Fried chicken dining a growth industry in Utah

Thursday , December 11, 2014 - 3:39 PM

By Dana Rimington
Standard-Examiner correspondent

Fried chicken may be an all-American food, but it has seen some changes over the years when it comes to how it is served and prepared in restaurants.

Many eateries now make it as a less-fattening food, while still keeping it delicious with its unique battered and fried meat taste.

Even better is that fried chicken is versatile — one can eat it at a dining table, or pack it up for a picnic lunch and eat it with your hands.

When it comes to serving fried chicken at Top of Utah eateries, cooking the time-honored meal is time consuming, which is probably why restaurants are staying busy.

“I think frying chicken at home is becoming a less popular option because people don’t want to go through the work of preparing fried chicken. Who wants to handle raw chicken, bread and batter it, then get the oil out to fry it, and then clean up the mess,” said Irvin Maddox, president of the Maddox Ranch House Corp. in Perry.

Maddox devotes 200 square feet of its restaurant solely to the production of its fried chicken recipe, which is different because they prepare the chicken by peeling off the skin and then putting a fried crispy coating on it.

Devoting so much time and space to making fried chicken may be an anomaly in the industry, Maddox said, but they have been doing it for 65 years. And diners still come demanding more, so they keep on producing what they do best, going through 4,000 to 5,000 pounds of chicken per week.

“People keep requesting it, because you don’t get a similar recipe anywhere else because it is so labor-intensive and requires a lot of equipment, which may be too much work for anybody else to take on,” Maddox said. “For those who are calorie or fat-conscious, but still want a fried chicken, this is the only alternative on the market if you don’t want the extra calories and fat that comes with the skin.”

Popeyes, which will be opening a store in Ogden in December, spends 12 hours marinating their chicken and then 15 minutes to batter it up, roll in flour and then fry it. Running out of chicken is never a good thing because it takes so long to prepare, according to Vanessa Jaynes, Popeyes brand ambassador.

One of the challenges for restaurants preparing fried chicken is that Utahns prefer white meat. Larry’s Spring Chicken Inn in Morgan has overcome the challenge by offering fresh chicken fried in animal and vegetable oil, which helps with the flavoring, according to Larry Wiggill, owner of the restaurant. Their deep fried boneless, skinless chicken breast sandwich is one of their most popular menu options.

“However, we are seeing an increase in people eating dark meat. White meat used to be more popular because it is said to be healthier, but dark meat is juicier,” Wiggill said. Their chicken is fresh when it is ordered, so like their other fried chicken restaurant counterparts, cooking their chicken takes up to 20 minutes.

Maddox combats Utahns’ love of white meat by providing their dark meat chicken with the skin pulled off. “We have a very lean chicken, probably the leanest I know of because we remove a lot of the fat calories when we remove the skin and our coating is a very light and thin crispy coating that doesn’t hold much oil,” Maddox said.

Popeyes was very worried how their restaurant would do in the white meat-loving state.

“I was worried about the white meat preference, but one of the big things we sell, and most of the money we make (in Utah), is our fried chicken tenders because we can make them spicy or mild,” Jaynes said. “Our fried meat is not as greasy as other fried chicken because we use shortening, not oil, and we can do Cajun style.”

The new Popeyes in Ogden will be located on 217 E. 12th St. They have seen so much success with fried chicken that they will be opening 12 to 15 locations across the Top of Utah soon.

Maddox may even be expanding. Maddox’s father, the original owner, did not want to grow the business into other locations, but the new owner says he is open minded to exploring that option.

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