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Holding crispy chicken is no easy task… Trust me.

 

One of the biggest problems faced with holding chicken is the skin.  The skin, just like a bad poker player, can have tells.  These “tells” can show when that piece of chicken has been held for an extended amount of time.  Discoloring, soggy or dry, rubbery, are all tells the skin gives showing just how long it has been in a heated holding box.  As a research chef, I set out to find out if it was possible to maintain that juicy interior and crispy exterior with no discoloring, or any other nasty “tells” for that matter. 

I spent the better part of a winter keeping warm with fried chicken wings, legs, breasts, and thighs in search of the perfect settings to be able to hold cooked chicken for 2 hours.  In the picture is a mobile test station we set up to give a customer the best possible product.  I don’t want to guess or tell you some generic number.  I want to do the leg work, WE want to do that.  We want to show that our product is the best and it will give you the best results.

The criteria for the testing may seem rather odd to someone looking in from the outside.  The goals are simple.  Hold the meat at a safe temperature (155°F) for 2 hours.  The chicken must, and I stress this, must taste, look, and be as crispy as it is right out of the fryer.  The engineers and veteran sells team understood this literal meaning better than I did to start.  My first few tests had the results that we were pretty sure we would get.  Good tasting chicken at a safe temperature, just not identical to the goal.  After a few weeks, and more data was collected, we acutely had a product that I really enjoyed.  In fact I thought it was even better then the goal.  My job was done and boy would the guys think I was on top of my game.  Wrong.  Better was not the goal.  Identical was the goal.  More research followed…

Eventually our chicken eureka moment happened.  We achieved the perfect settings.  Side by side I would challenge you to tell the difference.  It may seem goofy but I am still very proud of this accomplishment.  I have a great appreciation for fresh food and the high standards that kitchens and chefs demand today.  Getting it right is what separates you from the other joint down the street.  The same goes for me too.

After finding the perfect setting for relative humidity and heat, to get that succulent golden piece of chicken so satisfying my mouth moistens with excitement just remembering it, I thought what happens if we introduce a different company’s piece of chicken?  Will my settings work for anyone’s fried chicken?  Sadly no.  You must understand your product before you can get the most out of your equipment.  Nothing is better than an FWE Clymate IQ for dialing in that perfect warming habitat for your chicken, but you must know the how your chicken reacts in this environment.  Breaded battered chicken will dry out needing a little more humidity than flakey crispy chicken skin.

There are a lot of variables at play while holding product at a safe temperature.  Heat transfers to your product, in this case chicken, better with increased humidity.  Therefore the products demanding high humidity environments may benefit from lower air temperature and vice versa.  It's easily explained if you have ever picked up the hot handle of a sauce pan with a moist towel.  Heat transfer to my hand is quick and efficient.  Getting these settings correct will extend the life on your product and put money in your pocket, all while making the customer tell their friends and rave on Yelp.com just how wonderful your food is.

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Chef Nathan Sanford
Aside from culinary duties, I coordinate with other units like the sales...
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