We were invited to KFC's flagship store in Mascot NSW to see how the company makes its chicken first-hand. We were shown every step of the process; from how meat is stored and prepared to the various ways KFC keeps its "secret" herbs and spices out of the hands of suppliers. Read on for a full kitchen tour.
Kentucky Fried Chicken opened its first Australian store in 1968. Since then, more than 600 stores have sprung up, serving some two million customers per week. Over the past 46 years, the way KFC prepares and cooks its chicken has changed in several notable ways. Today, the emphasis is on finding a reasonable balance between taste and nutrition - particularly through the use of different cooking oils. Here's how the process currently stands, from the delivery truck to the front counter.
Each KFC store contains three industrial-sized refrigerators that are kept at optimal temperatures for different foodstuffs, ranging from three degrees Celsius to well below freezing. Each refrigerator has two handles for cleanliness purposes: only the red handle may be touched by raw food handlers.
KFC's chicken is delivered fresh daily and kept in cold storage (not frozen). The company currently employs three different suppliers: Turi Foods, Baiada/Steggles and Inghams. All chickens are delivered pre-cut and unfloured. "It's basically the same chicken you're going to get at Woolworths or Coles," Ben, KFC Mascot's store manager told us.
One interesting tidbit we learned is that the legs, breasts and wings all come from separate birds: this is because each body part reaches its optimum size at a different stage in the chicken's life cycle.
While KFC flours its own chicken in store, Zinger fillets arrive pre-marinated in the company's signature spicy sauce. (Good news for heat fans: KFC confirmed to us that Hot & Spicy is returning to stores soon. Hurrah!)
Each crate of chicken is clearly labeled with a use-by-date, batch code and the precise moment that the chickens were killed. "If there ever a [quality] issue or customer complaint, we can go back to the supplier and get them to isolate that whole product," Ben said.
As you'd expect, KFC has a very strict policy of not selling food that passes its use-by-date. Staff are forbidden from taking home out-of-date stock; even if it's only one day out of date. Generally, batches of chicken will be usable for five days from the date of delivery, although they are usually sold within two days.
The freezer is where KFC stores its high-volume side offerings such as popcorn chicken and nuggets. These are the only items that KFC keeps frozen and doesn't flour itself in store.
While KFC's meat products undergo extensive food safety checks, its flour is sort of just dumped in a corner. Weird.
Here it is: the fabled "11 secret herbs and spices" mix. According to Ben, the company's policy of only revealing the recipe to two executives at any one time is fact, not folklore. "In Australia, we also use two different suppliers who are each responsible for half of the mix. Both are sworn to secrecy and neither knows what the other puts in."
KFC's cookers come in two varieties. The models to the left are called "eight head" cookers: they're responsible for original recipe pieces and can fry eight birds simultaneously, hence the name. The circular cookers to the right are used for spicy Zinger varieties and can cook six birds at once.
In 2012, KFC Australia made the switch from imported palm oil to locally produced canola oil. This involved a significant investment including the training of farmers to ensure the business was sustainable.
This oven takes care of customers who prefer KFC's non-fried offerings, such as the grilled chicken Taster Box. As you've doubtlessly noted, it's somewhat smaller than the fryers. We're guessing demand isn't that huge.
As mentioned, KFC's Original Recipe chicken is floured and breaded in store. Each piece is briefly immersed in water, shaken dry and then dipped in the bread mix.
Although done by hand, the flouring process follows a very strict procedure to ensure uniformity across the franchise. Each piece is pressed into the flour, patted down and shaken an identical number of times using a specific set of actions.
The final step is deep frying. KFC's cookers are designed to house a set combination of chicken pieces: each tray contains two legs, two thighs, two ribs, two wings and one breast. This is the main reason KFC doesn't let customers request specific pieces when purchasing chicken combos. (We always thought they were just being stingy.)
Finally, the finished product ends up in the display box behind the front counter, ready for serving.
Each batch of chicken has a set time that it needs to be sold by. Anything left over after the time limit expires is binned and replaced.
To see the preparation and frying process in action, check out the video clip below:
This story has been updated from its original publication.