

Interestingly enough, fried chicken also became a symbol of empowerment among African Americans. This was both for economic and cultural reasons. In some African cultures, chickens had a religious significance, something that was not lost on the slaves upon arriving in America. At the time, fried chicken wasn’t the easiest dish to prepare. As such, it became associated with important occasions like church feasts. Indeed, some slang terms for a chicken like “gospel bird” are a result of this association. On the other hand, African Americans would serve fried chicken to travelers and other people as a source of income. The town of Gordonsville, Virginia, formerly a popular train stop, commemorates its fried chicken heritage with an annual festival.

Who Invented Kentucky Fried Chicken?

Kentucky Fried Chicken
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Colonel Harland Sanders (who despite his title, wasn’t an actual colonel; we’ll get to that later) didn’t invent Southern fried chicken. However, he did start the world’s biggest chicken chain, KFC. Sanders, who to this day serves as the company’s mascot, actually had an interesting history. He was already in his 60s by the time he started his chicken empire. Prior to then, he worked various odd jobs, including working as a lawyer for a short while. KFC’s famous secret blend of 11 herbs and spices began at a gas station in Kentucky. He’d serve his chicken to hungry customers. Due to various factors, such as World War II and the construction of a new highway, the gas station shut down. He decided to instead offer his recipe to interested entrepreneurs.

Eventually, the once-poor Sanders finally found his calling in life. He eventually sold off the company but agreed to be its public face. His relationship with the company wasn’t always the greatest, with him often criticizing the food quality. Nevertheless, his efforts paid off, and the Government of Kentucky bestowed on him the title of Kentucky Colonel. That’s where the “Colonel” part of his name comes from. Even after his death in 1980, his face and trademark white suit remained icons of the fast food industry.

KFC’s popularity isn’t limited to just the U.S., of course. There are over 25,000 locations worldwide. It’s even a part of the cultures of some countries. For example, Japan loves its KFC, particularly during Christmas. Many sports fans also believe that the Hanshin Tigers, a local baseball team, are “cursed” by Colonel Sanders’ ghost.

Who Invented Popeyes Fried Chicken?

While KFC is arguably the king of fried chicken in the U.S., it does have some serious competition. When it comes to bone-in chicken, Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen (or simply Popeyes) is perhaps its biggest rival.

Contrary to popular belief, the restaurant doesn’t get its name from the popular cartoon character. However, until relatively recently, they did often use him in promotional material. Anyway, the company’s founder, Alvin “Al” Copeland, didn’t actually start with chicken. His original business was selling donuts! However, he decided to shift gears in order to give the then-upstart KFC some competition. Originally the business went by the name, “Chicken on the Run”. However, the original recipe didn’t exactly have the best reception. After some taste changes, the chain changed its name to Popeyes after the main character of the classic film The French Connection. This proved to be a wise decision, as Popeyes went on to become KFC’s biggest rival in American fried chicken.

Incidentally, Copeland had quite an interesting life. Prior to starting his business, he was living in relative poverty. Popeyes’ runaway success earned him a fortune. In local circles, he became well known for his extravagant lifestyle. He owned a large mansion and multiple vehicles. He also had not one but four marriages throughout his life, all of which were lavish. However, he did have a soft side to him. Every Christmas he would send gifts to children in need, acting as their own Santa Claus.

Today, Popeyes is part of Restaurants Brands International. The group’s other brands include Burger King, Tim Horton’s, and Firehouse Subs.

Who Invented Chicken Tenders?

Chicken Tenders
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Chicken tenders, which are strips great with fries and condiments, have a mysterious history. Many sources claim that it was invented as recently as 1974 by The Puritan Backroom in New Hampshire. However, others believe that the restaurant merely coined the term “chicken tenders” but not the concept itself. Indeed, recipes for “chicken fingers” existed as early as the 19th century. However, there’s some debate as to exactly what these “chicken fingers” are. For instance, it’s unclear exactly how cooks made these “chicken fingers”, or if they even fried them at all.

