Why Chick-Fil-A's Biscuits Are So Delicious

People who love Chick-fil-A really, really love Chick-fil-A. It's almost a way of life, and whether you prefer their chicken sandwiches or their chicken nuggets, everyone can agree that their biscuits are as close to heavenly as we're likely to get while still on earth. 

They're just the right amount of fluffy and flaky, and they're the kind of buttery that brings the flavor but not that greasy, heavy feeling that comes with something that's been drenched in butter. They're perfect as a sandwich or, let's be honest: they'd be perfect right out of the oven and right into a bucket to take home, too. 

Chick-fil-A has had a long time to perfect their biscuits. They started making them in 1986, and they've made a lot of them. In 2018 alone, they sold 133 million of these delicious, buttery biscuits, and if that seems like a lot, consider this: the people of Atlanta bought 20.3 million just by themselves! Fans already know that each biscuit is handmade, but what else goes into making these so gosh darn good? Quite a bit!

Chick-fil-A's biscuits are always super fresh

We all know that baked goods are the best when they're right out of the oven, and Chick-fil-A knows it, too. That's why they have biscuit-making on a rotation that guarantees each and every customer is going to get a biscuit that's warm because it's fresh, not because it's been reheated. 

Chick-fil-A's biscuit-making teams are a well-oiled (or is it, well-buttered?) machine. Each tray holds 20 biscuits, and each time one comes out of the oven there's another one ready and waiting to go in. There's a lot of work that goes into the entire process, too, and considering they do it over and over again every day they're open, serving up biscuits starting at 6 a.m. and ending at 10:30 a.m., those are some seriously dedicated bakers. 

Oh, and those first biscuits that are served to the earliest of early bird customers? Since it takes about half an hour to make a tray of biscuits from start to finish, employees have actually been there since 5:30 a.m., mixing, kneading, and baking. There's no leftover-from-last-night biscuits here!

Chick-fil-A biscuits are made with a particular type of flour

Chick-fil-A uses something akin to a secret ingredient, but it turns out that it's not so secret after all... at least, not if you're from the south. 

The chain's culinary expert, Wing Lau, has spilled the beans on some of the secrets behind their biscuits (via Southern Living). And part of it is in the flour. They only use White Lily flour, and it turns out that not only is flour a big deal, but White Lily is perfect for biscuits.

According to Southern Kitchen, White Lily flour is the go-to for any southern baker or chef who's serious about their biscuits. That's because it's made from soft winter wheat, and that particular type of wheat has a very low gluten and protein content. When flour is introduced to water and the dough is kneaded, it's the gluten that starts to form bread's distinctive texture and elasticity. By using this particular flour that's super low in gluten, there's not that much of a reaction going on. That means the biscuits aren't going to turn out as tough or dense, and you'll get a lighter biscuit coming out of the oven. 

There's a reason that generations of bakers have used it, and here's a tip for biscuit-makers at home trying to replicate Chick-fil-A. If you can't get White Lily, use half self-rising flour and half cake flour — you'll get a similar effect. You're welcome!

Chick-fil-A biscuits start with ice water

When Chick-fil-A is getting ready to mix their ingredients, Culinary Expert Wing Lau says (via Southern Living) that the water that gets dumped into the mixer is ice cold. 

It turns out that's actually a pretty big deal, and it all comes back to the science of baking. According to The Kitchn, cold ingredients are a necessity when it comes to good biscuits for a few reasons. In order to get all those flaky layers, the fats (like butter and shortening) need to be equally distributed throughout the dough, and that happens more efficiently if the fats aren't in a semi-melted or warm state. 

There's a little more going on here, too. Gold Medal Baking adds that cold water will help prevent losses when it comes to leavening, and it'll help make sure you get a nice rise on your biscuits. And yet another reason goes back to gluten. According to Health and Safety Consultant George McGavin (via Quora), the proteins and gluten in flour absorb cold water slower than warm or hot water. The slower the reaction happens, the lighter and fluffier your biscuits will come out. That's some serious science going into those breakfast biscuits.

Chick-fil-A's biscuits aren't over-mixed

Anyone who's baked knows how difficult mixing can be. You don't want to under-mix something and fail at completely incorporating all your ingredients, but you don't want to over-mix something, either. That's why Culinary Expert Wing Lau says (via Southern Living) says they mix their dough in a commercial mixer for a very precise amount of time: just 18 seconds. 

That doesn't seem like nearly enough time, but there's a lesson in here for everyone who's trying to make Chick-fil-A's biscuits at home. Food 52 says there are a few things that happen when you over-mix. First, you're going to introduce too much air into your dough, and that's going to make it highly likely your biscuits will collapse in the oven instead of rise. 

Secondly, you're going to do two things that will each contribute to tough, dense biscuits: you'll end up encouraging the development of too much gluten, and you're going to warm up the butter — and that's a bad idea for the same reasons you don't want to use warm water. Mixing the right amount of time is crucial to getting biscuits to rise and to be the right density and flakiness, and 18 seconds works perfectly for Chick-fil-A and the amount of ingredients in each batch.

Chick-fil-A's biscuits are folded very gently

Watch a Chick-fil-A baker while they're prepping their dough and you'll notice something that looks a little different. There's a very specific way they roll out the dough, and they do it all very carefully. 

First, the dough gets very gently rolled; they're not pushing too hard, and we'll talk about why. Then, they fold the dough into thirds — gently — and roll it again. Those steps aren't arbitrary. 

