Food & Drink

Pickle-Brined Dipped Chicken

Serves 4-6

North Carolina’s answer to Nashville hot chicken

Photo: Johnny Autry

It came from Piedmont North Carolina, where Benjamin Franklin Cureton, of Frankie’s Chicken Shack in Salisbury, had the brainstorm to plunge fried chicken into the vinegar-based, tomato-tinged barbecue sauce native to nearby Lexington. Dipped chicken—the sweet-sour-spicy-crunchy result—kept Frankie’s in business from 1942 to 2004, and it’s still the main attraction at Keaton’s Barbecue in Cleveland and Ted’s Famous Chicken in Winston-Salem. Although Mike Moore grew up across the state, in Elm City, dipped chicken still brings back memories for him. “It reminds me of something my grandma used to do,” he says. “When she fried chicken, she made a brown gravy and added a lot of hot-pepper vinegar from the table, then poured it over the chicken.” At the now-closed Old Etowah Smokehouse, just south of Asheville, Moore followed the bare-bones gospel of Eastern North Carolina barbecue, but also riffed on tradition with beet-pickled deviled eggs and pimento cheese fondue. His dipped chicken recipe is mostly straight down the line, with one big twist: a dill pickle brine. “The vinegar helps balance the crispy crunch of the chicken,” he says. “Plus, I just love dill pickles.”


    • 1 3½- to 4-pound chicken, cut into 10 pieces

  • Brine

    • 2 cups white vinegar

    • 1 cup apple cider vinegar

    • 4 cups water

    • 1/4 cup salt

    • 2 tbsp. mustard seeds

    • 2 tbsp. black pepper

    • 2 tbsp. red pepper flakes

    • 1/4 cup chopped fresh dill

    • 2 shallots, sliced

    • 3 cloves garlic, sliced

  • Dip

    • 1 cup white vinegar

    • 1/4 cup water

    • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar

    • 1 whole clove

    • 1/2 tsp. salt

    • 1 scant tsp. black pepper

    • 1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper

    • 1 tsp. brown sugar

    • 1/2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce

    • 2 tbsp. ketchup

    • 1 tbsp. Texas Pete or other vinegar-based hot sauce

  • Dredge and fry

    • 4 cups all-purpose flour

    • 2 tsp. onion powder

    • 2 tsp. garlic powder

    • 1 tsp. cayenne

    • 2 tbsp. salt

    • 2 tbsp. black pepper

    • 2 cups buttermilk

    • 1/4 cup Texas Pete or other vinegar-based hot sauce

    • Peanut oil, for frying


  1. For the brine:

    To make the brine, combine vinegars with water, salt, mustard seeds, pepper, and red pepper flakes in a large stockpot and bring the mixture to a boil over high heat. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature, then add dill, shallots, garlic, and chicken. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

  2. For the dip:

    To make the dip, combine all ingredients in a medium sauce-pan and simmer on medium-low heat for 10–15 minutes or until thickened. Cool to room temperature, remove clove, and then place in an airtight container and refrigerate until ready to use. For the dredge, combine flour and the other dry ingredients in a large bowl or a shallow pan and mix well. Combine buttermilk and hot sauce in a second large bowl or shallow pan. Remove chicken from brine. Drain well and pat dry with paper towels.

  3. For the dredge and fry:

    Dip chicken in the seasoned flour to coat, then in the buttermilk mixture, and then in the flour again. Shake off excess flour and place on a rack.

  4. To fry the chicken, fill a Dutch oven or a large, deep-sided cast-iron skillet with 2 inches of oil. Clip a frying thermometer to the side, place the pot over medium-high heat, and bring the oil to 350˚F. (The temperature of the oil will drop when you add the chicken. Adjust the heat so it stays around 325˚F for the duration of the fry.) Fry 3 or 4 pieces at a time for 8 minutes per side. When the chicken is golden brown and registers 165˚F on an instant-read thermometer, remove with tongs to a rack set over a paper-towel-lined baking sheet.

  5. Let the chicken cool for 15 minutes. Microwave the dip to reheat, then plate the chicken and pour warm dip over each piece until fully covered. Serve immediately.

Recipe from chef Mike Moore of the former Old Etowah Smokehouse in Etowah, North Carolina

Hot Tip:

To be sure each piece of chicken cooks thoroughly and doesn’t burn, start with a three-and-a-half or four-pound fryer chicken, not a heavyweight roaster. Halving the breasts also helps them cook on schedule.