In any case, the idea of frying strips of chicken breasts is probably not new. It probably existed long before 1974. However, its popularity did increase in recent decades. This is because health experts said that chicken meat was healthier compared to red meat like beef and pork. As such, chicken rose in popularity, but chicken tenders were even more so. Today, Raising Cane’s is probably the most famous chicken tenders chain in America.

Who Invented Chicken Nuggets?

Chicken Nuggets
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You might think that chicken nuggets are a McDonald’s invention. And while it’s true that McDonald’s helped popularize the item, it wasn’t their idea. Still, the concept of the chicken nugget is still worth discussing. The interesting thing about chicken nuggets is that they were conceived due to a need. But not exactly in the way you’d expect.

During the war, chicken boomed in popularity mainly because America’s war effort focused on sending red meat to the battlefield. This meant that beef and pork were in short supply back home. After the war, beef and pork became common again, so people didn’t feel like eating chicken anymore. This meant a surplus of chicken meat that needed to find use. The chicken meat industry, with the help of food labs, decided to find a way to make Americans eat chicken again.

Enter Robert C. Baker, sometimes known as the “George Washington Carver of chicken”. A food scientist at Cornell University, he published his work in 1963. It would form the basis of early versions of chicken nuggets over the next two decades. However, it was not until McDonald’s introduced the Chicken McNuggets in 1983 that the food item really took off.

Why did McDonald’s introduce the McNuggets? We all know them as a burger company, but they’d long tried to branch out into other cuisines too. At the time, there was a huge health scare involving red meat going around. Seeing the dent in burger sales, they decided to cash in on the rising chicken trend. Rene Arend created McNuggets, which was a surefire hit.

Interestingly enough, while McNuggets are a staple in most McDonald’s markets, they also sell bone-in chicken in Southeast Asia. They’re actually a major competitor to KFC over there, as well as the well-known chain Jollibee.

Who Invented Nashville Hot Chicken?

Nashville Hot Chicken
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Nashville hot chicken, or simply hot chicken, is a style of chicken that originated in Nashville, Tennessee. It consists of spicy chicken, cayenne pepper sauce, bread, and pickles. It’s been in the news a lot lately as it is gaining a following not just in America but worldwide as well.

The food item may actually have a relatively recent origin. Historians have proposed various dates for its invention. Some suggest it existed as early as the 1930s. On the other hand, others theorize that it only emerged in its current form in the 1970s.

A popular story about hot chicken’s creation was that it was the result of some kind of prank. Thornton Prince, who many believe to be the originator of hot chicken, had many dates and girlfriends. One day, a now-unknown girlfriend of his left him some very spicy chicken. Prince’s descendants believe it may have been a way to anger him. However, rather than getting upset at the spiciness, he loved it. Indeed, he loved it so much that he decided to recreate the recipe and serve it to others. While the veracity of this story is unknown, what’s true is that Prince started his own restaurant, which soon became a staple of Nashville’s African American dining scene.

For decades, Nashville hot chicken was more well-known among the local African American population than other locals. According to writer Rachel Martin, this could be because Nashville was historically a very segregated city. This meant that the city’s White and Black populations were separate. Over time, hot chicken spread outside the local African American community and became a favorite among other locals too. Today, it’s rising in popularity and restaurants serving the dish exist even far away from the borders of Tennessee.

Who Invented Buffalo Wings?

Buffalo Wings
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Many sources claim that Buffalo wings, a staple of Super Bowl parties throughout America, do indeed originate in Buffalo, New York. Specifically, the Anchor Bar, a local establishment, claims to have invented the food item back in 1964 as a way to serve left-over wings. And while it’s true that the bar does serve wings, the truth may be more complicated than it seems.

