Fried chicken tacos are as good as they are inauthentic. But seriously, how can you go wrong with crunchy nuggets of crispy fried chicken, nestled in a lightly charred flour tortilla, and drizzled with a zesty garlic ranch dressing? Learn how to fry chicken, make homemade ranch dressing, AND take taco night to the next level!
This post was originally published on May 8, 2018. It has been updated with new photos and content. Enjoy!
Things that were happening when this post was originally published: Avengers Infinity War had just come out. I was griping about the weather and its fickle ways. Oh and we were eating a lot of these insane fried chicken tacos and putting this homemade garlic ranch on all the things.
Fast forward nearly a year and a new Avengers movie is hitting theaters. I am still annoyed with the unpredictable mistress that is the weather. And these tacos? Well they still won’t quit, which is why they’re being revisited for your blog loving eyes.
Now let’s talk about tacos for a second.
Is there even a more perfect food? Easy to make, easy to eat, with endless combinations, and duh, they’re delicious. When I was growing up the only tacos we ever ate were the kind that came from a kit and involved an unholy amount of yellow, shredded cheddar cheese and sour cream. I loved those crispy shelled, orangey ground beef, beauties so much. Honestly, I still do, and wish I made more time for the taco kit dinners of my youth. Alas there’s just too much kale and not enough time.
That’s at least partially why fried chicken tacos were destined for the blog in the first place. I wanted a taco that reminded me that you can put ANYTHING in a taco. I didn’t want to get hung up on authenticity or the “right” way to do it. Because honestly, I’m an adopted Korean girl who grew up in a heavily Caucasian East-coast suburb – I don’t have the bonafides to speak to anything remotely authentic when it comes to a lot of cuisines (not that it stops me from having an opinion though).
What makes a good taco?
Tacos are pretty simple – filling, a tortilla, and a topping or two. But when the definition is that broad, things can get confusing fast. So instead of sending your head spinning with loads of extras and toppings and variations on a theme, let’s instead break it down into what the taco experience should feel like (at least as far as I’m concerned). These are the things I think all tacos should aim to be.
- Meaty. Of course this doesn’t have to be actual meat. But every taco has to have a main squeeze – this is it.
- Crunchy. Crunchy things are fun to eat and chowing down on tacos should be like going to a dope party, not the DMV.
- Saucy. Getting sauced is not just for the hard party-ers in your crew. A good sauce or salsa can bring the disparate elements of a taco together into one, cohesive, and amazing bite.
- Fresh. Don’t let your taco get bogged down by all meaty sauciness though. A fresh, bright pop can elevate a so-so taco into an epic, food experience in a matter of seconds.
- Hot. So this one is optional, as I get that not everyone likes their food nuclear like me. But I think a little spice without blowing your head off, is key to highlighting flavors and keeping things exciting. So get a little caliente, would ya?
So when you break it down into its conceptual parts, it doesn’t really matter what you put in your taco, as long as it’s got a little of each. If you need a few examples, well I thought you’d never ask!
- Taco kit tacos: Meatiness comes from well, meat, duh. Crunch is supplied by that crispy taco shell. Sauce is an easy one – salsa from a jar. Sour cream, chopped tomato, and shredded lettuce all provide freshness. And heat in our family usually came from a dash or two of tabasco.
- Spicy shrimp tacos with corn and mango salsa: Fish is the meat of the sea, so there’s that. Fresh corn kernels folded into a fruity, herby salsa packed with spicy jalapeno delivers on all the other categories in one fell swoop – easy, right? (oh and you’re not crazy, those tacos don’t actually exist on the blog yet, but just hang in there for a few weeks my pretties).
- These fried chicken tacos with garlic ranch dressing: Crispy, savory, nuggets of fried chicken deliver on crunch and meatiness. Jalapenos bring some heat to the party. A squeeze of lime adds that freshy fresh. And, oh-my-gawd, creamy garlic ranch dressing brings the whole thing together into something that’s as savory as it is satisfying.
So these all sound amazing. But how did I settle on fried chicken?
Well firstly I wanted something crunchy, salty, and a little bit comforting. And if fried chicken doesn’t fit that bill, then I’d like to rescind my food blogger status and start my new life as an underwater basket weaver post haste, because there is something seriously wrong with the world as we know it. Oh ok, we’re all good with fried chicken? Phew. But if you’re going to make a taco with fried chicken as the main ingredient, you have to know a little bit about frying that fowl in the first place.
