Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s Favorite Southern Pan-Fried Chicken

Chef Alexander Smalls' Fried Chicken from his lastest cookbook Meals, Music and Muses
Chef Alexander Smalls' Fried Chicken from his lastest cookbook Meals, Music and Muses

Beatriz da Costa

Prep: 30 mins
Cook: 16 mins
Marinate Time: 2 hrs
Total: 2 hrs 46 mins
Servings: 8 servings
Yield: 16 pieces
Nutrition Facts (per serving)
1208 Calories
66g Fat
47g Carbs
101g Protein
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: 8
Amount per serving
Calories 1208
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 66g 84%
Saturated Fat 16g 82%
Cholesterol 302mg 101%
Sodium 689mg 30%
Total Carbohydrate 47g 17%
Dietary Fiber 2g 8%
Total Sugars 3g
Protein 101g
Vitamin C 1mg 7%
Calcium 139mg 11%
Iron 7mg 40%
Potassium 961mg 20%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)

Nothing says Southern Sunday dinner, after a glorious church sermon, like a platter of crispy golden fried chicken. And nobody loved fried chicken more than Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. It epitomized his love for the food and traditions of his heritage…simple good eating was how he saw it.

In my most recent cookbook, Meals Music and Muses, this dish takes center stage as a treasured delicacy… An African Americans' eatable legacy to be enjoyed anytime the spirit hits you.


  • 2 (3-pound) chickens, each cut into 8 pieces or 4 legs, thighs, breasts, and wings, rinsed with cool water and patted dry with paper towels

For Marinade

  • 2 cups buttermilk

  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder

  • 1 tablespoon onion powder

  • 1 tablespoon cayenne pepper

  • 1 teaspoon sweet paprika

  • Salt

  • Pepper

For Frying

Steps to Make It


  1. Gather the ingredients.

  2. Place prepared chicken pieces in a large bowl. Add the buttermilk, garlic powder, onion powder, cayenne, paprika, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper. With your hands, toss and combine until coated.

  3. Cover and chill in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours or up to overnight.


  1. Remove marinated chicken from the refrigerator to come to room temperature while gathering the remaining ingredients.

  2. Fill a large cast-iron skillet with enough oil to come halfway up the sides. Heat over medium-high heat to 350 F.

  3. Add the flour in a large bowl and season with 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper. Whisk to combine.

  4. Dredge the chicken pieces in the seasoned flour, shaking off any excess.

  5. Once the oil has reached the right temperature. Working in batches to avoid crowding the skillet, place the floured chicken in the hot oil and fry until golden brown on the bottom, 8 to 10 minutes.

  6. Turn the pieces carefully and fry until golden brown on the second side and cooked through, 5 to 6 minutes. Larger pieces may need a few more minutes of cooking time.

  7. Drain on a crumpled brown paper bag, paper towels or rack. Serve immediately.

Fried Chicken Origins

A combination of West African batter frying in palm oil and Scottish flour frying in animal fat is how we arrived at the recipe for fried chicken that is prevalent today. Fried Chicken was a Southern dish that traveled from the African American communities to main street White America.

Some say that the negative stereotypes about black people and fried chicken can be traced to D. W. Griffith’s 1915 film Birth of a Nation. Many of these images were a direct parallel to Jim Crow images and ignorant impressions that belittled us and compromised our dignity. Even though we loved fried chicken and all the great dishes that went with it, there was the impression that by eating it, you were supporting the less-than-favorable concept White America had created for you. Shame is the gift that keeps on giving, from slavery to racism and discrimination.

But when you step away from the stereotypes, there’s a lot to love in the memories of fried chicken. In the days when blacks couldn’t eat at every restaurant, black folks who traveled packed themselves a “shoebox lunch.” I dare say there isn’t a Southerner alive born before 1960 who didn’t know someone who always made one. I love my version, served high or low: on silver platters or a picnic blanket, this is a dish that’s bound to satisfy.

Excerpted MEALS, MUSIC, AND MUSES: Recipes From My African American Kitchen by Alexander Smalls with Veronica Chambers. Copyright © 2020 by Alexander Smalls. Reprinted with permission from Flatiron Books. All rights reserved.