Sweet Tea-Brined Fried Chicken

A marriage of Southern favorites: Our salty-sweet brine of brown sugar and freshly brewed tea infuses this picnic-perfect chicken with juicy flavor before frying. Bonus: The tannins in tea act as a natural tenderizer.

Sweet Tea-Brined Fried Chicken
Photo: Hector Sanchez; Stylist: Buffy Hargett
6 to 8 servings


  • 2 family-size tea bags

  • 1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar

  • 1/4 cup kosher salt

  • 1 small sweet onion, thinly sliced

  • 1 lemon, thinly sliced

  • 4 garlic cloves, halved

  • 1 tablespoon cracked black pepper

  • 2 cups ice cubes

  • 1 (3 1/2-lb.) cut-up whole chicken

  • 2 cups self-rising flour

  • 1 cup self-rising white cornmeal mix

  • 2 tablespoons freshly ground black pepper

  • 2 teaspoons table salt

  • 1 teaspoon ground red pepper

  • Vegetable oil


  1. Bring 4 cups water to a boil in a 3-qt. heavy saucepan; add tea bags. Remove from heat; cover and steep 10 minutes.

  2. Discard tea bags. Stir in brown sugar and next 5 ingredients, stirring until sugar dissolves. Cool completely (about 45 minutes); stir in ice. (Mixture should be cold before adding to chicken.)

  3. Cut chicken breasts in half crosswise. Place tea mixture and all chicken pieces in a large zip-top plastic freezer bag; seal. Place bag in a shallow baking dish, and chill 24 hours.

  4. Remove chicken from marinade, discarding marinade. Drain chicken well.

  5. Whisk together flour and next 4 ingredients in a medium bowl. Spoon 1 cup flour mixture into a brown paper bag or large zip-top plastic freezer bag. Place one piece of chicken in bag; seal and shake to coat. Remove chicken, and transfer to a wire rack. Repeat procedure with remaining chicken, adding more flour mixture to bag as needed. Let chicken stand 30 minutes to form a crust.

  6. Pour oil to depth of 1 1/2 inches into a cast-iron Dutch oven; heat over medium heat to 325°. Fry chicken, in batches, 15 to 22 minutes or until browned and done, turning occasionally. Drain on a wire rack over paper towels.

  7. Note: If using a 12-inch-wide (2 1/4-inch-deep) cast-iron skillet, pour oil to depth of 1 inch.

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