8 Ways To Upgrade Chicken Fried Steak

Indulgent, comforting, and deeply rooted in Southern culinary tradition, chicken fried steak has rightly earned its place on dining tables across America. Originating from the heart of Southern kitchens with the influence of German and Austrian cuisines, this dish boasts a humble yet hardy foundation: a tenderized steak coated in seasoned flour, pan-fried to a golden crisp, and smothered in a rich, creamy country gravy. It's a dish that embodies the essence of comfort food, offering a satisfying crunch with every bite alongside a warm, savory embrace. In fact, chicken fried steak has become such a popular and beloved dish that it has its very own National Day, which is celebrated on October 26. Oklahoma even named it the state's official meal in the late 1980s.

But beyond its simple origins lies a culinary canvas ripe for creativity, innovation, and reinvention. From imaginative twists on breading to clever gravy variations, serving modifications, and unexpected flavor pairings, a world of possibilities is waiting to be explored. So, whether you're a seasoned home cook or an adventurous foodie eager to expand your palate, buckle up and prepare to embark on a journey that pays homage to tradition while embracing the spirit of these culinary creations.

1. Add spices to the batter for a hotter variation

Upgrading chicken fried steak with a fiery blend of spices is the perfect solution for those craving an extra boost of flavor and a hint of heat. You can elevate the traditional batter by seasoning your flour mix with bold spices like cayenne pepper and smoked paprika to add a few layers of complexity and an irresistible piquancy to every bite. The cayenne pepper brings a welcoming warmth that tingles the taste buds, while the smoked paprika imparts a rich, smoky depth that perfectly complements the savory notes of the steak. In fact, some know this spicy variation as Nashville hot chicken fried steak.

Plus, if you'd like to intensify the taste further, incorporating a splash of your favorite hot sauce into the egg mixture adds an unexpected kick and ensures that every inch of the steak is infused with a burst of heat that's sure to leave taste buds tingling and hearts warmed. This version of chicken fried steak pays homage to its Southern roots while boldly embracing the world of spicy cuisine, proving that a bit of heat can go a long way in transforming a beloved classic into a vibrant masterpiece.

2. Serve as a bite-sized dish with chicken fried steak fingers

Transforming traditional chicken fried steak into bite-sized delights opens a world of culinary possibilities, offering a versatile twist on this beloved Southern classic. By slicing the steak into finger-sized strips and coating them in a crispy batter, chicken fried steak fingers provide a convenient and portable way to enjoy this comfort food favorite. What sets this version apart is the departure from the traditional smothering of gravy; instead, the gravy takes on a new role as a flavorful dipping sauce, adding a layer of indulgence with each dunk.

This innovative approach not only allows for a more interactive dining experience but also caters to a broader audience, appealing to both adults and children alike. For adults, the bite-sized portions offer a playful yet satisfying way to take a trip down memory lane while savoring the same flavors. For children, the smaller size and dipping sauce make it a fun and approachable dish. In addition, serving chicken fried steak fingers opens up new possibilities for entertaining, whether as a crowd-pleasing appetizer at gatherings or as part of a more casual family meal. In any case, chicken fried steak fingers embody the spirit of comfort food reinvented, proving that sometimes the best way to upgrade a classic is to think outside the plate.

3. Swap the gravy for peppercorn sauce

Swapping the traditional gravy for peppercorn sauce introduces a whole new dimension of flavor and sophistication to this beloved dish. While gravy typically consists of pan drippings thickened with flour or cornstarch, peppercorn sauce offers a distinct flavor profile, characterized by a creamy base infused with cracked black peppercorns, butter, cream, and sometimes brandy or cognac for added depth of flavor. The difference between sauce and gravy lies primarily in their ingredients and consistency. Where gravy tends to be thicker and heartier, the sauce is often more refined and lighter, designed to complement rather than overpower the main dish.

The union of the bold, spicy notes of cracked peppercorns with the richness of the cream creates a luxurious sauce that perfectly complements the crispy exterior and tender interior of the chicken fried steak. With this swap, you'd create a symphony of flavors that elevate the humble steak to new heights of indulgence and add a touch of elegance and refinement to this comforting classic. Might we suggest a brandy peppercorn steak sauce for starters? So, for those looking to upgrade their chicken fried steak to gourmet status, swapping out the gravy for peppercorn sauce is a deliciously daring move that is guaranteed to leave you craving seconds.

