How to Fry Chicken for a Crowd, According to a Fried Chicken Champion

Updated: Dec. 04, 2023

Crispy, juicy, hot fried chicken for every last guest? It’s possible with these tips for making fried chicken for a crowd from the reigning winner of the National Fried Chicken Festival.

Whether you’re planning a backyard barbecue, family reunion or festive gathering with friends, the sizzle and aroma of perfectly fried chicken can transform any occasion into an unforgettable feast. But frying chicken for a crowd can be challenging. First, you have to estimate how much chicken to make. And then you have to figure out how to keep each piece warm without ruining its crispy-on-the-outside, juicy-on-the-inside appeal.

Luckily, Wendy McCrory, a fried chicken aficionado and owner of Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken, was willing to part with a few sizzling secrets. The Tennessee-based chain has locations all over the country—including New Orleans, where the National Fried Chicken Festival takes place each fall. Gus’s took home the Best Fried Chicken award at the festival in 2019 and 2022, and the Gus’s crew is back this year to defend that title among the festival’s 50 participating restaurants. Talk about cooking for a crowd: McCrory is bringing a whopping 4,000 pounds of chicken to feed the anticipated 100,000 attendees!

How much fried chicken should you make per person?

Instead of focusing on how many pounds of chicken to buy, McCrory says to think about how many pieces of chicken you need. Some people will be fine with one chicken breast, while others might prefer three legs. In her experience, it almost always averages out to two pieces per person.

If that sounds like it won’t be enough, remember that you’ll probably have plenty of fried chicken sides to satisfy your guests’ appetites. For those who would rather prepare a little extra, buffer the numbers by adding a few additional guests to the count.

Also, check these best fast food fried chicken.

Can fried chicken be prepared ahead of time?

fried chickenTMB studio

Gus’s preps its chicken in advance, marinating it for about 24 hours before it hits the fryer. McCrory says most home cooks put herbs and spices in the batter or breading, but make the mistake of soaking the chicken in plain milk or buttermilk. Instead, add seasonings to the marinade and let it sit for 8 to 24 hours, giving you flavor all the way down to the bone.

The restaurant uses a wet batter instead of a breading, like in our crispy fried chicken recipe. It keeps the chicken moist as it cooks and protects the crispy exterior from falling off as you eat it. While Gus’s puts the batter on in advance to seal in extra seasoning, it’s optional at home. If you soak your chicken in a flavorful marinade, you can bread or batter the chicken right before it goes into the fryer.

How long does it take to fry chicken for a crowd?

Chickens come in all shapes and sizes, so you’ll want to plan for different cooking times for each piece. Measuring the internal temperature is the best way to know when fried chicken is done. The USDA recommends a minimum of 165°F for poultry. Depending on your oil temperature, it will likely take 18 to 20 minutes for bone-in chicken breasts, 16 to 18 minutes for chicken thighs, about 16 minutes for drumsticks and 12 to 13 minutes for wings.

The smaller pieces will cook faster, and they’ll also cool off more quickly. That means a cooked chicken breast will retain its heat longer than a chicken wing. McCrory recommends staggering when you drop the pieces into the fryer, starting with the large pieces and leading up to the smallest ones. That way, everything comes out hot and fresh at the same time—or pretty close.

How much chicken can you fry at once?

Overcrowding the pan is never a good idea. Adding too much chicken at the same time will drop the oil temperature, so you’ll end up with soggy, greasy chicken instead of a crispy, crunchy coating.

Gus’s can fry 240 to 260 pieces at a time at the National Fried Chicken Festival, but McCrory fries in a regular cast-iron skillet at home. She recommends making sure there’s at least an inch between each piece. That likely means frying chicken in batches, so pay attention to the oil temperature and wait until it goes back up before adding the next batch of chicken.

How do you keep fried chicken warm and crispy?

crispy fried chicken sandwiches in foilCourtesy National Fried Chicken Festival

Fried chicken tastes fine at room temperature, but it’s really best when it’s hot. Keep fried chicken warm on a sheet pan in a 250° oven while you cook the remaining batches. The big thing you want to watch out for here is keeping the chicken crispy. You can’t keep it warm like a roast (tightly wrapped in foil to keep the heat in) because that introduces moisture, making the breading soggy. Instead, tent the chicken lightly with foil to allow the steam to escape.

How long can fried chicken sit out?

Fried chicken will dry out if it sits too long, so McCrory recommends serving it fresh out of the fryer if you can. There’s no better way to serve it—and no better way to eat it!

If you end up with leftovers, refrigerate cooked chicken within two hours. It should last for about three to four days in the fridge. Check out our top tips for how to reheat fried chicken to maintain its crunchy outside and juicy inside.

Any other advice for someone cooking chicken for a crowd?

McCrory says the best thing you can do in the kitchen is to have fun and experiment. Try different seasonings and get creative! “The more risk you’re willing to take, the greater success you’re going to have,” she says. “Everybody is just one ingredient away from creating a world-famous recipe.”