The idea of barbecue sauce chicken wings, if not Buffalo wings themselves, likely predate the Anchor Bar. Indeed, Chicago, not Buffalo, may have a stronger claim to being the originator of American chicken wings. Chicago today is a vibrant economic center, but this wasn’t always the case. Once upon a time, Chicago was a transportation and meatpacking hub. This is actually why Chicago Bulls is named as such. In any case, there was a time when chicken wings were undesirable pieces of meat. As such, rather than let them go to waste, resourceful people would get some wings and flavor them with barbecue sauces.

Chicken wings gained further popularity during Prohibition. Because alcohol was prohibited at the time, so-called “speakeasies” or illegal bars took hold in Chicago and elsewhere. In addition to serving drinks, they also served food like chicken wings.

In any case, the concept of barbecue chicken wings probably didn’t originate in Buffalo. Nonetheless, it’s still the city’s most popular product. Given that the Buffalo Bills were once a powerhouse football team, it’s no surprise that wings and football go hand-in-hand.

Who Invented Korean Fried Chicken?

Korean Fried Chicken
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At first, you may think that Korean cuisine and fried chicken are an odd combination. But actually, fried chicken has had a long history in South Korea, and today it’s one of the country’s most recognizable food exports. Indeed, in some places, people actually like more than kimchi. How exactly was Korean-style fried chicken invented? Like many cross-cultural fusions, the answer is quite interesting.

This story, like many in Korea, dates back to the Korean War. At the time, many American troops were stationed in South Korea. Obviously, this meant they’d bring a slice of home there. Among the things they introduced to Korea is Spam, which even today has quite the following there. Another culinary item established there was, of course, fried chicken.

While Americans introduced fried chicken to Korea, the Koreans made it their own by giving it new twists. Adding ingredients like cheese powder, soy-garlic sauces, ketchup-based condiments, and even the use of vodka were all Korean innovations.

What really made Korean fried chicken blow up was, ironically, an economic recession. Due to the Asian financial crisis, many workers lost their jobs. Owing to favorable economic policies, they decided to start businesses, many of which were chicken joints. Today, Bonchon is the largest Korean chicken chain in the world. However, the earliest one may actually be a joint called Lims, which was founded in 1977.

Today, Koreans associate fried chicken with drinking. This is because the dish is a common side dish at bars and restaurants. Drinking is an important part of Korean work culture, and they often eat food like fried chicken while chugging down all that beer. It’s really no different from wings and bars in America, isn’t it?

Who Invented Karaage?

Japanese chicken karaage
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As mentioned earlier in the article, the concept of frying in Japan is a Portuguese contribution. However, it didn’t catch on immediately as sesame oil, the primary oil in Japan at the time, was too expensive to produce. As such, it wouldn’t be until the Meiji period that frying became more commonplace. By that time, rapeseed oil emerged as a cheaper alternative, allowing frying to take flight.

Karaage, or Japanese-style fried chicken, is one of the many kinds of fried food in Japan. Other favorites include tonkatsu (fried pork cutlet) and tempura.

It’s unknown exactly who invented Japanese-style fried chicken, but it does have a long history. It may have existed as early as the 1920s, and considering foreign influences during that time, it could have emerged earlier.

Interestingly enough, karaage may not be completely Japanese in origin. Indeed, experts believe it may have been a borrowing from China. Such borrowings are not uncommon in Japanese cuisine, which is not surprising considering China’s long cultural influence on Japan. In fact, many Japanese favorites such as ramen and gyoza, actually trace their ancestry to China.

Just like Korean fried chicken is a fusion of East and West, so is karaage. Its main ingredients include soy sauce and ginger. Many recipes also include other ingredients such as sake (rice wine).

It’s a common staple in restaurants in Japan, as well as Japanese restaurants internationally. Just like in Korea, it’s also popular in restaurants and pubs that sell beer. While karaage is Japanese-style fried chicken, foreign chicken styles also exist in Japan. As mentioned earlier, KFC is very popular there, so it’s not like you’ll only find Japanese-style chicken if you are in the Land of the Rising Sun.

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