Fried chicken is one of the most popular kinds of food in the world. Next to hamburgers, it’s probably the most popular fast food item on the planet. It’s also a multi-billion dollar industry, with many chains competing for a slice of the pie. There are all sorts of fried chicken too, ranging from the simple to the exotic. These kinds also take into account local and sometimes foreign tastes. But whatever the kind of fried chicken, it’s sure to have its fans. You may even want to thank those who invented fried chicken for creating this culinary favorite. But that may not be that simple. As it turns out, the question of who invented fried chicken doesn’t have an easy answer.

Not One Person Invented Fried Chicken

Who invented fried chicken? It sounds like a simple question, right? As stated in the introduction, it has a complex answer. In fact, there’s not one person who can claim to be the inventor of fried chicken. It’s not something created by a single individual like some other dishes.

It may be first worth noting what chicken is. The chicken is the domesticated variant of the red junglefowl (Gallus gallus), which originated in what is today Southeast and South Asia. Red junglefowl resembles a typical rooster, but is smaller. Unlike most chickens, they can actually fly, albeit pretty poor, and can only do so for what are essentially short hops.

Chicken domestication has a long history. Researchers believe that it emerged thousands of years ago. Evidence for the practice can be found in both the Indus Valley and Chinese civilizations. The practice may have started independently in multiple areas and people did not just raise chickens for food. In some areas, they had religious significance as well. Some cultures also engaged in cockfighting. Thus, people raised chickens for multiple purposes.

Where Did Fried Chicken Originate?

It’s highly likely that the concept of frying chicken emerged in multiple places rather than a single location. For example, evidence of frying chicken can be found in ancient Egypt, ancient Greece, and China. In places where there was an overlap between chicken domestication and frying, fried chicken seems like the natural outcome. Yes, your ancestors were frying chicken even in the days of King Tut and Cleopatra!

Although fried chicken became popular in many places, each still put its own tastes in it. For example, European and African fried chicken cooks used local ingredients. Indeed, American fried chicken has had influences from both European and African cultures. We’ll talk more about those influences later in this article.

When Did Fried Chicken Originate?

Fried chicken has quite a long history. As mentioned earlier, many cultures around the world had already been frying for a long time. In addition, chickens were an easy source of meat. Given how common they were, it’s not surprising that people learned to fry chicken meat.

Despite how common frying is in civilizations around the world, it wasn’t universal. Take Japan for example. Given Chinese influences, frying techniques may have already existed there in the first millennium CE. However, frying did not initially take off as the primary oil of the time, sesame oil, was out of reach for most people. Indeed, at the time, sesame oil was associated with nobility and the higher classes. It wasn’t until trading with the Portuguese started when Japanese frying as we know it emerged. We’ll talk more about it later.

Regardless, fried chicken has been with us almost since the dawn of civilization. Some may think that fried chicken has only existed for the last few hundred years, but that’s not the case at all. However, trade and interactions have allowed different techniques and ingredients to spread around the world. If it weren’t for trade, our favorite kinds of fried chicken may not even exist today. So while fried chicken is millennia-old, different kinds of fried chicken may have shorter histories.

Who Invented Southern Fried Chicken?

In the United States, most associate fried chicken with the South. And no, it’s just because of KFC. This is because the dish was a common sight on dinner tables in slave plantations. The origins of southern fried chicken are interesting. Historians believe that it may have been a mix of both African and European influences. Most slaves came from Africa, a place where frying and chicken were common. When slaves arrived in America, they took with them some of their home knowledge. These included techniques, ingredients, or whatever information was needed to make fried chicken. At the same time, European cookbooks also began to publish recipes. For example, the BBC notes that Scottish cooks were already publishing fried chicken recipes as early as the 18th century. Whatever the case, Southern fried chicken became a mix of non-American and American tastes.

Interestingly enough, fried chicken also became a symbol of empowerment among African Americans. This was both for economic and cultural reasons. In some African cultures, chickens had a religious significance, something that was not lost on the slaves upon arriving in America. At the time, fried chicken wasn’t the easiest dish to prepare. As such, it became associated with important occasions like church feasts. Indeed, some slang terms for a chicken like “gospel bird” are a result of this association. On the other hand, African Americans would serve fried chicken to travelers and other people as a source of income. The town of Gordonsville, Virginia, formerly a popular train stop, commemorates its fried chicken heritage with an annual festival.