How to fry chicken
Crispy, golden-brown, perfectly seasoned, juicy fried chicken is not something people take lightly. Recipes are passed down from generation to generation, often shrouded in secrecy – and for good reason! Fried chicken is a national treasure and should be treated as such. So when I decided to make it the center of this taco, I knew I needed to make it great. That being said, fried chicken, like pretty much all food is a matter of taste. So if this fried chicken recipe ain’t your cup of tea, no worries. Fry up some chicken that makes you really happy, and then pop it into a taco. I’m pretty sure it will be awesome.
This fried chicken is simple, flavorful, juicy, and fuss-free. We’re starting with boneless, skinless chicken thighs because easy. We’ll quickly marinate it in a spiced, buttermilk brine, dredge it in seasoned flour, and fry it in a couple batches. Frying at home seems intimidating, I know. But I promise this is easy, you just need to set yourself up for success.
What kind of chicken should I fry?
Because this is going into a taco, we’re going to steer clear of bones – which bonus, means less work for you. Skin is also not a necessary part of this equation, so we can nix that too. That leaves us with the question of white meat versus dark. Both will work, but to be honest, dark meat will always be my preference. It has a higher fat content which will give you juicier, more flavorful tacos in the end. Also it’s harder to screw up.
Making your marinade
Buttermilk is king. Everybody makes fried chicken with buttermilk for a reason. It provides a background hint of tang, but more importantly it’s a natural tenderizer. I combine mine with a blend of potent spices and a hefty dose of salt. Salt is another part of the magic. The concentration of salt here effectively turns our buttermilk marinade into a brine, which adds both flavor and even more moisture to our chicken. Juicy fried chicken, here we come.
How long should you marinate your chicken?
Normally a recipe will start at the 8 hour mark, so that the chicken has plenty of time to suck up all that flavor. But by cutting our chicken into bite sized, taco appropriate pieces, we’re speeding up the process immeasurably. Well not really immeasurably. It can totally be measured, and clocks in at about 30 minutes . But you get the idea – it’s way faster.
Dredging your chicken
We’re not getting fancy here. Our dredge is made up of plain flour and the same spices you used in your buttermilk brine. In fact for convenience, you just mix up a bunch and then split it evenly between the marinade and the flour. After it sits for a bit, drain the chicken, toss it in the flour, and get to frying.
What kind of oil should I use?
You can fry in pretty much any oil you want, but a neutral or flavorless oil is your best bet, as the smoking point (or temperature at which the oil begins to break down) is higher for oils like these. Canola, vegetable, grapeseed, sunflower, or safflower oils are all good options. Peanut oil is also totally awesome for frying, but should be avoided if you or anyone you’re serving has a nut allergy (note my serious tone).
Deep frying vs. Pan frying
What’s the difference? Well think of it this way. Deep frying is like swimming in a big pool, where everyone has room to move around and water comes at you from all angles. Pan frying is more like sitting in a backyard kiddie pool – from the waist down, you’re in the water, your butt making contact with the bottom of the pool, while your top is completely dry. Both are fine for frying chicken, but deep frying involves a little less manhandling of the meat, aside from a few gentle stirring moments, and also promotes more even cooking. Pan frying just means you’ll have to lovingly turn each piece of chicken to make sure it all gets evenly cooked, making sure to avoid any scorching where the food touches the bottom of the pan.
Do I need special equipment to fry?
If you have a high sided pot or skillet, some oil, some food to fry, a tool to fish that food out once it’s done, and a place to park it, then you’re good. However there are a couple of items that will make your frying life a little easier.
- A spider. Not the eight-legged kind that I make Eddie take outside (or honestly, and less humanely sometimes just squish), but a tool made for extracting food from liquid. They look pretty much like a wire strainer attached to a long handle, and they’re just great. Here’s one I like.
- A rimmed baking sheet with a wire cooling rack. The combo is extremely handy for baking, frying, cooling, roasting, etc. Basically a good kitchen investment overall.
- An instant read thermometer. This is one of those things that I lived without forever (so it is possible), but once I got my hot little hands on one (to the tune of about 15 bucks) it was like my whole world opened up. No more guessing how hot the oil is or if the chicken is done. Knowledge is power, people.
Ok, after that whirlwind of fry talk I bet you’re exhausted. I sure am. Luckily the hardest part is over. Everything else comes together in a snap. Heat up your tortillas in the oven, or give them a quick char over a medium burner, mix up your dressing, set out your lettuce, cheese, and other condiments, crack an adult beverage, and call everyone over for taco time!
