Real Food, Mess-Free Fried Chicken

Reading Time: 6 min

A budget-friendly way to replace the drive-thru cravings with real food, and simple ingredients. Plus tips on keeping the kitchen tidy in the process!

If you like this recipe, you might like my other simple dinner recipes here.

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I received a Splatter Screen from Zulay Kitchen to try and review. All opinions are my own.

I know fried chicken isn’t good for you or particularly inexpensive, but it tastes amazing. It is one of our top 10 family favorite recipes, and I’m not even a little ashamed. I’m not ashamed because we’ve found all kinds of way to make it healthier, more budget-friendly, and taste even better.

Real Food Fried Chicken

While I’ll never claim that fried chicken is healthy, you can make it with ingredients you feel good about. We make it with whole wheat flour, seasonings, and a few special ingredients that make all the difference.

Don’t worry, you can also use white flour! This is fried chicken. You’re doing a good job making it at home, and no one claims the breading is good for you anyway – whole wheat or otherwise.

If you are gluten-free, use your favorite gluten-free flour or fine bread crumb mixture. In the past, I used a combination of almond and oat flour with successful enough results.

fried chicken on a plate

Homemade Fried Chicken

We cook our chicken in avocado or coconut oil. I don’t think any oil is particularly good for you, but coconut, avocado, ghee, grapeseed, and rendered lard from happy animals are generally accepted as better for you in moderation.

We use only enough to get the job done so we don’t waste expensive oils and money.

Watch the Fried Chicken Video!

Making this video was extra fun because my oldest son joined me. Since it’s one of his favorite meals to make, it seemed appropriate. Also, watching kids eat is both hysterical and gross. Check out the video for proof (I swear we teach them table manners).

Mess-Free Fried Chicken

I used to hate making fried chicken because it made a huge mess.

So I started using a Splatter Screen like this one. Turns out I’ve been doing stovetop cooking and one-pot meals all wrong. The Splatter Screen virtually eliminated the mess, and it’s dishwasher safe. Now I use it anytime I’m making dinner on the stove.

splatter screen

Another way I prevent a mess is by using one hand to dip the chicken into the egg, and the other hand to coat it in flour. This prevents sticky, clumpy fingers that get more breading on them than the chicken. Thanks to Lisa Leake for teaching me that!

Get the recipe below (I won’t make you scroll through paragraphs of backstory you don’t care about). But check below it for nutrition information, tips, and ways this recipe helps us save money and eat healthy!

If you try this recipe, let us know! Leave a comment, rate it, and tag a photo #cheapskatecook and @cheapskatecook on Instagram. 

Time Machine

Real Food Mess-Free Fried Chicken

Inspired by 100 Days of Real Food on a Budget

Author: Steph Jenkins
Ingredients
  • 1 1/2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken (thighs, breast, or tenders)
  • 1 cup pickle juice
  • 1-2 eggs
  • 3/4 cup whole wheat flour (1 cup if you're making nuggets)
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp paprika
  • pinch cayenne
  • 3/4 tsp salt (1 tsp if you're making nuggets)
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • Oil, for cooking (we use avocado)
Instructions
  1. Optional: Place chicken on a plate and cover with parchment paper or plastic wrap. Gently pound it with a meat mallet until the chicken is an even thickness.

  2. If you are making nuggets, cut the chicken into 1-2 inch portions. If you are using tenders, leave them as-is.

  3. Place chicken in the container and pour pickle juice over it. Cover the container and let it sit at least 1 hour, preferably overnight.

  4. Crack one egg and pour it into a loaf pan. Mix it with a fork or whisk.

  5. Combine the flour and seasonings in another loaf pan.

  6. Use this method to prevent mess and clumpy fingers: with one hand, dip and coat the chicken in the egg. Then move the chicken to the flour pan. Use your other hand to coat the chicken in flour and transfer it to a pie pan or large plate.

  7. Repeat until all the chicken is coated. Use the additional egg if necessary.

  8. Heat a pan over medium heat. Add 3-4 tbsp oil (enough to cover the bottom of the pan). Let it heat for 1-2 minutes. Use tongs to place the chicken in the pan. Do not crowd the chicken.

  9. Cover the pan with the splatter screen and cook for 3-4 minutes.

  10. Remove the screen and use the same pair of tongs to turn the chicken. If it seems to be cooking unevenly, move the underdone side closer to the middle (the hottest part) of the pan.