4. Make a chicken fried steak sandwich

Introducing chicken fried steak as the star of a sandwich is a clever upgrade that transforms this Southern classic into a handheld masterpiece, offering convenience without compromising on flavor. By sandwiching the crispy, golden-brown steak between two slices of bread, whether it's hearty burger buns, fluffy brioche, rustic ciabatta, or tangy sourdough, you create a satisfying meal that's as versatile as it is delicious. What makes this version stand out is the opportunity to generously smear the gravy onto the bread rather than drizzling it over the steak. The result? A harmonious blend of textures and flavors that satisfies even the heartiest appetites.

Not only does the chicken fried steak sandwich make for a quick and easy meal that can be whipped up in no time and taken on the go, but it also serves as a crowd-pleaser that caters to everyone around the table, regardless of their age. Give this variation a try and enjoy it at a backyard barbecue, a casual lunch gathering, or a relaxed family picnic. The chicken fried steak sandwich will surely steal the show by bringing comfort and joy with every bite.

5. Top with spicy queso

Trading the traditional gravy for spicy queso will undoubtedly give your chicken fried steak an unexpected twist. Queso is a creamy, melted cheese dip typically made from a blend of cheese, milk or cream, and various seasonings. By adding this Tex-Mex twist to a Southern classic, you'd bring in a blast of bold flavors that wakes up your taste buds and kicks this comfort food favorite up a notch.

What makes queso particularly exciting is the plethora of variations available, ranging from mild and creamy to fiery and robust. Some recipes incorporate diced tomatoes, green chilies, or jalapeños for an extra kick, while others add spices like cumin, chili powder, or smoked paprika to deepen the flavor profile. Whether you prefer a milder, more traditional queso or crave the intense heat of a spicier version, there's a variation to suit every taste preference. Topping chicken fried steak with an easy homemade queso adds a velvety richness that complements the crispy exterior of the steak, creating a harmonious balance of flavors and textures that are not only irresistible but also sure to be a hit at any gathering.

6. Coat with corn chips for extra crunch

Upgrading chicken fried steak to have more crunch involves coating it with crushed corn chips, elevating the texture and flavor to new heights. To achieve this crispy variation, you start by dipping the steak in the seasoned flour mix, followed by the egg wash, just as you traditionally would. However, instead of going for a second dip in the flour, you take things up a notch by pressing the steak into a pile of corn chip crumbs, ensuring every inch is covered in a crunchy coating.

This simple yet ingenious step transforms each bite into a satisfying crunch-fest, and the best part is that there are plenty of corn chip flavors to choose from, meaning that you could keep switching things up with different varieties. As the steak sizzles in the hot oil, the corn chip crumbs crisp up to golden perfection, creating a delicious contrast to the tender meat within, making this chicken fried steak a crowd-pleaser one crispy bite at a time.

7. Ditch the gravy and top with caramelized onions

Onions are the unsung heroes of the kitchen, lending their distinct flavor and versatility to countless dishes worldwide. Whether sautéed to release their natural sweetness or enjoyed raw for a pungent kick, onions are essential for building layers of flavor. Thus, if you want to upgrade your chicken fried steak by doing the unthinkable, ditch the traditional gravy altogether and instead top the meat with a generous pile of caramelized onions for a savory-sweet twist.

Serving the onions atop the crispy chicken fried steak creates a dish with added depth and tastiness that melds with the savory flavors of the steak. The result is a mouthwatering mix that's sure to satisfy even the most picky eaters. While having chicken fried steak without gravy might be unthinkable for some, this version offers a delicious departure from tradition while still paying homage to the dish's comforting roots.

8. Make it keto

Making a keto-friendly version of chicken fried steak opens the door to a whole new world of low-carb indulgence without sacrificing flavor or texture. One effective way to reduce the dish's carb content is by substituting the traditional flour mix with a carb-free alternative. A winning combination involves using almond flour, finely grated Parmesan cheese, and a blend of spices to create a flavorful, keto-friendly coating. Almond flour makes an excellent substitute for all-purpose flour and provides a nutty richness while keeping the carb count low. At the same time, finely grated Parmesan cheese adds a savory kick and helps achieve that crispy golden crust essential to chicken fried steak.

To enhance the flavor profile, a blend of spices such as garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, and black pepper can be incorporated into the coating mixture. This not only adds depth of flavor but also ensures that every bite is packed with deliciousness. By making these simple swaps, you can transform this Southern classic into a keto-friendly dish that's as satisfying as it is wholesome. Whether you're following a keto diet or simply looking to reduce your carb intake, this version of chicken fried steak proves that you can enjoy your favorite comfort foods without compromising on taste or dietary goals.