Popeyes Reveals the Flavor Secrets Behind Their Chicken Marinade

The head of culinary innovation also shared a recipe for roasted chicken thighs

Photo: Lynne Gilbert/Getty

It's safe to say that most of us have been dreaming of simpler times, like when Popeyes' started a chicken sandwich war in August 2019. Everyone was (and still is) wondering how the chain's chicken is so juicy on the inside and crispy on the outside — and now the company's head of culinary innovation Amy Alarcon has shared that secret.

The difference between a mediocre and an incredible chicken is all in the marinade, says Alarcon. “One of the hallmarks of Popeyes' chicken is the amount of flavor we get from marination, whether it’s a sandwich fillet, a piece of fried chicken, or a tender,” Alarcon revealed in an interview with Forbes. “It’s all been seasoned and allowed to sit for at least 12 hours to add maximum flavor. I find myself doing this at home all the time too and chicken is the perfect canvas.”

Popeyes Chicken Sandwich
Courtesy Popeyes.

Many people make chicken as a spur-of-the-moment dinner, but putting in some extra time and effort can completely transform the taste and texture of the meal. What about the flavorings? Alarcon's number one item is buttermilk, along with an array of hot sauces and whatever she has in her spice cabinet.

"While it may seem like using hot sauce would make this particular dish spicy, I use Crystal hot sauce because it’s on the lower end of the spectrum in heat but high in flavor and acidity," she says. "The end result is a juicy interior and a well-seasoned, crispy exterior. Definitely not a tongue scorcher, just full of flavor through and through!”

Now, Popeyes' actual fried chicken recipe is still top-secret (you didn't think they'd reveal that so easily, did you?) But Alarcon shared her recipe for roasted chicken, which uses the same marinade method as Popeyes' fried chicken. See below for the recipe.

Popeyes marinade

Popeyes'-Style Roasted Chicken

1 ½ cups buttermilk

3 Tbsp. Crystal Hot Sauce

1 Tbsp. Tony Chachere’s Creole Spice, plus extra for sprinkling on top

8 skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs

Olive oil pan spray

1. In a small bowl, combine the buttermilk, hot sauce, and 1 tablespoon of the seasoning. Place inside a gallon size Ziploc bag and add in chicken thighs. Carefully squeeze out the excess air and seal tightly. Massage the bag until chicken is fully coated. Place in the refrigerator and allow to marinate for a minimum of 12 hours, preferably overnight.

2. Preheat the oven to 400°.

3. Use a sheet pan or baking sheet and place a wire rack on top. Spray with cooking spray to prevent sticking.

4. Carefully drain the chicken thighs in a colander and shake to remove excess buttermilk-hot sauce marinade. Place on wire rack skin side up and allow to sit for about 15 minutes so the skin dries out a bit. Lightly sprinkle more Creole seasoning on the skin just to add more flavor and color. Using a good quality olive oil spray, lightly coat the surface of the chicken skin — this will aid in crisping.

5. Cook for 40 minutes until a thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the chicken reads 165° and 170° for bone-in chicken. The skin should be medium brown and crispy at this point.

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