Drinks that’ll give your (yard) bird the fine dining treatment

Southern Kitchen
Pairing wines and beers with fried chicken

Finding the perfect food and drink pairing can set off fireworks on your taste buds. No longer relegated to fancy restaurants with stiff sommeliers, you too can create amazing beverage pairings with everyday foods.

Perhaps the most iconic dish in the Southern food catalog, fried chicken deserves to be honored by a full array of boozy friends, including wine, beer and even bubbles. No matter your preference, we’ve included some tasty, quaffable options to sip with your meal.

All your questions are answered in the video below, or scroll down futher if you’d rather read than watch.

White Wine: Ditch the richness and go aromatic

Fried chicken can be deceptively tricky to pair with white wine because for many, the natural inclination is to stack up rich on rich, a.k.a. buttery chardonnay or wines made from Rhone grapes, like marsanne or roussane. Against the saltiness of fried chicken, these wines can come off as flabby or even sour. Instead, hit up more aromatic wines, such as riesling or grüner veltliner for a much more pleasing contrast. Many rieslings from Germany’s Mosel River Valley strike a wonderful balance between sweetness and acidity, much like fried chicken’s picnic pairing pal, lemonade. Look for rieslings classified as “kabinett,” which denotes light wines made from fully ripened grapes. These will typically have a small amount of residual sugar — certainly less so than the sweeter “spätlese” and “auslese” — but are not as dry as those labeled “trocken.” 

Red Wine: Viva España

Pairing red wine with fried chicken is much easier, as the key lies in matching up the richness of the crispy bird with fat-cutting tannins. Since the crust of most fried chicken carries some heavy spice notes — often cayenne, paprika and garlic powder — look to a spice-friendly wine, such as tempranillo or priorat, for the best results. Tempranillo grapes produce full-bodied wines and are one of the most common grapes grown in Rioja, Spain’s largest wine-producing region. Much like Southern cuisine, Spanish food is often packed with bold spices, and tempranillo can handle many assertive flavors. This is a pairing that allows both co-stars to share the stage harmoniously.

Champagne: The unsung hero

While it may not seem obvious, arguably the best beverage to pair with fried chicken is a bone-dry Champagne. Think of some of the most popular foods to pair with French Champagne: oysters, caviar, popcorn. What do they all have in common? Salt. Sodium enhances the sensation of carbonation, and brings out more pronounced flavors in the Champagne, while at the same time, sparkling wine acts as a sort of palate cleanser for the naturally fatty dish. The acidity keeps you wanting to go back for more, rather than throwing in the towel early.

What if beer is more your speed?

Let’s face it: It’s hard to find a cold beer that wouldn’t beautifully accompany a plate of crispy poultry. However, if you’re looking to really up your beer pairing game, we have two suggestions. First, the bitterness of pale ale, specifically IPA or imperial IPA, is a nice contrast to the rich fried chicken. Similar to the way that salty and fatty cured pork (bacon, ham hocks, country ham) can be utilized to soften the bitter edge of braised collard greens, the bitter hoppiness of the beer can cut through the fat of the chicken to refresh your palate. Finally, if your only beer source is the local gas station, don’t fret. Reach for an ice-cold Miller High Life. Affectionately known as the “Champagne of beers,” the brew has a similar palate-cleansing effect as actual Champagne, and it cartainly won’t draw any sideways looks if brought to a picnic.