According to King Arthur Flour, being gentle with the dough is crucial. Be too rough, fold it or knead it too many times, and you'll develop more of that gluten. (Think of it as the opposite of kneading bread — there, you want the gluten to form, and you'll be kneading away for at least 10 minutes.) 

Then, there's the folding. That's a not-so-secret technique many biscuit-makers love. Baker Erika Council says (via the Huffington Post) that folding biscuit dough just a few times will help create those layers that flake apart so perfectly. And everyone loves a flaky biscuit! 

Chick-fil-A biscuits use just a sprinkling of flour

Following a recipe precisely is important, especially when you're baking. It's not like other types of cooking where you have more leeway to experiment, and when it comes to biscuits, there's one part that's highly variable: the flour you add to keep the dough from sticking when you roll it out. 

According to Chick-fil-A bakers, they're careful to add just a light dusting of flour. It's so light, in fact, that some refer to it as a "Georgia snow." It's just enough to keep the dough from sticking the few times it's handled and rolled, and using too much flour during this stage is actually one of the common ways a baker might sabotage their baked goods without even realizing they're doing it. 

Adding too much flour will change the ratios of the recipe, and Southern Kitchen says that's going to make biscuits that are dry, tough, and doughy — biscuits that will crumble instead of flake. Chick-fil-A bakers avoid the problem by spreading their extra flour with a sieve, instead of just tossing a handful on their workspace. And that's a tip you can use in your own kitchen.

Chick-fil-A biscuits are cut in a careful way

Part of the awesomeness of Chick-fil-A's biscuits are how well they rise. They're thick and straight, and they need to be to hold all that chicken. There are no lopsided biscuits in sight, and according to Culinary Expert Wing Lau (via Southern Living), there's actually a super simple rule their bakers follow to get them to rise like that. 

Lau says the trick is to put a bit of flour on the edge of the biscuit cutter, then cut straight down and lift straight up. If the biscuits stick to the cutter, most of us have the tendency to wiggle it a bit to get the biscuit to come off. But when you do that, the biscuit isn't going to rise straight and you'll end up with something lopsided. And that's a big deal — part of the reason Chick-fil-A's sandwiches are so amazing is the perfect chicken-to-biscuit ratio in each and every bite, and it's a simple way they make sure each biscuit has that potential.

It's tools touching Chick-fil-A biscuits, not hands

Keeping the dough cool is of the utmost importance, and here's another little trick Chick-fil-A uses to get those perfect biscuits. They use tools, not their hands. 

When they're taking the dough out of the mixing bowl, they do it with metal spatulas. It's folded with metal spatulas, and the rounds of dough are transferred to the baking tray on a metal spatula. 

That all keeps the dough as cold as possible before it's put into the oven, as it's not being warmed by hands — and Southern Living says that warming the dough with your hands is one of the biggest, most common mistakes people make. Using tools might mean more dishes, but it's just one more way they're making sure they're putting the best thing possible into the oven, and that's the only way you'll get the best biscuits possible coming out. What's a few more dishes to do when breakfast service winds down?

Chick-fil-A biscuits come with butter. Lots of butter!

Butter isn't exactly a secret ingredient, but how Chick-fil-A uses it in their biscuits is a little different than you might expect. (And just for the record, their official ingredient list describes it as butter oil made from soybean oil, palm kernel oil, and natural butter flavoring, among other things. There's also vegetable oil shortening in that list, too.)

Watch their bakers, and you'll see they use butter a lot. It's rubbed on the tray before the raw biscuits are loaded on, a generous helping is painted on when the biscuits come out of the oven, and — perhaps most importantly — it's painted on before they're put into the oven, too. Chick-fil-A says that because they slather the raw dough in butter, that butter sinks into the biscuit as it rises. The final result is a biscuit that's filled with buttery goodness, not just topped by it. And we all know that the more butter there is, the better — especially when your fingers aren't covered in it by the time you finish.

Chick-fil-A biscuits have just a hint of sweetness

A big part of what makes a good biscuit is texture, but taste is important, too. Anyone who has enjoyed a Chick-fil-A biscuit knows there's just a hint of sweetness in there, and that's what makes it truly special. Without that bit of sweetness it might be easy for it to become one-dimensional, no matter how light and flaky it is. Fortunately, they've included something of a secret ingredient.

But, what is it? A look at the ingredient list doesn't really give too many hints. There's a ton of sugar in those biscuits (it's the third ingredient), but baked goods usually have sugar. There are some more cryptic ingredients, like "natural flavor," but that still doesn't clear anything up. 

Plenty of enterprising bakers have tried to crack the secret, and many copycat recipes add honey to try to get that same signature sweetness. Do any of them come close? Not really, but they'll do on a Sunday.

Chick-fil-A makes their biscuits in an oven that's just the right temperature

It takes 30 minutes from start to finish to make a tray of Chick-fil-A biscuits, and part of that is, of course, baking. Culinary Expert Wing Lau says (via Southern Living) that what they're looking for is a biscuit that's not overcooked, and one that's brown on the outside while still being moist in the middle. That's a tough balance to find, but there's a trick: Southern Living says it's all about oven temperature. 

Most of the time, we bake things at 350 degrees Fahrenheit. There's all kinds of scientific reasons for this, and much of it has to do with getting the right balance of cooking and browning. But biscuits are a little different, and the ideal temperature for cooking them is actually at 475 Fahrenheit. They'll only take about 15 minutes at that temperature, and when they come out, they'll have risen very, very quickly. They'll be light, flaky, golden brown, and — of course — delicious. Chick-fil-A has had decades to perfect the process, and they've managed to do precisely that.