Food & Drink

Alabama Firecrackers and Fried Chicken Salad

A craveable, snackable tailgating must from the chef John Currence

Photo: Peter Frank Edwards

It only makes sense that chicken salad made with fried chicken would be better than chicken salad made with boiled, baked, grilled, or roasted chicken. Because fried chicken kicks the crap out of any other kind of chicken, right? If you don’t agree, well, I don’t give a damn, because I happen to be right, and this is one of those instances that is entirely unequivocal, so that is that. Let’s move on. . . .

If you’ve never had Alabama firecrackers, and, having made these, you want to erect a statue of me as a token of thanks, I completely understand. These are one of the best little snack items there is, and you will likely keep them around the house forever, like I do. Tip: You will need two-gallon freezer bags to make these. —John Currence



    • ¼ cup olive oil

    • ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil*

    • 1½ tsp. garlic powder

    • 1 tsp. onion powder

    • 1 tsp. MSG, such as Accent

    • 1 tsp. cayenne pepper

    • 2 tbsp. red pepper flakes

    • 1 tbsp. lemon pepper

    • 2 (1-oz.) packages buttermilk ranch dressing powder

    • 1 (1-lb.) box saltine-like (aka soda) crackers

    • *For more spice, substitute 1 to 2 tbsp. chili oil instead of olive oil


    • 1½ cups mayonnaise, preferably Blue Plate

    • ½ cup buttermilk

    • 2 tbsp. hot sauce, preferably Crystal

    • 1 cup minced celery

    • ¾ cup grated sweet yellow onion

    • 1 tbsp. red pepper flakes

    • 2½ tsp. salt

    • 1½ tbsp. black pepper

    • 7 cups finely diced leftover fried chicken, including the skin and fried bits


  1. For the firecrackers: In a 2-gallon freezer bag, combine the olive oils, garlic powder, onion powder, MSG, cayenne, red pepper flakes, lemon pepper, and ranch dressing powder. Seal the top and shake gently but thoroughly to combine well. Add the crackers to the bag and mix until the crackers are evenly dressed. Allow the bag to sit in the refrigerator overnight before finishing the crackers.

  2. Preheat oven to 275°F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

  3. Remove the crackers from the bag and lay them out in a single layer on the prepared sheets. Bake for 20 minutes, or until golden and fragrant. Store, refrigerated, in zip-top bags for up to 3 weeks.

  4. For the chicken salad: In a large bowl, combine the mayonnaise, buttermilk, hot sauce, celery, onion, red pepper flakes, salt, and black pepper, stirring to blend well. Add in the chicken and stir until fully coated. Refrigerate overnight. Serve cold with the Alabama firecrackers.

Reprinted from TAILGREAT: How to Crush It at Tailgating. Copyright © 2020 by John Currence. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Photographs copyright © 2020 by Peter Frank Edwards.