What's Wrong With Fast Food Fried Chicken, According To Rock Harper - Exclusive

When all you can think about is sinking your teeth into a hot, crispy drumstick, it's hard not to ease your car straight into the drive-thru lane. Those brightly colored neon signs sure can beckon after a long day's work. You probably know in the back of your mind (or maybe even in the front of it) that there might be more nutrient-dense meals. But that's actually not the reason why you should avoid fast food fried chicken, according to "Hell's Kitchen" Season 3 winner Rock Harper, who is himself a huge advocate of eating a well-fried bird. In an exclusive interview with Mashed, Harper, who recently opened Queen Mother's Fried Chicken in Washington, D.C., claimed that many of the more popular restaurant chains add things to their food that taste, well, weird.

"Fast food uses a bunch of chemicals and stuff that is not necessarily 'real food,'" Harper explained. "We think we know what something may taste like and it's the chemicals." The additives Harper is referring to preserve the chicken's hot-from-the-fryer texture, but have a strange mouthfeel, Harper added. "If you put something hot and steamy in a box, it's not supposed to maintain its crisp," he explained. "They've got this chemical that tastes like salt or salty stuff but also helps maintain that crisp for a 30-minute ride home. It's a pretty dangerous chemical, but it tastes really good and it helps [keep it crisp]." Of course, if you enjoy that taste, Harper won't stand in your way. "If you're fine with eating all of those 12-syllable words in your flour, then have at it. But, we don't use any of that stuff at our restaurant," he noted.

This is the secret to tasty, homemade fried chicken

Let's be honest: Most of us who zip through drive-thru for a bucket of drumsticks aren't thinking about things like "mouthfeel" — we just want our fried chicken, and we want it, fast! According to Harper, however, you can cook up your own delicious fried bird pretty easily at home. In fact, he's happy to share some of the secrets of his non-fast-food joint and those he learned frying chicken when he was competing on "Hell's Kitchen." "I can tell you a couple of secrets!" Harper offered. "One, you've just got to use great ingredients. So we fry in duck fat, which is premium fat and it makes the chicken taste way better. You have to fry at the right temperature." This is usually where home cooks fail, Harper added. "There's a science and a technique to deep frying," he explained. How do you know whether you've done a good job? "The one thing about fried chicken or any fried food: [it] should not be greasy. It should be deep-fried, and when you pull it out, it should drain off and that's it: it should be moist." 

If this sounds like too much work, find yourself some restaurant fried chicken that is made using natural, non-GMO ingredients rather than fast food, Harper suggested. "Here's the thing, we call it 'junk food' for a reason," he said, adding that with his own restaurant, "I think we just want to serve — I don't like using the word 'clean' — we just want to serve as much whole, uninterrupted food as possible."

Keep up with chef Rock Harper by following him on Instagram. The next time you're in D.C., be sure to visit Queen Mother's Fried Chicken.