If you make these for Cinco de Mayo (or even just for dinner with your fam) I’d love if you would tag me in a pic. And if you need any more fiesta worthy recipes, take a gander at these.
- Quick pickled onions – suitable for garnishing pretty much everything
- Charred corn queso – because life isn’t worth it without cheese dip
- Tofu chorizo tacos – for my plant based peeps
- Turkey taco skillet – like nachos, but healthier and without the mess
Oh, and Happy freaking Friday!Print
Fried Chicken Tacos with Garlic Ranch Dressing
Fried chicken tacos with garlic ranch dressing are a totally fun twist for Taco Tuesday. Crunchy nuggets of flavorful fried chicken, wrapped in a warm tortilla, and drizzled with homemade garlic ranch – how could you not?
- Prep Time: 30 Minutes
- Cook Time: 30 Minutes
- Total Time: 1 hour
- Yield: 8 Servings 1x
- Category: Dinner
- Cuisine: Mexican
For the Fried Chicken Tacos:
3 tsp kosher salt
½ tsp black pepper
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp smoked paprika
2 tsp garlic powder
½ tsp cayenne pepper
2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into bite sized pieces
1 C buttermilk
1 T hot sauce
Neutral oil for frying
8, 6 inch flour tortillas
1 1/2 C flour
To garnish: grated cheese, shredded lettuce or cabbage, sliced jalapeno, pickled red onions, avocado, lime wedges, hot sauce, creamy garlic ranch (recipe below)
For Creamy Garlic Ranch Dressing:
1 T apple cider vinegar
1–2 garlic cloves, minced or grated
½ tsp kosher salt
½ tsp black pepper
¼ C buttermilk
½ C mayonnaise
3 dashes Worcestershire sauce
1 T chopped dill
2 scallions, finely chopped
For Fried Chicken Tacos:
Preheat your oven to 250° F and line a rimmed baking sheet with a few layers of paper towels. Set aside.
In a small bowl combine salt, pepper, thyme, paprika, garlic powder and cayenne. Set aside. In a medium bowl combine buttermilk, hot sauce and half of the spice mixture, stirring to dissolve the salt. Add chicken and stir to evenly coat. Cover and refrigerate for at least 20 minutes and up to one hour. This would be a good opportunity to get your garnishes prepped and dressing made.
Wrap the tortillas tightly in aluminum foil and place in the oven to heat. In a large, high-sided skillet or dutch oven heat enough oil to come just halfway up the side of pan over medium high heat until it reaches 350° F. While you’re waiting on the oil, combine flour with the remaining spice mixture in a shallow dish (a pie plate works well here). Remove half of the chicken from the buttermilk mixture, letting most of the excess liquid drain away, and transfer to the seasoned flour. Toss to coat the chicken evenly.
When the oil is ready, carefully fry the chicken in two (or three) batches for 7-8 minutes or until golden brown and cooked through in the center (165 on an instant read thermometer). Stir or turn occasionally to keep pieces from sticking together and to promote even browning. Drain chicken well and transfer to a rimmed baking sheet with wire cooling rack. Place in the oven to keep warm. Repeat the flouring and frying process with the other half of the chicken.
Remove chicken and tortillas from the oven. Assemble your crew and crush some tacos!
For the Garlic Ranch Dressing:
Combine all ingredients in a bowl and mix thoroughly. Cover and refrigerate for up to three days.
You can use white meat chicken here, but be careful not to overcook it.
If you don’t have buttermilk you can make your own by combining 1 cup of regular milk with 1 tablespoon of lemon juice or white vinegar. Stir and let that hang out for ten minutes. When you come back to it, you’ll have something pretty similar to buttermilk. Magic!
The temperature of the oil will plummet as soon as the food goes in. This is normal, but adjust the heat slightly to bring the oil back up as the chicken continues to cook. Take a five minute break between batches to let the oil come back up to temp if it’s a little under.
The fried chicken will stay hot and crispy for about 30 minutes in a low oven.
The dressing can be made up to a two days in advance.
If you want, feel free to char the tortillas over an open flame instead of heating them in oven – the flavor difference is worth it. You can also char them and then wrap in foil to stay warm in the oven while you make the rest of the recipe.
Keywords: fried chicken tacos, americanized tacos, homemade ranch dressing, how to fry chicken, how to make ranch dressing