  11. Cover the pan with the splatter screen and cook for another 3-4 minutes.

  12. Remove the spatter screen and use a clean pair of tongs to transfer the chicken to a plate lined with paper towels.

  13. Serve immediately with a big salad or your favorite sides and enjoy!

Recipe Notes

Budget-Friendly Tip:

Use chicken thighs and cut them into strips or nuggets.

Flour Tip:

White, whole wheat, and spelt flour works great for this recipe! If you are gluten free, use your favorite gluten-free flour or gluten-free bread crumbs.

Make-It-Easy Tip:

Use chicken tenders! Tenders cook quickly, you don’t need to cut them into nuggets, and they’re our favorite way to make this recipe.

 

This Recipe Is:

Simple

Real Food

Delicious

Dairy-free

Gluten-free options

Kid-Friendly!

Family Favorite!

How this Recipe Helps Us Save Money & Eat Healthy

Fried chicken is no one’s idea of healthy food. However, this version uses minimal oil and real food ingredients.

Since we don’t eat out or use the drive-thru very often, we don’t eat a lot of fried chicken. If you’re like us and are trying to find simple ways to make your favorite restaurant food at home, this is it.

fried chicken cooking

Make it Budget-Friendly

Dark meat is cheaper than white meat. If you’re trying to save the most money on this recipe, use boneless skinless thighs. Cut them into strips or 2-inch chunks to make nuggets.

Where we live, avocado and grapeseed oil are less expensive than coconut oil. They are generally accepted as better real food substitutes for canola or vegetable oil. You can also try a good quality peanut oil. We use only just enough to get the job done so we don’t waste expensive oils or money.

Because we try to treat meat as a condiment or side items, we focus heavily on everything else we serve for dinner and everyone enjoys a little bit of fried chicken.

This means most of our plate is full of salad (usually this one) and Crispy Baked Home Fries, Simple Yellow Rice, or Deeply-Flavorful Baked Sweet Potatoes. Then we each enjoy a few pieces of chicken.

me and my son, cooking
My son helped make the chicken in the video!

Make it Healthier

Conveniently, dark meat is generally more nutritious than white meat, and it is the cheaper option!

While I won’t say any oil is good for you (maybe really expensive olive or coconut in moderation?), we use avocado or coconut oil. Ghee, grapeseed, and rendered lard from happy animals are generally accepted as better for you in moderation.

For the most part, our dinners focus heavily on veggies and not meat. So even though we are eating fried chicken, everyone makes a huge salad and loads their plate with other good stuff.

Make it Easier

When we find chicken tenders on sale, we make fried chicken. Tenders cook quickly, you don’t need to cut them into nuggets, and they’re our favorite way to make this recipe.

fried chicken

Homemade Fried Chicken Dinner

Make it a meal!

At home, fried chicken night is special. We usually make it with Crispy Baked Home Fries and our favorite budget-friendly salad. At lunch and dinner, our goal is to fill half our plate with fruits and vegetables.

We also like Deeply-Flavorful Baked Sweet Potatoes, the Autumn Spring Mix Salad, and Simple Yellow Rice.

Gluten-Free or Egg-Free?

When we were gluten-free, we used a combination of almond flour and oat flour. I also love this oven-baked recipe!

Zulay Kitchen: Budget-Friendly, Quality, Kitchen Gadgets on Amazon

I’ve always struggled with buying kitchen appliances and gadgets on Amazon. What if it doesn’t work? Can I trust this budget-friendly brand? Returns are a pain.

Zulay Kitchen is a small company that is highly-rated on Amazon for their great products, budget-friendly prices, and fantastic customer service. I have several Zulay Kitchen products now and they are my first go-to for kitchen gadgets on Amazon. Check them out here!

Zulay Kitchen

Why Homemade Fried Chicken?

No one claims that fried chicken is good for you. Generally, we stick to budget-friendly, make-ahead recipes like The Only Chicken You Need to Make, Spatchcocked Chicken (cook a whole chicken in less than an hour with no Instant Pot!), or the Perfect Chicken Breast.

But when drive-thrus and restaurants aren’t an option, or you want a shorter, cleaner ingredients list, this homemade fried chicken is perfect.

What You Can Do Now:

Pin this recipe and make it the next time you find chicken tenders on sale!

If you found this post helpful, let us know! Leave a comment, share it on Facebook or Pinterest, and follow us on Instagram or YouTube for more!

Slash your grocery budget and feed your family real food! Get simple, frugal, real food menu plans every month for FREE in the Cheapskate Cooks’ 1-Min Email. Get the next one here.

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